Study and Reflect: The Israeli National Holidays 5784

Posted by Pardes Faculty on May 8, 2024
Topics: Yom Hazikaron, Israel National Holidays, Holidays & Special Readings, Yom Ha'atzmaut

In preparation for the upcoming Israel National Holidays of Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Rabbi Jon Leener has curated a collection of thought-provoking texts, interesting facts, and reflective questions to deepen your preparation. Carefully selected, each text is accompanied by guiding questions designed to spark meaningful conversations and personal growth. Explore them individually or share them with your loved ones, students, and community.

Table of Contents

Hatikvah Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Future Tense Bereishit (Genesis) 32:25-31
Theodor Herzl, The Jewish State Rabbi Irving Greenberg, The Jewish Way Shulchan Aruch 94:1
Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook:
Orot, Eretz Yisrael (1)
The Balfour Declaration (Nov. 2, 1917) Talmud Ketubot 110b
Rabbi Abraham Heschel, Israel:
The Echo of Eternity
David Ben-Gurion, Address to the Knesset
on the Law of Return (Jul. 3, 1950)


As long as in the heart, within,

The Jewish soul yearns,

And towards the ends of the east,

[The Jewish] eye gazes toward Zion,

Our hope is not yet lost,

The hope of two thousand years,

To be a free nation in our own land,

The land of Zion and Jerusalem.

Kol ‘od balevav penimah

Nefesh Yehudi homiyah,

Ulfa’atey mizrach kadimah,

‘Ayin leTziyon tzofiyah;

‘Od lo avdah tikvatenu,

Hatikvah bat shnot ’alpayim,

Lihyot ‘am chofshi be’artzenu,

’Eretz Tziyon v’Yerushalayim.

כֹּל עוֹד בַּלֵּבָב פְּנִימָה

,נֶפֶשׁ יְהוּדִי הוֹמִיָּה

,וּלְפַאֲתֵי מִזְרָח קָדִימָה

;עַיִן לְצִיּוֹן צוֹפִיָּה

,עוֹד לֹא אָבְדָה תִּקְוָתֵנוּ

,הַתִּקְוָה בַּת שְׁנוֹת אַלְפַּיִם

,לִהְיוֹת עַם חָפְשִׁי בְּאַרְצֵנוּ

.אֶרֶץ צִיּוֹן וִירוּשָׁלַיִם


  • How does the fact that “Hatikvah” was written before the establishment of the state of Israel influence the lasting impact of the lyrics?
  • What associations do you have with “Hatikvah”? What feelings and images come to mind?
  • How do the lyrics and message of “Hatikvah” differ from those of other traditional national anthems?

Facts for Thought

  • Theodor Herzl was not a big fan of Hatikvah and even held competitions to create a new anthem.
  • Rav Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook wrote an alternative anthem.
  • Hatikvah was not officially adopted as Israel’s national anthem until 2004!

Theodor Herzl, The Jewish State

The idea I have developed in this pamphlet is an ancient one: It is the restoration of the Jewish State. . . The decisive factor is our propelling force. And what is that force? The plight of the Jews. . . I am profoundly convinced that I am right, though I doubt whether I shall live to see myself proved so. Those who today inaugurate this movement are unlikely to live to see its glorious culmination. But the very inauguration is enough to inspire in them a high pride and the joy of an inner liberation of their existence. . .

The plan would seem mad enough if a single individual were to undertake it; but if many Jews simultaneously agree on it, it is entirely reasonable, and its achievement presents no difficulties worth mentioning. The idea depends only on the number of its adherents. Perhaps our ambitious young men, to whom every road of advancement is now closed, and for whom the Jewish state throws open a bright prospect of freedom, happiness, and honor ­ perhaps they will see to it that this idea is spread. . .

It depends on the Jews themselves whether this political document remains for the present a political romance. If this generation is too dull to understand it rightly, a future, finer, more advanced generation will arise to comprehend it. The Jews who will try it shall achieve their State; and they will deserve it. . .

