Israel and the Art of Appreciation – World Mizrachi

This article is from the Introduction to the recently published World Mizrachi Koren Yom Haatzmaut/Yom Yerushalyim Machzor

The establishment of the State of Israel and the reunification of Jerusalem are undoubtedly the most important events of salvation and deliverance in Jewish history since the time of Chanukah almost 2,200 years ago.

Miracles of Biblical Proportions

The remarkable reality of a sovereign State of Israel and a united Jerusalem cannot be overstated. The establishment of an independent state only three years after the ovens of Auschwitz; the creation of a place of refuge to gather millions of Jewish exiles from over 100 countries speaking more than 80 languages after 2,000 years of wandering; transforming the Land of Israel from an arid and barren backwater into a flourishing oasis of agriculture and ecological marvel; reviving Hebrew from an ancient and static language of textual study into the living lingua franca of Jewish society; building a thriving and wailing-wall-408313_640sustainable economy from the bankrupt and starving old Yishuv; a handful of young pioneers and Holocaust survivors overcoming impossible political and military odds to defeat much larger and better trained national armies; the reunification of Jerusalem and the return of Jewish sovereignty to the Old City, Kotel and Temple Mount for the first time since the destruction of the Temple in the year 70 C.E.; a war of potential imminent destruction which should have taken weeks and months, ending inexplicably with miraculous salvation in only six days, thus “delivering,” twice in 19 years, “the many into the hands of the few”; the rebuilding of the Torah world with perhaps more Torah learners today than any other time in history – all come together to create modern-day sovereign Israel and Jerusalem which stands at the centre of Jewish religious, cultural and political life. More than anything, Israel has revived the spirit of a broken people so soon after the devastation of the Holocaust, reinvented hope in place of despair, faith in place of tragedy, life in the face of death and the belief in a bright future over the reality of a devastating past.

Complexity

The days of Yom Haatzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim were instituted by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, and reinforced by all subsequent Chief Rabbinates, as days of great religious and Halachic significance. They were to be days of Hallel – praise and thanksgiving to Hashem in appreciation for the enormity of these times. Despite the seemingly undeniable miraculous nature of these events, not everyone has embraced Yom Haatzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim in this spirit. A central reason that many in the religious world have yet to do so is that Zionism and Israel were born in a very complex spiritual, cultural and political context. Many elements of the Zionist endeavor are less than ideal. Significant numbers of both the original and current protagonists in the story of Israel were and are distant from traditional Torah values, and at times even antagonistic. In many ways, Zionism was one of the ideological “isms” of the late 19th century, growing out of Western, romantic nationalism and the era of the Emancipation and Haskalah. Much of the cultural milieu, both then and now, is at times challenging to reconcile with Torah and Halacha. This dichotomy and complexity causes confusion for many and creates doubt as to the appropriate spiritual context within which to place these events, and hence how to relate to these days of deliverance.

The Dayeinu Song – Shifting Paradigms

I believe that the Dayeinu song in the Haggadah that we all sing with luster on the original night of deliverance for the Jewish people, Leil Haseder – Seder night – is a most powerful guide as to the art of appreciation in general and can specifically shed light as to the appropriate attitude to the State of Israel in general and to Yom Haatzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim in particular. The reason is twofold. Firstly, this song forms the very first words of praise and buildings-89111_640gratitude that we utter on the Seder night and is said immediately after completing the story of the Exodus from Egypt. As such it forms the basis and foundation of Hallel – praise and thanking G-d at our original deliverance. Secondly, the song is all encompassing in nature. It reflects not only on the beginning of the journey of redemption , the Exodus from Egypt and the theme of Pesach, but on the entire journey of Jewish history and destiny culminating with the building of the Temple in Jerusalem centuries later. It describes 15 stages of this process of historical redemption and gives us a critical insight into the process as a whole and what our attitude at each stage should be.

The secret to revealing the profundity of this song lies in attempting to understand its apparent absurdity. A closer look at the song of Dayeinu reveals that many stanzas don’t seem to make any logical sense at all. After each and every one of the 15 stanzas, the Hebrew word Dayeinu appears. Dayeinu means in English, ‘It would have been enough’ and is the key phrase and chorus of the song.

