Today’s daf (Yoma 4b) makes reference to the events surrounding Matan Torah, and it is here – as well as elsewhere in the Talmud – where we are told that the experience of Matan Torah was both one of profound joy, and profound trepidation. In fact, as an attempt to capture the emotions of that event, the Gemara quotes the words of Tehillim 2:11 which state עִבְדוּ אֶת ה’ בְּיִרְאָה וְגִילוּ בִּרְעָדָה – “Serve the Lord with awe, and rejoice with trembling” which Rav explained to mean, בִּמְקוֹם גִּילָה שָׁם תְּהֵא רְעָדָה – wherever there is a cause for rejoicing, there should also be trepidation.
Today is Yom Ha’atzmaut – a day which is, for me and so many others, a day that is a cause for great rejoicing. It is a day that celebrates the establishment of Medinat Yisrael – a vibrant country where Jews are protected, where Judaism is flourishing, and which every Jew can call home. To quote Rabbi Sacks, ‘Israel has taken a barren land and made it bloom again. It has taken an ancient language, the Hebrew of the Bible, and made it speak again. It has taken the West’s oldest faith and made it young again. It has taken a shattered nation and made it live again.’
At the same time, even when my heart overflows with appreciation of Medinat Yisrael – and especially for the merit of living in the Land of Israel – I also have a sense of trepidation because I worry whether we – as individuals and as a country – fully appreciate the unique chapter of history in which we are living, and whether we are doing all we can to improve Israeli society, to promote Torah values in a positive spirit, and to be a shining light to the rest of the world.
This morning, after a festive Shacharit, I delivered a short shiur to my community on the concept of promoting Torah values in a positive spirit based on the introduction of Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli’s masterful ‘Eretz Hemda’ (nb. a translation of this introduction can be found in Koren’s wonderful Mahzor for Yom Haatzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim), where Rabbi Yisraeli offers a brilliant insight on the request by Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai of תן לי יבנה וחכמיה – ‘Grant me Yavne and its Sages’ (Gittin 56b).
As he explains: ‘Yavne was not chosen at random. As the Talmud reports, a favourite saying of the rabbis of Yavne was, ‘I am God’s creature and my fellow is God’s creature. My work is in the town and his work is in the country… Will you say that I do much and he does little? We have learned: One may accomplish much, or one may accomplish little, but what matters is that one direct his heart to heaven’ (Brachot 17a). Given this, Rav Yisraeli observes that, ‘according to this approach, the whole nation is a single entity…no one can be relinquished, nor is there anyone who is entitled’, and ‘more than ever, the nation requires those… who can make halakha sweet, sages [who are comparable to those] of Yavne’.
On Yom Ha’atzmaut there is a cause for great rejoicing. It is a festive day, and one that causes me sing and to leap for joy. Still, we must also tremble with trepidation – because when a precious gift is given it must be handled with care, and while there is so so much to be thankful for in terms of what Israel is, there is still much work to be done in terms of improving Israeli society, promoting Torah values in a positive spirit, and being a shining light to the rest of the world.