(I’m copying this over from my previous blog. This post was originally written 13 April 2010)
In compiling and editing my own siddur, I have come across the problem of what to do about על הניסים (the prayer “For the Miracles”) for יום העצמאות (Israel’s Independence Day). I wholeheartedly believe that the reëstablishment of Jewish sovereignty over the Land of Israel is a miraculous act of Divine providence, and part of the ultimate redemption. As such, I believe that thanking God for that miracle is a religious obligation.
But what text to say? The rabbis who established the liturgy for יום העצמאות did not establish a text for an על הניסים. There are several out there — the one that Rabbi Jules Harlow wrote for Siddur Sim Shalom is perhaps the best known in this country, and there are several others that I found online, but none of them felt right to me. Some are strongly political, others too narrowly drawn. There’s an illuminating analysis at http://hitzeiyehonatan.blogspot.com/2006/04/yom-ha-atzmaut-liturgy.html — I don’t agree with everything he writes, but he provides good food for thought, as does Avi Shmidman at http://alhanisim.blogspot.com/2009/04/blog-post.html, who formulated his own text.
I decided that the next step in my thought process would be to write my own. Often, in the puzzle world, the best way to learn to solve a type of puzzle is to try constructing puzzles of that type; the exercise deepens one’s perception of the type. I did not intend to use my own text in my siddur, but it would give me something to compare to others. In the end, though, I am likely to use this because I remain dissatisfied with what else I’ve found.
So, here’s a summary of how I ended up with the text that I have.
If one feels, as I do, that on יום העצמות there was a miracle, and that we should thank and praise the Holy One for that miracle by reciting הלל and על הניסים, then there a number of questions one needs to answer.
The first and most important, of course, is: What is the miracle?
It’s not just the military victory. First, that would raise the question of why 1948 is worth singling out but not ’56, ’67, ’73 (oy, davka ’73!), and so on. Second, though, if we look at the archetypal miracles for which we say על הניסים, Chanukah and Purim, it’s interesting to note that in both cases there is the miracle that happened “בו ביום,” at that moment, but also the more important miracle of the months and years leading up to that moment. The true miracle of Chanukah wasn’t the flask of oil that started burning on 25 Kislev, it was the years of battle; the miracle of Purim wasn’t the military success on 14 Adar, it was the chain of seeming coincidences that made our defense possible. And in both cases, there is the redemption of Jewish identity from the threat of assimilation among the most powerful nations of the world.
So, too, it seems to me that the miracle of עצמאות preceded יום העצמאות. It began with Herzl and the early Zionists; it was the miracle of the ingathering of the exiles and their successes against overwhelming — one is tempted to say impossible — odds to build the infrastructure and social structure necessary to support the new country.
One can then construct an על הניסים text that proceeds from this starting point, and looks to the texts for Chanukah and Purim for their structure.
The classic texts begin by situating themselves in a particular time, identified as “In the days of” the humans who are considered the “heroes” of the narrative. For Chanukah that’s the Hashmonaim; for Purim it’s Mordechai and Esther. In our case, I submit that it’s the chalutzim.
The classic texts draw heavily on the sources that describe the narrative: מגילת אסתר, מגילת אנטיוכוס, and the Talmud Bavli. These texts are familiar and have the appropriate cadences. For my purposes, I drew on four sources: The verse in Devarim 30:4 that describes the ingathering of the exiles, תפילה לשלום מדינת ישראל, the מגילת העצמאות itself, and התקוה.
The classic texts start by establishing the existential threat to the Jewish People, then transitioning into God’s redemptive acts with the phrase ואתה ברחמיך הרבים “And You, in Your abundant mercy”. They use the form of a litany. And they emphasize the contributions not only of the omnipotent God without whom the Jews could not have succeeded, but also the actions of the Jews without whose efforts God would have had no one to support. I tried to use all of these techniques in assembling my text.
Here is what I have at the moment. I hope to get it refined in time to use next Tuesday on יום העצמאות:
בִּיְמֵי הֶחָלוּצִים, עֵינֵיהֶם צוֹפוֹת לְצִיּוֹן, וְנִדַּחִים בִּקְצֵה הַשָּׁמַיִם. וְאַתָּה בְּרַחֲמֶֽיךָ הָרַבִּים מִשָּׁם קִבַּצְתָּם, יי אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ, וּמִשָּׁם לָקַחְתָּם. בִּיְצִיאָתַם מֵאַרְצוֹת צַלְמָוֶת, הִצְהִירוּ כִּי אֲנַחְנוּ עַם חׇפְשִׁי בְּאַרְצֵנוּ ,וְהִכְרִיזוּ עַל הֲקָמַת מְדִינַת יִשְׂרָאֵל, רֵאשִׁית צְמִיחַת גְּאֻלָּתֵֽנוּ. וְחִזַּקְתָּ אֶת רַגְלֵי הָעוֹלִים, אֶת יְדֵי הַבּוֹנִים, אֶת לְשׁוֹנוֹת הַמַּנְהִיגִים, וְאֶת לְבָבֵי הַחַיָּלִים הַמְּגִנִּים עַל הָעַם, הָאָרֶץ, וְשִׁמְךָ הַקָּדוֹשׁ.
In the days of the pioneers, whose eyes turned to Zion, the exiles were scattered to the corners of heaven. And You, in Your great rachamim, From there you gathered them, Hashem our God, and from there you took them. In their exodus from the lands of the shadow of death, they declared that we would henceforth be a free people in our own land, and they proclaimed the State of Israel, the first flowering of our redemption. You strengthened the legs of the immigrants, the hands of the builders, the mouths of the statesmen, and the hearts of the soldiers who defended the land, the people, and Your holy Name.
Once more, with sources:
In the days of [Standard Al Ha-Nissim structure]
whose eyes turned to Zion [Hatikvah],
the exiles were scattered to the corners of heaven. [Deut 30:4]
And You, in Your great rachamim [Standard Al Ha-Nissim structure]
From there you gathered them, Hashem our God, and from there you took them. [Deut 30:4]
In their exodus from
the lands of the shadow of death, [cf http://alhanisim.blogspot.com/2009/04/blog-post.html ]
they declared that we would henceforth
be a free people in our own land [Hatikvah],
and they proclaimed the State of Israel, [Megilat atzmaut]
the first flowering of our redemption. [Tefillah lishlom hamedinah]
You strengthened the legs of the immigrants, the hands of the builders, the mouths of the statesmen, and the hearts of the soldiers who defended the land, the people, and Your holy Name.
[A year after I wrote that, I had the opportunity to work with Prof. Ruth Langer, an expert in Jewish liturgy. She helped me (a lot!) to revise this into the following text, which is what appears in my siddur:]