I consider the Jewish question neither a social nor a religious one, even though it sometimes takes these and other forms. It is a national question, and to solve it we must first of all establish it as an international political problem to be discussed and settled by the civilized nations of the world in council.

We are a people — one people. We have sincerely tried everywhere to merge with the national communities in which we live, seeking only to preserve the faith of our fathers. It is not permitted us. In vain are we loyal patriots, sometimes superloyal; in vain do we make the same sacrifices of life and property as our fellow citizens; in vain do we strive to enhance the fame of our native lands in the arts and sciences, or her wealth by trade and commerce. In our native lands where we have lived for centuries we are still decried as aliens, often by men whose ancestors had not yet come at a time when Jewish sighs had long been heard in the country. . .

Oppression and persecution cannot exterminate us. No nation on earth has endured such struggles and sufferings as we have. Jew-baiting has merely winnowed out our weaklings; the strong among us defiantly return to their own whenever persecution breaks out. . . Wherever we remain politically secure for any length of time, we assimilate. I think this is not praiseworthy. . .

Palestine is our unforgettable historic homeland. . . Let me repeat once more my opening words: The Jews who will it shall achieve their State. We shall live at last as free men on our own soil, and in our own homes peacefully die. The world will be liberated by our freedom, enriched by our wealth, magnified by our greatness. And whatever we attempt there for our own benefit will redound mightily and beneficially to the good of all mankind.


  • Why is Zionism a necessity for Herzl? 
  • How do you understand the idea that “the world will be liberated by our freedom”? 
  • When do you most feel the unity of the Jewish people? Do you feel that the current situation in Israel has fostered more sense of collectivism or has further divided us? 

Facts for Thought

  • Herzl never learned how to speak Hebrew or Yiddish. 
  • Herzl originally aspired to be a playwright. 
  • His career as a Zionist leader lasted only 10 years until his death. 

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook: Orot, Eretz Yisrael (1)

The land of Israel is not some external entity. It is not merely an external acquisition for the Jewish people. It is not merely a means of uniting the populace. It is not merely a means of strengthening our physical existence. It is not even merely a means of strengthening our spiritual existence. Rather, the land of Israel has an intrinsic meaning. It is connected to the Jewish people with the knot of life. Its very being is suffused with extraordinary qualities. The extraordinary qualities of the land of Israel and the extraordinary qualities of the Jewish people are two halves of a whole.

Jewish original creativity, whether in the realm of ideas or in the arena of daily life and action, is impossible except in Israel. On the other hand, whatever the Jewish people creates in Israel assimilates the universal into characteristic and unique Jewish form, to the great benefit of the Jewish people and of the world…In the holy land man’s imagination is lucid and clear, clean and pure, capable of receiving the revelation of Divine Truth and of holiness; there the mind is prepared to understand the light of prophecy and to be illumined by the radiance of the Holy Spirit…This is the meaning of the Jew’s undying love for Israel — the Land of Holiness, the Land of God — in which all of the Divine commandments are realized in their perfect form.


  1. How do you understand the holiness that Kook ascribes to the actual land of Israel?
  2. Do you agree with Kook’s claim of “Jewish original creativity”only existing in Israel?
  3. Do you experience clearness of thought when in Israel? 

Rabbi Abraham Heschel, Israel: The Echo of Eternity

The holiness of the land of Israel is derived from the holiness of the people of Israel…The land was not holy at the time of Terah or even at the time of the Patriarchs. It was sanctified by the people when they entered the land under the leadership of Joshua…We do not worship the soil. The land of Israel without the God of Israel will be here today and gone tomorrow.

