How many days a year is Yom Haatzmaut?  A Lesson from Parshat Kedoshim

It seems like a silly question.  Yom Haatzmaut, Israel Independence Day, only occurs once a year on the 5th day of the Jewish month of Iyar.  Leading up to Israel Independence Day people make plans as to how they will celebrate, be it attending a local celebration (or this year, watching one on Zoom), or making a backyard barbecue.  And then afterwards, we pack up our Israeli flags and Zionist flair like we do our Passover dishes, and await next year’s hurrah.

We return to lamenting about the growth of antisemitism in the world, the instability of the new coalition in the Knesset, and the rising cost of real estate prices in Israel.  The realities of life return and Zionism has lost its glamour once again.

But it doesn’t have to be this way!  Indeed, many people are in fact passionate Zionists 365 days a year.  What’s the secret?  I believe we can draw a profound lesson from a comment of the great 14th Century Kabbalist, Rabbi Joshua Ibn Shuaib, related to this week’s Torah reading, Parshat Kedoshim.

But first we need to backtrack to Parshat Yitro in the book of Exodus.

Perhaps the  greatest story of all time is the story of Sinai.  The Jewish people, a slave nation with but a distant memory of their noble lineage, stood at the foot of a mountain in the Sinai desert and became the people of God.  Each and every one of them received divine revelation and heard the voice of God.  That moment transformed history.  But it’s a mistake to view the experience of Sinai as a singular moment.  Historically it was a single moment, one day in the life and times of humanity.  But the experience of Sinai and it’s lessons carry forth every single day (See Rashi, Deuteronomy 26:16; Midrash Tanchuma, Ki Tavo 1).

One important lesson is that Sinai was just the beginning.  As such, Ibn Shuiab writes that each of the 10 commandments in Parshat Yitro are further elucidated and expanded in Parshat Kedoshim.  The 10 commandments were proclaimed at Sinai with all the hype and fanfair, and are now further developed.  Think of it as the Bill of Rights followed by years of case law and supreme court rulings.  Without years of practice, application, and implementation, what value would the original pristine law have? 

For example, one the 10 commandments is, “Thou shalt not murder.”  This is an expression of God’s morality, and an important law for society to have in place.  I would not want to live in a world where murder was acceptable.  But most stable people do not struggle with this commandment, I hope! However, in Parshat Kedoshim the Torah expands on this law.  Do not stand aside while your fellow’s blood is shed (Leviticus 19:16). On the surface these two laws seem related, yet separate and disconnected.  Ibn Shuiab disagrees.  He writes that a person who stands idle while someone else is dying, is in fact guilty of murder!  This second law in Parshat Kedoshim is an expansion of the prohibition of murder in the 10 commandments.

This is significant.  In U.S. Law, a person who fails to save a life has not broken any law.  Interestingly in 1998, the secular Israeli Knesset passed a Good Samaritan Law requiring citizens to save lives.  Ibn Shuaib is arguing that in Jewish law, a person who fails to attempt to save a life has not only violated the law of “Do not stand aside,” but is also labeled a murderer. (See Rambam, Murder and Preservation of Life 1:14 for how this is codified.)

The point of Ibn Shuiab is that to really live a life according to the 10 commandments, one needs to pay attention to the details.  The 10 commandments in fact expand to dozens if not hundreds of additional commandments.  Further, to truly live a life of holiness, Kedoshim Tihiyu, one must fulfill these many commandments, not just the first ten (see Rashbam to Leviticus 19:2 in contrast to Rashi and Ramban ibid).

Let us now return to Israel Independence Day and the issue of Zionism.  Celebrating Israel just once a year is like being a 10 commandment Jew.  Following only the 10 commandments and not the rest  of the Torah does not work! Sinai was not just a one day affair.  Just like Jewish law is nuanced and all encompassing, so too our love of Israel and demonstration of that love must follow us throughout the year.  It’s true that Israeli politics are complex and the troubles of antisemitism are deep, but these issues should never overshadow our year round pride of Israel!

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