Rav Zvi Yehuda Kook frequently cited the prophetic statement that, in the future, all our national days of sadness and mourning will be transformed into days of joy and celebration. As examples, he noted that Yom Haatzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim commemorate joyous events that occurred during the tragic period of the Omer. Both are, in effect, sad days that in our time became happy days – and, to satisfy the needs of adherents to each of the primary mourning customs, one holiday falls during the first 33 days of the omer and the second during the last 33 days of the omer.
As we reflect on the special days of Iyar – Yom Haatzmaut on Iyar 5 and Yom Yerushalayim on Iyar 28 – it is inspiring to re-live these events through the contemporaneous words of Menachem Begin, one of Israel’s founding fathers and greatest leaders. Begin, a masterful orator throughout his life, used his eloquence to move crowds, maintain allegiances, guide the faithful, and especially, define the events in terms of the greater history of the Jewish people.
On Friday, the 4th of Iyar in 5708 (1948), Begin had recently emerged from the underground, but feared and loathed by David Ben-Gurion, he was not invited to the declaration of independence ceremony that took place in Tel Aviv that afternoon. As independence became official on Shabbat, Iyar 5, with the end of the British mandate and the departure of British forces, Begin first addressed the nation on Etzel radio (the “Voice of Fighting Zion”) on Motzaei Shabbat, May 15, 1948. He said as follows, in part (translation mine):
“Citizens of the Hebrew homeland, soldiers of Israel, Hebrew youth, my brothers and sisters in Zion,
After the many years of the war of the underground, years of persecution and torment, physical and spiritual torment, we stand before you, those who rebelled against the evil kingdom, with thanksgiving on our lips and prayer to Heaven in our hearts. It is the blessing that our forefathers recited on every festival and holiday, and that their lips uttered for every new fruit.
We have paved the way for a massive return to Zion. The foundation has been laid – only the foundation – for a substantive Hebrew independence. Just one stage is over – one stage – of the war for Hebrew freedom, whose permanent aim is the restoration of the Jewish people – in its entirety – to its native land, and the restoration of the land of Israel – in its entirety – to its nation, its owners.
The State of Israel has risen. And it rose “only thus:” with blood and fire, with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, with suffering and casualties. It would not have risen otherwise. And behold, even before the State can establish its appropriate institutions, it will be forced to fight aggressively against a Satanic and bloodthirsty foe, in the land, sea and air…
The beginning of the wisdom of state policy is the return to Zion. Boats, for G-d’s sake, bring boats filled with olim… Quickly, quickly! Our nation has no time. Bring in myriads. Bring in hundreds of thousands. If there won’t be houses for all of them, we will find tents. If there are no tents, there is the heaven above, the azure sky of our land. No one dies from difficult living conditions…
Internally, justice will be the primary ruler, the ruler even over the rulers. There will be no dictatorship… We will not allow in our home any person, citizen or stranger, to be hungry for bread, without a roof over his head, without clothing or a primary education. “Remember that you were strangers in the land of Egypt” – this supreme command will determine our relations with our neighbors…
The State of Israel has risen. But we should remember that the homeland is still not liberated. The war continues. Your eyes see that the fighters did not speak in vain: Hebrew weapons will delineate the jurisdictional boundaries of the Hebrew rule. It is so in this campaign and will be so in the future. The homeland will be whole. The experiment to chop it into pieces is not only criminal, it will also fail. The homeland is historically and geographically whole. Whoever does not recognize our rights to the entire homeland does not recognize our rights to any part of it. And we will never forego our natural and eternal right to it…
We will not purchase peace from our enemies at the price of giving up our independence, or our land. Only one type of “peace” can be purchased that way – the peace of the cemetery, the peace of a new Treblinka. Therefore, stand strong and prepare for definitive tests ahead. Stand! We will all stand. The Lord of Hosts will come to our aid, and the bravery of the Hebrew youth and the Hebrew mother, who offers her son, like Hanna, on the altar.
Lord, G-d of Israel, watch over Your soldiers, and bless their swords that are forging anew the covenant that You enacted with Your treasured people and with Your chosen land. Judah is a lion cub! For the sake of our people, for the sake of our land, forward to battle, forward to victory!”
Begin spent 19 years in opposition, until he was invited to join the National Unity Government led by Levi Eshkol on the eve of the Six Day War in June 1967. While serving as a Minister without Portfolio in the Cabinet, Begin pressured Eshkol to liberate the Old City of Yerushalayim, something that seems obvious in retrospect but at the time encountered sustained opposition in the Cabinet, and even from some religious Ministers.
After Yerushalayim was fully liberated on Wednesday, Iyar 28, Begin went to the Kotel and said the following, a prayer he composed himself that is replete with biblical allusions (translation mine):
“G-d of our fathers, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, the Lords of Hosts came to our aid. We were encircled, completely encircled by our enemies, and they came to eradicate us as a nation. But their plans were thwarted, and their intentions will never come to pass. [This is] because a new generation has risen in the homeland, a generation of liberators, a generation of fighters and heroes. And when Israel went forth to battle the enemy, the proclamation of the father of prophets – that echoes throughout the generations – went out from their hearts: ‘Redeemer of Israel from the bondage of Egypt: Rise up, Hashem, and let Your enemies be dispersed, and let those who hate You flee from before You.’ We shall scatter them, tower over them and they shall flee.
The routed enemy has not yet laid down its arms. The Army of Israel continues to pursue him and smite him. Lord, G-d of Israel, watch over Your soldiers, and bless their swords that are carrying out in their eternal conquest the realization of the ‘Covenant between the Parts’ that You enacted with Your treasured people, so that sons may return to their mothers, and fathers to their children, and husbands to their wives. For we are but the survivors of a harassed and devastated people who blood was shed like water from generation to generation.
Today we stand before the Western Wall, the remnant of the House of our glory in redeemed Yerushalayim, in the city that is united together. And we lift up our hearts in prayer that the Bet HaMikdash may be rebuilt, speedily and in our days.
And we will yet go to Hebron, which is Kiryat Arba, and we will prostrate ourselves on the graves of the
fathers of our people. And we will yet go on the road to Efrat, en route to Bet Lechem Yehuda and pray at the grave of Rachel, our mother, and surely remember the words of the prophet: ‘A voice is heard on high, wailing, bitter weeping. Rachel weeps for her children, refuses to be comforted for her children, for they are not there…Restrain your voice from crying and your eyes from years, for there is reward for all your actions, Hashem says, and they will return from the land of the enemy. And there is hope for your future, Hashem says, and the children will return to their border.’”
May we yet see other days of sadness and mourning transformed into days of celebration, “joy and happy festivals. Love truth and peace” (Zecharia 8:19).