Yom Haatzmaut and the Obligation of Praise

Mar 5, 2006
Do you say Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut? With a bracha? Without? Sometimes this question of the propriety of reciting the Bracha for Hallel becomes a heightened source of animated debate and even communal controversy.

I recall a conversation some years ago during my University years, when I used to learn in a local Haredi Beit Midrash. Prior to Yom Ha’atzmaut, one of the Bachurim began to tease my chavruta and I about Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut.

“So I suppose that you will be saying Hallel?”

“Sure!” we replied.

“Well, I follow what Ben-Gurion did,” he responded with a humorous tone, “I don’t say Hallel, but I don’t say Tachanun either.”

Clearly, this “joke” – on the assumption that Ben Gurion didn’t “daven” at all – was meant to amuse, but also to tell us that he had Zionist sympathies, but he wasn’t going to go overboard. This young man would not say Tachanun on Yom Ha’atzmaut, however he was not going to take the huge step of reciting Hallel, a Halakhically questionable act.

At the time I wasn’t quick enough to respond. But I was not amused then, and I am less so now. I am writing this as something of a response to this wise-guy, but also to attack a dangerous apathetic stance towards Medinat Yisrael which I feel is only too prevalent in many places.

I’ll put it simply. Ben Gurion didn’t daven! He didn’t speak to God! How about you who DOES speak to God? Should we respond to the establishment of Medinat Yisrael as one who does not daven, as one who has no relationship with Hakadosh Baruch Hu? We talk to God. What do we have to say to God on this day? To my mind, the primary response to Yom Ha’atzmaut in the soul of any religious person, should be one of immense thanksgiving to God. When God has demonstrated His benevolence, guiding history in manner that benefits the Jewish people so dramatically, so significantly, are we so ungrateful, so indifferent as to fail to utter words of thanks and praise?

(If one fails to react in this manner, I can only imagine that it is based on one of two conclusions: Either Medinat Yisrael isn’t such a great historical event for Am Yisrael, or God didn’t have a hand in it!)

Now let me stress at this point that I am not instructing everyone to “recite” Hallel. That is a Halakhic question. (See Rav Ovadia Yosef’s Teshuvot Yabia Omer – Orach Chaim 6:41.) But how can one pass the day of the establishment of the State of Israel without a word of thanks to the Ribbono shel Olam!


Mori VeRabi, Rav Yoel bin Nun, would always quote Tehillim 107 as the source for this principle. The Gemara (Berachot 54b) discusses this chapter as the source for the “four people who are obligated to praise God,” the fundamental obligation of Birkhat HaGomel. This chapter in Tehillim narrates the four classic life threatening ordeals – sickness, sea voyage, desert, incarceration – which obligate praising God.

The Perek there is a perek of Hallel. It begins:

“Hodu La’Shemm Ki Tov, Ki Le’Olam Chasdo!”

And as it describes all sorts of frightening situations of near death, in every situation depicted, the people cry out to the Almighty:

“In their adversity they cried out to God, AND HE RESCUED THEM FROM THEIR TROUBLES.”

What is their natural religious response, the rquisite conclusion from their Divine salvation?:

“Let them praise God for his kindness, His wondrous deeds for man.”

In other words, God’s salvation creates a debt of gratitude, a sense of obligation to praise and thank the source of life for our very existence. At the basic level this is true about Yom Ha’atzmaut. But we have to say more. This perek is given a second title:

“Let the redeemed of the Lord say, those who he has redeemed from adversity whom he gathered from the lands, from east and west, from north, and from the sea. (107:2-3)”

When in our history have Jews ever been gathered from “lands from east and west, from north, and from the sea” if not in the context of Medinat Yisrael?. And at the conclusion of the perek:

“He turns the wilderness into pools, parched land into springs of water,

There he settles the hungry, they build city (ir) and dwelling place (moshav),

They sow fields and plant vineyards that yield a beautiful harvest,

He blesses them and they increase greatly…” (107:35-37)

Are these pesukim not so reminiscent of our recent history. Do we not indeed have the elementary obligation to praise Hashem?

And for what do we have to bless God? That 600,000 Jews survived an attack by 5 trained Arab armies sworn to annihilate them. That we have returned to the Land of our forefathers. That we have restored Jewish Government. That we have built a country that is committed to house and defend Jews all around the globe. That Israel has become the center of Jewish education, Yeshivot, Torah learning, worldwide. That Israel has given a huge sense of Jewish pride to the entire Jewish world, (and who knows how we would have regained that confidence after the Shoah without Medinat Yisrael.) Remember, all educational surveys show that still today Israel is the most profound and formative educational experience for Jewish youth. (This is all said without reference to Geula, Messianic process, or prophecies fulfilled. )

How can a person NOT say Hallel? How can we be so ungrateful to God? How dare we not recognize God in this great gift that he has granted the Jewish people in our age?

So say Hallel. With a bracha, without a bracha. You don’t want to recite those perakim? – choose other perakim. But stand before God, and feel the emotion of gratitude, and express it in the classic religious manner – recite Hallel, dance and sing, praise God with a seudat Mitzva.

“Hodu Lashem ki Tov, Ki Leolam Chasdo!”


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