If Hashem would have brought us out of Egypt and not split the sea, Dayeinu – ‘It would have been enough’.

If Hashem would have split the sea and not given us food and water to drink in the desert, Dayeinu – ‘It would have been enough’. These are 2 examples of the 15 stages mentioned in the song.

This seems ludicrous. After all, if Hashem had brought us out of Egypt but not split the sea, surely we would have all died at the hands of the advancing Egyptian army?

If Hashem had split the sea but not given us food and water, surely we would have all died of starvation and heat exhaustion in the desert? It is abundantly clear that each single stage is inherently incomplete without the continuation and realization of the stage which follows. If the process of redemption would have got stuck at any one of the 14 stages, it most certainly ‘would not have been enough’. The aim and purpose of the redemption from Egypt would not have been achieved and the process would have been a failure.

An Attitude of Gratitude

The answer to this question is to understand the very essence of what gratitude and saying ‘thank you’ is all about. In it lies the crux of the song and its relevance for us today. If our only focus in life is one of goal orientation, then we will never be able to feel appreciation for anything until we have achieved our goal. If we focus incessantly on the final purpose of any process, the destination of every journey, the aim and achievements of every undertaking, we will find it exceptionally difficult to appreciate each stage of the journey itself. If the purpose of the Dayeinu song was to celebrate reaching the goal of redemption then indeed ‘it never would have been enough’.

The Dayeinu song is about a different frame of mind – the mindset of gratitude and appreciation. When we focus on each stage of the process itself and not on the end result, we are able to appreciate every small step. When we see how far we have come as opposed to how far there is to go, what we have as opposed to what we still lack, we are able to feel deep gratitude irrespective of whether we have achieved our final aim or not. The word Dayeinu in this song means ‘it would have been enough to say thank you’. Hence, if Hashem had brought us out of Egypt but not split the sea, this miraculous act of freedom and liberty would have been enough for us to thank Him for a taste of freedom and dignity against all odds irrespective of what the future holds. If Hashem would have split the sea but we would have died of starvation and heat exhaustion soon afterwards, we ought still to thank Him for having experienced the unparalleled marvel of the splitting the sea and the sense of Divine justice with the destruction of the Egyptian oppressors.

It is for this reason that the song focuses also on the final destination of the journey of redemption which began in Egypt – the arrival in the Land of Israel and the building of the Temple. This long and arduous journey, which would wind itself through 15 stages and 480 years until the building of the Temple in Solomon’s time, should never prevent us from fully appreciating every step of the way.

The Pesach Pattern – Perfect Thanks in Imperfect Times

This then, is the essence of Hallel, saying Shira and giving thanks. It is the ability to feel perfectly grateful in an imperfect situation. It requires a capacity to feel a sense of complete appreciation in a wholly incomplete reality. This is what gratitude and appreciation are all about.

What is fascinating to contemplate is indeed just how incomplete and imperfect our original deliverance from Egypt indeed was. Our Sages say that at least four fifths of the Jewish people did not come out of Egypt and died in the plague of Darkness. Whether or not this comment of the sages was meant as a historical fact, it is clear that they wish to highlight how partial and imperfect the redemption from Egypt was.

Furthermore, it was only three months later from the day of salvation itself that Bnei Yisrael sinned with the unthinkable sin of the Golden Calf, from which only Moshe’s intense supplication saved them from annihilation. It was barely a year later when the entire people of Israel chose to follow the ill advice of the 10 spies and decided not to enter the Promised Land. Even the heart-wrenching prayers of Moshe, who interceded on their behalf once again, could not prevent their demise. An entire generation would die out in the desert and never achieve the aim and destination of their original redemption – entering into Eretz Yisrael.

