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Israel at 70 – Exactly what are we Celebrating?

The entire country is blue and white! Flags are flying everywhere and Yom Ha’Atzmaut will be the biggest and best ever. Everyone is in the holiday spirit and – in addition to counting the omer – millions of people are counting down the hours until the big kickoff begins… no, not the Super Bowl… the kickoff to Israel’s 70th birthday party!!

Amidst all this fun, games, glamour and excitement, I have one simple question: Exactly what are we celebrating? The enemy on our northern border is pointing lots of rockets at us, the Bedouin tribes are stealing more land each day – particularly in the Negev, hundreds of thousands of Jews live in Israel below the poverty line and if you say “Shema Yisrael” on the Temple Mount you spend 24 hours in the slammer. So what are we celebrating?

Let me be perfectly clear. Things in Israel are far from perfect. The few problems I listed above are just a handful of what needs to be improved… I could easily list another 50. Yet, I too will celebrate Yom Ha’Atzmaut! I will say Hallel with a bracha, will dance with my friends in Park Herziliya, will grill some “dogs” and steaks and will wave my flag all day long. But why… what am I really celebrating?

To me, it all comes down to one word: Potential.

Think about this: When we sing and dance at a wedding, what are we celebrating? The young couple hasn’t done anything yet! They’re just starting… but the potential is there. With Hashem’s help, these two flowers will blossom, will bear fruit, will increase the Jewish world and will continue the unbroken chain from Avraham Avinu. Will they fail along the way? Probably… but who didn’t? So at the wedding, we don’t celebrate success, we celebrate potential.

The same is true when a baby is born. Mazel Tov!! What a simcha, what joy, what a miracle! Yet, when you look in the crib and see a very cute squashed prune, did you ever ask yourself what the happiness is all about? Maybe we should wait for the kid to grow up, become a “mensch”, learn Torah and when he/she gives a deep D’var Torah with fascinating insights we can finally scream “Mazel Tov”? But it doesn’t work like that. We jump for joy the moment we hear the good news and why??? Potential. This kid could be the Moshiach. He could be a great Tzaddik. She could be an amazing Eishet Chayil. What happens later is called “reality” which could be great or absolutely lousy… but that’s not what we are dealing with now. Right now we cheer and praise Hashem for giving us a healthy baby and for the potential that baby now has.

The same is true with the modern State of Israel. On one hand there are problems; believe me I know about most of them. On the other hand there are incredible miracles happening every day. Prophecies are coming true and forgotten mitzvot have come back to life! The gift that Hashem gave us in 1948 is something we must recognize and publicly declare. We need to thank our Father and King for this priceless treasure called potential. Not individual potential like a newborn baby or a newly married couple but national potential. Finally, after 2,000 years we can take ourselves and our communities and return them to their natural state of being part of the Jewish Nation! With that ability, we can bring our prayers to life! The Sanhedrin, the Davidic dynasty, the ingathering of the exiles, the settling of the land… everything we daven for three times a day has the potential of coming to fruition! Will there be problems, challenges, successes and failures along the way? Yes, but we’ll deal with them to the best of our ability and keep moving forward.

That is why we celebrate, say Hallel with a bracha and give thanks to the Creator of the world because He gave us the potential to get out of the mud and return Jewish life to the way it was designed to be. The worst sin imaginable is to let that potential slip away. Let’s do the best we can with the gift Hashem gave us. Happy Yom Ha’Atzmaut everybody!


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