The Pesach - Yom Ha'atzmaut - Shavuot Connection
Two very different days, established thousands of years apart, yet intimately connected. That is how I view the deep connection between Yom Ha’atzmaut and Shavuot. It is the innate connection between a nation’s physical redemption and spiritual redemption.
Pesach, Passover, is the beginning of our journey as a nation. It was the physical redemption from Egypt and the first time Israel emerged as an independent nation. It took 50 days for Israel to elevate themselves to the spiritdual level that they were able to receive the Torah from Mt. Sinai in Shavuot. Those 50 days are re-lived every year during Sefira Ha’Omer, the Counting of the Omer. Rabbi Shimshon Refael Hirsch and Rabbi Menachem Even Zerach gives the analogy of Sefirat Ha’Omer of transitioning between barley to wheat, from animal food to human food. In his word “Tzeida LaDerech”, Rabbi Even Zerach explains that on the second day of Pesach we sacrifice the Omer offering of barley, which is typically food for animals (since bread is usually made from wheat or other grains and barley is classically fed to animals), because it symbolizes our physical redemption. The Holiday of Shavuot is celebrated in the Temple by offering “Two Loaves of Bread” made from wheat, symbolizing the spiritual redemption from over 200 years of slavery in Egypt. Shavuot marks the conclusion of the 50 day spiritual journey culminating in receiving the Torah, and thus manifesting Israel’s potential as the nation of the Torah. The transition from Passover to Shavuot is from physical to spiritual redemption.
Ultimately, the goal of the Exodus from Egypt was not to receive the Torah in the Wilderness, rather to take the teachings of the Torah and establish themselves as an independent nation and global leader in spirituality in their land, the Land of Israel. During Passover we drink four cups of wine to remind ourselves of the four “Leshonot Ge’ula”, the words of redemption, in the Book of Shemot, culminating in “And I will take you to me as a nation” - by receiving the Torah. However, there is a fifth stage to that redemption in the following verse “And I will bring you to the Land”. This fifth stage is symbolized by Elijah’s Cup in the middle of the Seder Table. The final stage of Isra
el’s redemption is settling in their land, which is how every nation establishes their identity and independence. Only Yehoshua, Moshe’s student and successor, was able to lead Israel into their land, whereas Moshe himself did not, told by Hashem not to enter the Land.
From another angle, if we look at the Tanach, the Bible, in its entirety it can be split into two parallel sections. The first is the description of the 613 Mitzvot that are spread out through the entire Torah, and some in the Prophets as well. The second is the story of the evolution of the nation of Israel from the dawn of humanity until the end of the Persian Empire and building of the Second Temple. The Torah values the story of the development of Israel as a nation, and the intrinsic connection between Israel and the land.
After the establishment and destruction of two Temples in Jerusalem, and having multiple empires reign over Israel and renaming the Land of Israel many times over, there was very little hope in the world that Israel, now known as the Jewish People, would ever establish themselves as a nation again. In fact, Rabbi Judah HaLevi in his work “The Kuzari” defends the Jewish Faith that was at the time framed as a lowly faith, since Jews were scattered throughout the world and weren’t perceived as a nation anymore. The Jewish people lacked a country and independence, despite having the Torah and a tradition thousands of years old.
It took until the late 19th Century for Jewish and Zionist leadership to turn their heads to establishing a state for Israel after nearly 2000 years of exile. After many assemblies, political and military battles, an historic vote in the UN in 1947 and the many waves of Aliyah to Israel in the late 19th and early 20th century, David ben Gurion declared Israel as a State in 1948 on the 5th day of Iyar, year 5708. The Chief Rabbinate established that day as Israel’s Independence Day or Yom Ha’atzmaut. Many, including in our community, even say Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut during the Tefilla service. Yom Ha’atzmaut is a significant day in Jewish history, not just in the 20th Century but as a full circle since the very day of Pesach, over 3300 years ago. The state was named “Israel” and not “Judah” or “Palestine”, preserving the original destination for the People of Israel on Pesach, led by Moshe and Yehoshua. For the past 72 years, since the declaration made by David ben Gurion, we have been able to engage again with the fifth element of redemtpion - “And I will bring you to the Land”.
The ultimate goal of Exodus was for Israel to establish themselves as a nation of the Torah in their land. After the Roman exile, that national goal was no longer attainable. The fifth stage of redemption was no longer a reality. From year 130 C.E. the Jewish people were scattered in the Diaspora clinging on to Torah and Jewish tradition, in order to sustain their identity, while being constantly persecuted and victims of anti-semitism with nobody to stand up for them. In 1948 that reality changed. The State of Israel was reestablished, and Israel gained sovereignty over their land for the first time since the end of the Hasmonean Dynasty at the turn of the Common Era.
The Jewish people have a home - Israel. Although many Jews continue to live in the Diaspora, knowing that we have a homeland is nothing short of a game changer. The IDF and Israel embassies around the globe fight for Jews and have the ability protect them wherever they are, any Jew can relocate to Israel without attaining a visa, and the Torah centre of the world has reestablished itself in Jerusalem. This Yom Ha’atzmaut we can remind ourselves that the original destination of the People of Israel from slavery in Egypt has at last come to fruition, and we are privileged of living in those times! Maybe it is not a coincidence that Yom Ha’atzmaut always falls in the middle of the Omer, bridging between Pesach and Shavuot, to symbolize that the intrinsic connection between the People of Israel and the Land of Israel is the glue between physical and spiritual redemption.