The fact that so many died in Egypt, the subsequent horrific sins of the Golden Calf and the Spies that were committed by that generation, and the death of almost an entire generation have never deterred us from celebrating Pesach. Indeed, since that very day until today we continue to celebrate the incomplete, partial and imperfect redemption in the most perfect and complete way on Leil Haseder and indeed throughout the week of Pesach.

The dayeinu song is sung at a critical point in the Haggada narrative. It is said immediately after we complete the story of the exodus and just before we begin Hallel. It is both our first reflection on the exodus and the foundation of the Hallel that is about to follow. As such, it creates a crucial spiritual paradigm within which to place our original exodus experience. It also forms a pivotal frame of reference to understand future processes of redemption.

This is a pertinent insight for us today. The State of Israel is, for many people, still distant from the ideal spiritual and moral state that it could be. There is no question that there is still a long journey ahead and so much more to pray for and to be achieved. At the same jerusalem-331375_640time, this should never cloud our ability to appreciate the enormous accomplishments at every step of the way since the beginning of the Zionist endeavor; the establishment of the State, the reunification of Jerusalem and the ongoing miracle that is the modern State of Israel. The Chief Rabbinate’s designation of Yom Haatzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim as days of Hallel and thanksgiving capture the spirit of Dayeinu – to express heartfelt gratitude and appreciation for the enormity of the miracles that we have experienced despite the fact that many stages of redemption still remain ahead.

May these great days live up to their originally designated aim – to be days of celebration and appreciation for all of Klal Yisrael for the enormity of the era we are privileged to live in. I have written a modern-day dayeinu song in honor of Israel, which appears at the end of this article.

A MODERN-DAY DAYEINU SONG

IF Hashem had brought us back to the Land of Israel
BUT not given us a sovereign state
DAYEINU it would have been enough

IF Hashem had given us a sovereign state and allowed us a taste of freedom and dignity for but a moment
BUT we would have lost the War of Independence
DAYEINU it would have been enough

IF Hashem had helped us be victorious in the War of Independence
BUT we would not have succeeded in building a viable country
DAYEINU it would have been enough

IF Hashem had helped us build a viable country
BUT not brought back hundreds of thousands of Jews from Sephardic and Yeminite backgrounds
DAYEINU it would have been enough

IF Hashem had allowed us to win the Six-Day War
BUT not given back to us the holy cities of Hevron, Beit El, Shiloh as well as the Golan Heights
DAYEINU it would have been enough

IF Hashem had given us Hevron, Beit El, Shiloh and the Golan Heights
BUT not allowed us to liberate the Old City of Yerushalayim
DAYEINU it would have been enough

IF Hashem had allowed us to liberate the Old City of Yerushalayim ]
BUT not allowed us to rebuild her ruins
DAYEINU it would have been enough

IF Hashem had allowed us to rebuild His Old City
BUT not made Jerusalem into Israel’s largest city with a population of over 800,000 people
DAYEINU it would have been enough

IF Hashem had made Jerusalem Israel’s largest city with a population of over 800,000 people
BUT not allowed us to live with dignity in secure borders
DAYEINU it would have been enough

IF Hashem had allowed us to live in secure borders
BUT not created a strong and sustainable economy
DAYEINU it would have been enough

IF Hashem had built for us a strong and sustainable economy
BUT not ingathered the exiles from almost a hundred countries
DAYEINU it would have been enough

If Hashem had ingathered the exiles from almost a hundred countries
BUT not allowed us to rebuild the Torah world in Israel with well over a hundred thousand men and women studying Torah full-time, perhaps the most in Jewish history
DAYEINU it would have been enough

IF Hashem had rebuilt the Yeshiva and Torah world
BUT not produced so many outstanding Torah scholars and leaders
DAYEINU it would have been enough

IF Hashem had produced so many outstanding Torah scholars and leaders
BUT not opened the gates of freedom to the oppressed Russian and Ethiopian Jews
DAYEINU it would have been enough

IF Hashem had opened the gates of freedom to the oppressed Russian and Ethiopian Jews
BUT not made Israel’s number of Jews soon to be larger than that of world Jewry for the first time in two-and-a-half thousand years
DAYEINU it would have been enough

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