In honor of the 70th Anniversary of Israel’s independence, the Warrior Word staff decided to share a dvar Torah by Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, the 11th Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth
The term Yom Ha’atzmaut is taken from the root ‘Etzem’, which means a ‘bone’. So what is the connection between a bone and independence?
The first time that the term ‘Etzem’ is mentioned in the Torah is in the biblical account of Genesis – ‘Etzem Mei’Atzamai’- God took a bone from Adam and with it he formed Eve, who became a separate person, in her own right. An independent individual. Hence, the connection between ‘Etzem’ and ‘Atzmaut’, a ‘bone’ and ‘independence’.
For us, the connection actually goes much further than that. The Prophet Ezekiel describes a remarkable vision of a valley of dry bones. Bones which came up from under the ground, flesh came onto those bones, then those bodies were clothed and people started to march towards the Land of Israel. It is a great description of the ingathering of Jewish exiles.
And isn’t that exactly the story of the 1940’s? One of the most horrific images of the Shoah, Holocaust, are those photos of hundreds, if not thousands of bones of our precious Jewish people, who were murdered so brutally. And yet, within just a few years, we saw a miraculous in-gathering of Jewish exiles from right around the world, which led to the declaration of independence in 1948.
That was a journey from ‘Atzamot’ to ‘Atzmaut’ – from the despair of our sorrowful experiences in the Shoah, through to the exhilaration of our celebrations of independence.
When the Torah refers to the holy day of Yom Kippur, reference there is made to Be’etzem Hayom Hazeh, ‘in the midst of the day’. Literally, it is ‘in the bone of that day’. And from here the Talmud develops the concept of Itzumo Shel Yom, ‘the essence of the day’.
You know, the skeletal form of a human being, made up of bones is the central feature of our physical selves, and that is what is being referred to with regard to Yom Kippur. And isn’t that exactly what the Land of Israel, what Medinat Yisrael, is for us today?
It is central to our existence. It is like that skeletal form of the body – it holds us upright, it gives us pride and we, therefore, as we approach Yom Ha’atzmaut, can celebrate the fact that like Eve, who became an independent person, Israel is now a proud, independent country amongst the nations of the world. We can celebrate the transition from darkness to light and we can also count our blessings, to have Israel as a central feature and an important part of the existence of our nation.