|PM Netanyahu's Greeting for Israel's 71st Independence Day
דַּבֵּר אֶל-כָּל-עֲדַת בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם-
-קְדֹשִׁים תִּהְיוּ: כִּי קָדוֹשׁ, אֲנִי ה .
Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them: Ye shall be holy; for I the L-RD your G-d am holy.
Leviticus Chapter 19 וַיִּקְרָא
Why is it that in Israel Yom Hashoah-Holocaust Memorial Day, Yom HaZikaron-Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers, Yom Ha'atzmaut-Israel Independence Day, and Lag B'Omer are so widely celebrated while in the United States we barely hear the word mentioned? I would posit that since these days don't have a specific mitzva form of observance they have not yet become ingrained in the minds of the Jewish people. In Israel, although not a mitzva, but the widely observed custom is to celebrate Lag B'Omer with bonfires and a pilgrimage to Meiron, the burial place of Rashbi whose yahrtzeit is commemorated on this day. In America however, there are no such concrete expressions of the historicity of this day.
There is also an additional aspect to Lag B'Omer in Israel, the commemoration of the fight for Jewish freedom during the Bar Kochba revolt. Lag, the 33rd day of the Omer, is celebrated as a day of joy and the cessation of the mourning of the Sefira period. The Talmud tells us that between the days of Pesach and Shavuot 12,000 pairs of students of Rabbi Akiva died. On Lag B'Omer, tradition tells us, the students stopped dying. What caused this great tragedy: why did so many students die during this period? The Talmud tells us the reason was because they didn't "honor one another". Their greatness required them to conduct themselves and they were judged by higher moral standard.
This historical period was the time of the revolt against the Romans led by Bar Kochba and supported by Rabbi Akiva. This brings others to say that the students died not in a plague supernaturally but in battles against the Romans. These battles were at first successful and an independent commonwealth was formed, albeit short lived. Ultimately,
the rebellion was quashed by Rome, but we nonetheless recall and celebrate the desire of the Jewish people to be independent and the independence of this third Commonwealth during the days of Bar Kochba and Rabbi Akiva.
Without a specific mitzvah or minhag, or a specific action for us to preform, I contend the lack of awareness of this day will increase.
In the Torah reading this Shabbat, we are told to be holy because God is holy. If the Torah would have stopped here one might think that this is enough, Be Holy - we would be left to our own devices and each could define what is meant by holy. However, the Torah goes on to give specifics, one example after another, of the various ways in which we are to create this holiness. Have awe of your mother and father; keep the Shabbos; don't worship idols; don't make molten images, sacrifice of your free will; leave the corners of your field for the poor; don't collect forgotten sheaves, leave them for the poor; leave over grapes; don't steal; don't deny falsely etc. etc. One after another the Torah gives us concrete examples of how to be holy and this is in fact the purpose of the mitavot to make us holy.
It is customary that during the seven weeks between Pesach and Shavuot we study the six chapters of Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers to help us prepare ourselves to receive the holy Torah. Shabbat afternoon, which could be a time merely of sleeping; catching up on zzzz's, and preparing for the upcoming week, instead becomes a holy time when we turn our good thoughts into action.
Following each of the chapters of Pirkei Avot we conclude with a quote based on the Gemara Macos 23a, Rabbi Chananya ben Akashya says, God wanted to give merit to the Jewish people, therefore, He gave them much Torah and mitzvot. Why so many commandments,-to give us the opportunity for great merit. Each chapter of Pirkei Avot begins with, "All Israel has a share in the World to Come." A share is like a reservation; it's there waiting for us, but it takes action on our part to collect on our reservation. How do we do that - that is the message of Rabbi Chananya ben Akashya, it is not sufficient merely to theorize, to talk of moral aspects, to have good thoughts and intentions, but to be able to put them in to action through Mitzvot and the Torah.