…Why did our hearts and minds throughout the ages turn to Israel, to the holy land? Because of memory, because of hope, because of distress. Because of memory. There is a slow and silent stream, a stream not of oblivion but of memory, from which we must constantly drink before entering the realm of faith. To believe is to remember. The substance of our very being is memory, our way of living is retaining the reminders, articulating memory. Jewish memory, far from turning into a collection of stale reminiscences, was kept alive by the power of hope and imagination, transcending the limits of believing. What seemed unbelievable became a foregone conclusion. After the destruction of Jerusalem, the city did not simply become a vague memory of the distant past; it continued to live as an inspiration in the hearts and minds of the people. Jerusalem became a central hope, symbol of all hopes. It became the recurring theme of our liturgy. Thus even when the minds were not aware of it, the words reminded us, the words cried for restoration of Zion and intensified the link, the attachment.


  • Do you think Rav Kook would agree with Heschel on where the holiness of Israel comes from?
  • What are your core Israel memories? 

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Future Tense

At the heart of Judaism is a mystery, or more precisely a proposition that successive generations have found it hard to understand. Why Israel? Why does the Hebrew Bible so resolutely and unerringly focus on this place, what Spinoza called a mere ‘strip of territory’? The God of Abraham is the God of the whole world, a God unbounded by space. Why, then, does he choose any particular space, let alone one so small and apparently unprepossessing? 

In exile, God might still live in the hearts of Jews but not in the public square, in the justice of the courts, the morality of the economy and the humanitarianism of everyday life. Why this land? Why there? The Bible doesn’t say. We can only speculate. But implicit in the biblical narrative is the answer: Israel is a place from which it is impossible to build an empire. The geography is wrong. The Judean hills in one direction, the Sinai desert in the other, block easy access to the surrounding lands. The coastal plain is narrow and, in ancient times, open to easy attack from the sea. 

…Israel is a place where people look up to heaven in search of rain, not down to earth and its natural water supply. It is a place where you have to pray, not one in which nature and its seasons are predictable. This is part of a larger narrative. Because the terrain of Israel is such that it cannot become the base of an empire, it will constantly be a threat from larger and stronger neighboring powers. Israel will always find itself outnumbered. It will need to rely on exceptional courage from its soldiers, and ingenuity in battle. That will take high national morale, which in turn will require from the people a sense of belonging to a just and inclusive society. Commitment will be needed from every individual. They will need to feel that their cause is justified and that they are fighting for something worth preserving. So the entire configuration of the Torah’s social ethics, whose guardians were the prophets, is already implicit in the king of geo-political entity Israel is and will be. It would always be a small and highly vulnerable country, set in a strategic location at the junction of three continents, Europe, Africa, and Asia. 

Question for Reflection:

  • How would you answer the question of “Why Israel?” 

Rabbi Irving Greenberg, The Jewish Way

Zionism began with the first Jew who searched and yearned for an unknown land whose very name he did not know. Abraham knew only that he had a promise that in this destined land, his family would develop into a great nation, a blessing to the entire world.

In Judaism, the natural is the seat of the eternal. Human beings, in their finitude, are the carriers of the infinite. By living everyday life with a dimension of depth, people become at once more human and more holy. There are no two separate realms of the sacred and the secular. Making a living and making life holy become a joint venture. Improving the world and perfecting it go hand in hand.

To exemplify the Bible’s message, the Jews should be a people rooted in their land (a place overflowing with the bounty of nature) and pursuing a life of justice and loving-kindness, at peace with neighbors —a living witness to the infinite possibilities of finite existence. Therefore, the central political concern of the Bible was Israelite sovereignty and independence in the land. Possession of the land became a classic sign of the faithfulness of the people, the concern of the Lord, and the viability of the covenant. When the Lord and the people were in Zion, all was well with the world.

Question for Reflection:

  • How do you understand Zionism’s connection to Judaism? 

The Balfour Declaration (November 2, 1917)

Dear Lord Rothschild, 

I have much pleasure in conveying to you, on behalf of His Majesty’s Government, the following declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations which has been subjected to, and approved by, the Cabinet. 

