I'm Worried About Religious Zionism

Consider the following thought experiment: Imagine getting an email from a Modern Orthodox, Religious Zionist shul this week, with the following message.

“As our shul continues to expand, we are proud to offer more ways for Jews of all backgrounds to connect to Hashem. A number of our members have reached out to us noting that on 5 Iyar, Yom Ha'Atzmaut, our Shul's custom is to say Hallel.

Many of these members grew up in families and communities that do not celebrate Yom Ha'atzmaut. In the interest of inclusivity, we are adding a Non-Hallel minyan to our Yom Ha'atzmaut schedule.”

How would such a message make you feel? Proud? Happy? Disappointed? Indifferent?

For those who would be incensed by such an email, I imagine it has something to do with your firm belief that Yom Ha'atzmaut is more than a celebration of independence. Part of our religious philosophy includes an understanding that the State of Israel is not simply a political invention of the 20th century, but that it is a clear indication of Hashem's Hand guiding us through history.

But herein lies the problem, and I am hesitant to write this... I fear that there are many more people who believe in the importance of a Shul saying Hallel, than the number that will actually be coming to shul to say it. And of those who are coming to say Hallel, how much of it will be a heartfelt experience of gratitude and praise?

(To be clear, the recitation of Hallel on Yom Ha'atzmaut is not the litmus test for ascertaining one's level of commitment to zionist ideology. Rav Solovietchik noted (Yahrzeit Shiur, February 1, 1968) that he, himself, was not so enthusiastic about saying Hallel for Halachik and lomdishe reasons. Instead, he recommended deepening our Kavanah in the many parts of davening that relate to Eretz Yisrael and redemption.)

Hallel aside, Yom Ha'atzmaut celebrations outside of Israel are often rushed affairs, paying homage to an idea. Or, they are designed as kids' events, designed to give our children a taste of celebrating Israel. We seem to have failed in capturing the excitement and joy of an authentic Yom Ha'atzmaut in Israel.

Of course, many of my friends, relatives and colleagues who have merited to make Aliyah will be quick to diagnose the problem: We're not really zionist at all. Real Zionism means living in Israel. The reason that people are so “parev” about Yom Haatzmaut in Chutz La'aretz is because our Zionism is inherently insincere.

But this is a gross oversimplification. There are many Jews throughout the Diaspora who are deeply involved in the State of Israel. Jews in Chutz La'Aretz contribute billions of dollars to Israeli causes, supporting both secular and Torah institutions. Many Jews from around the world support Israeli businesses, visit Israel as frequently as possible, and send their children to learn in Yeshivos and seminaries. We teach our children to love Israel, to support Israel online and on campus. Many of the children of our community have served in Tzahal, fighting for and defending our homeland.

Despite the fact that we are (still) living outside of Israel, we can still clearly love the Land; in the words of the Sefer HaCharedim:

וצריך כל איש ישראל לחבב את ארץ ישראל ולבא אליה מאפסי ארץ בתשוקה גדולה כבן אל חיק אמו Each person must Love the Land of Israel and come to it from the ends of the earth with great desire, like a child to the embrace of his mother.

Many people returning from Israel have described feeling the depth of this love of Eretz HaKodesh.

All taken into account, I do not believe that our community is lacking in Zionism. We are educationally, emotionally, intellectually and financially invested in the State of Israel. What is lacking, however, is our interest and involvement in Religious Zionism. Our “Zionism” is great. It's the “religious” part that needs works.

We do not enter Yom Ha'atzmaut with feelings of spiritual excitement, elation, and closeness to Hashem. We are not taking time during the day to talk to and thank the Master of the World for bringing us home after millennia of exile. For many of us, doing so might feel weird, forced and contrived.

But the truth is that this disconnect is not unique to our expressions of Zionism.

It seems to me that the spiritual, religious and Godly parts of our Zionism are suffering from exactly the same laxity and disconnect as the rest of our religious experience.

People are not showing up to sing and dance during Hallel on Yom Ha'atzmaut for the same reason that we fail to do so on Chol HaMoed, or Rosh Chodesh, or most of the days of Yom Tov. We're just not that into it.

Sure, we all believe in the importance of Pesach, but we're more than happy to outsource Divrei Torah at the Seder to our wonderful schools and teachers. How many of us are truly working on ourselves to feel like Hashem took us, personally, out of Mitzrayim? We love Channukah and Purim, but we rush through Al HaNissim all the same. Shavuos is about staying up and eating cheese cake. When exactly is the feeling of Kabbalas HaTorah? Where is Hashem in that experience?

Despite all of the miraculous success of our generation, we seem to fall short in one key area: Connecting it all to Hashem in a personal and intimate conversation.

I am not writing all of this to point fingers or give mussar. Chas V'Shalom. Indeed, I think it's quite the opposite. Our generation has finally arrived at the moment for which Chazal has been training us; we have been practicing for this moment for over two thousand years. It's a well known Halacha (שו”ע או”ח קי״א:א):

צריך לסמוך גאולה לתפלה ולא יפסיק ביניהם One needs to juxtapose “redemption” [i.e. the last blessing of the Sh'ma – “Ga-al Yisrael”] to “prayer” [i.e. the Amidah].

Every morning (and evening) of our lives, when we reflect on Geulah, we are obligated to capitalize on that experience and catapult ourselves into speaking with Hashem.

Rabbeinu Yonah (ברכות ב ב) explains that the moment we realize the magnitude of Hashem's kindness in choosing us, saving us and caring for us, we should want to speak to Him and ask Him for our needs.

We have no trouble screaming out to Hashem in times of pain or distress. It is when things are looking up that we have a tendency to ignore Him.

Apparently, Chazal understood that waiting even for a moment between Geulah and Tefillah means that we have already taken Geulah for granted; we are not longer able to or interested in speaking to Hashem. For over two thousand years we have practiced closing the gap between Geulah and Tefillah.

I dare say, but it seems to me that our generation is standing in that gap. Hashem has given us our Land; our own sovreign State. He has showered us with prosperity, success and comfort beyond the wildest expectations of our ancestors. They would be singing from the rooftops! But the Great Yetzer Hara before Mashiach comes is the desire to be unimpressed; to widen the gap between a good life and a Godly life. We are blinded by the light of Geulah, and Hashem is asking us to find Him here as well.

He has gifted us the great bracha of Zionisim, now it's up to us to make it religious.

Here's an easy template to begin. You can change it up and edit as you see fit.

Step One – Praise: Take a moment, this Yom Ha'atzmaut to speak to Hashem. Stand in awe of His Hand in history, and the miracles that we have witnessed in our own lifetimes. Step Two – Ask: Talk to Him about your hopes of Aliyah, your dreams and fears. Ask Him for help. Daven for the safety of our brothers and sisters and plead with Him to heal us from the pain of loosing so many to the horrors of terrorism. Step Three – Gratitude: Thank Him for the incredible gift of the State of Israel, and for bringing us to this moment.

Hashem should help us to find the means and the strength to leave this Galus and settle permanently in our Land. But until that day – and especially afterwards – He should help us to stitch together Geulah and Tefillah. That's Religious Zionism.