His Majesty’s Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the right and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country. 

I should be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation. 

Yours, James Balfour 


  • How have the promises and commitments made in the Balfour Declaration been fulfilled or challenged over the years? 

David Ben-Gurion, Address to the Knesset on the Law of Return (July 3, 1950)

The State of Israel is a state like all the other states. All the general indications [of statehood] common to the other states are also to be found in the State of Israel. It rests on a specific territory and a population existing within this territory, it possesses sovereignty in internal and external affairs, and its authority does not extend beyond its bor-ders. The State of Israel rules only over its own inhabitants. The Jews in the Diaspora, who are citizens of their countries and who want to remain there, have no legal or civil connection to the State of Israel and the State of Israel does not represent them from any legal standpoint. Nevertheless, the State of Israel differs from the other states both with regard to the factors involved in its establishment and to the aims of its existence. It was established merely two years ago, but its roots are grounded in the far past and it is nourished by ancient springs. Its authority is limited to the area in which its residents dwell, but its gates are open to everyone. Wherever he may be. The State of Israel is not a Jewish state merely because the majority of its inhabitants are Jews. It is a state for all the Jews wherever they may be and for every Jew who so desires.

…The law of Return is one of the Basic Laws of the State of Israel. It comprises the central mission of our state, namely, ingathering of exiles. This law determines that it is not the state that grants the Jew from abroad the right to settle in the state. Rather, this right is inherent in him by the very fact that he is a Jew, if only he desires to join in the settlement of the land. In the State of Israel the Jews have no right of priority over the non-Jewish citizens. The State of Israel is grounded on the full equality of rights and obligations for all its citizens. This principle was also laid down in the Proclamation of Independence…The right originates in the unbroken historical connection between the people and the homeland, a connection which has also been acknowledged in actual practice by the tribunal of the peoples. 


  • Do you believe that the central mission of Israel is the “ingathering of exiles”? If not, what do you see as the guiding mission?
  • Who do you think should be eligible under the Law of Return?

Bereishit (Genesis) 32:25-31

Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn. When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he wrenched Jacob’s hip at its socket, so that the socket of his hip was strained as he wrestled with him.Then he said, “Let me go, for dawn is breaking.” But he answered, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” Said the other, “What is your name?” He replied, “Jacob.” Said he, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with beings divine and human, and have prevailed.” Jacob asked, “Pray tell me your name.” But he said, “You must not ask my name!” And he took leave of him there. So Jacob named the place Peniel, meaning, “I have seen a divine being face to face, yet my life has been preserved.”


  • How does this story in the Torah where the name Israel first appears shape your perception of Israel?
  • Do you think the Jewish people like Jacob are destined to be “alone”? 

Shulchan Aruch 94:1

One who stands in prayer outside of Israel must face the Land of Israel, and his heart should be directed towards Jerusalem, the home of the Beit HaMikdash (Temple), and Kodesh HaKodashim (the Holy of Holies). If one stands in Israel, he must face Jerusalem, and his heart should be directed towards Beit HaMikdash and Kodesh HaKodashim. If he stands in Jerusalem, he faces the direction where the Beit HaMikdash stood, and directs his heart to Kodesh HaKodashim. 


  •  If God is everywhere, why do we put so much attention to praying towards Israel?

Talmud Ketubot  110b

A man should ever strive to live in the Land of Israel, even in a city whose inhabitants are mostly non-Jews, and should avoid living outside the Land, even in a city whose inhabitants are mostly Jews. For he who lives in the Land of Israel is like one who has a God, whereas he who lives outside the Land is like one who has no God. 


  • Why is this passage in the Talmud so passionate about Jews living in Israel? What could be the underlying reason?
  • How do you interpret the notion that residing in the diaspora equates to godlessness?

Keep Learning

Let it Be Told

Posted by Jessica Minnen on May 8, 2024