At 4:16pm on May 14th, 1948, in the Tel Aviv Museum, Rabbi Yehuda Leib Fishman got up from sitting next David Ben Gurion to say the bracha of Shehechiyanu. Arguably, the greatest Shehechiyanu heard in 2000 years. In that moment, Rabbi Fishman realized the dream of a return to our homeland of generations.
But Rabbi Fishman’s presence there should not be taken for granted, and his private purpose for being there, was not at all obvious to the hundreds in attendance that day.
In the weeks leading up to the end of the British Mandate, Jerusalem was under siege, no one could get in, and no one could leave. Rabbi Yehuda Leib Fishman was one of the fortunate few to be invited to the declaration, but feared he would not be able to attend due to the impossibility of getting from Yerushalayim to Tel Aviv under siege.
Despite Ben Grunion’s intentions to keep the meeting and times for the declaration a secret, it soon became public knowledge, that the State was to be Declared on Erev Shabbos, May 14th, 1948. To that end, Rabbi Fishman was approached by a pilot of a two man plane, who offered to fly the Rabbi from Yerushalyim to Tel Aviv. The Rabbi hesitated. Not from the obvious danger of Jordanian bullets, but because his leg was broken and in a full cast, and he feared he would not be able to get into the tiny two seater plane.
But with the stakes so high, and with the help of some friends, Rabbi Fishman was loaded into the passenger seat of the tiny plane, while his broken leg was strapped on to the side, and left dangling outside the plane.
Reb Dovid Kav, one of the senior Rabbeim in KBY, who lived in Yerushalayim at the time told us the story of Rabbi Fishman flying over the city, with his leg out the door.
But his journey was not simply to say Shehechiyanu at this momentum occasion. He arrived with the intention of ensuring that Hashem’s name would appear in the Declaration of Israeli Independence.
In the days preceding Yom Haatzmaut, the members of the Moetzet Ha’am - the national advisory council debated including the line:
“מתוך בטחון באלקי ישראל” With Trust in the God of Israel
Rabbi Fishman argued that the Megilat Haatzmaut could not possibly be complete without mention of God’s name, while members of the secular Zioist parties disagreed.
Finally, at 3pm, just one hour before the State was declared, it was decided that the phrase would read:
“מתוך בטחון בצור ישראל” - We place our trust in the Rock of Israel.
We as religious Jews know that as a reference to God, while the secular camp would interpret it as they wished - a reference to the Land.
But Rabbi Fishman would not relent. When signing the Declaration, just before his name, he wrote the letters: בעז׳ ה׳: or בעזרת ה׳ With the Help of God. Thus ensuring that the momentum document itself would bear clear reference to Hakadosh Baruch Hu.
This decades old debate still rages. It rages over busses, and flights, and public funds and services in Israel. It rages in fights over army service, tax breaks and government subsidies. The question of whether or not we include Hashem in the State of Israel is one that we cannot ignore. Factions on the Left as well as the Right, the religious and the secular, debate these issues hotly on a daily basis.
But the debate does not rage in the State of Israel alone. It rages daily in the hearts and minds of Jews worldwide. More importantly, it rages in our own hearts and our minds everyday. And the question is simple:
How much is God included in our day-to-day lives? Is Hashem a part of our daily Declaration?
Is Hashem’s presence felt in our cars, and commutes? Do we include Him in our daily decisions? In running our own lives, do we put the little בעזרת ה׳ before going work, going to the gym or going out for lunch?
The State of Israel today is a reflection of us, and we of it.
In our own way, we too struggle with framing our lives as Avdei Hashem, we, like Yerushalayim, are under siege from western culture, and our lives are so often so broken we don’t know where or how to go. But the question is obvious. Are we willing to put that little בעזרת ה׳ next to our lives?
This notion is the charge and challenge of Kedoshim Tihyu. As the Ramban famously comments in this weeks parsha, קדש עצמך במותר לך - We are commanded to increase our kedusha in the parts of our lives that the Torah does not comment on. It’s not just about what we eat, what we say, what we do, but how we eat, speak and behave. Are our lives stamped with the בעזרת ה׳ - With Hashem’s help. Are we inviting Hashem into our world, or leaving Him in shul as we rush out to Kiddush?
But it’s hard. Living a committed life is challenging, and it’s oblivious that there are set backs. We’ve all faced them. But conquering is not the point:
A man came to Rav Elyashiv complaining. “Rebbe”, he says, “My whole life I’ve made sure to spend time in the Beis Medrash. My whole life I’ve tried to learn.” Smiling, Rav Elyashiv asks him “So what’s the problem?”
“I remember nothing! For all of my achievements I have nothing to show. I wrote no safarim, I gave no shiurim, I have no talmudim!” He cried.
And as people start to think sometime as they get older, he asked: “Rebbe, what will they write on my matzeiva? What are they going to say? “Here lies Yaankele Shoef? Yaakov who tried?!”
Rav Elyashiv looked back at him calmly and said: “You know, I’m not really into davening at graves. But if I was in a beis hakvaros, and saw a grave saying “Here lies Yaankele Shoef? Yaakov who tried,” That’s where I’d stop to say tehillim. In the place of the one who tried.
And this is the secret of Sefiras HaOmer. We left Mitzrayim behind us, and we’re on our way to Matan Torah.
Rav Eliyahu Dessler (חלק ב עמוד כד) explains that quite literally, we are journeying from a life devoid of God, to a life infused with Godliness. And the Torah tells us that there is a road to take in between - it’s called Sefiras HaOmer, and it works by going step by step, doing a little more each day. He explains that for this reason, the Torah introduces the count with the Passuk:
“וספרתם לכם ממחרת השבת”
We all know that this is a reference to the Yom Tov of Pesach, but here the word שבת doesn’t mean the weekly day of rest, but the day we rested from the world of slavery and mundanity. The day we finally began to live lives of kedusha.
The Holy Aish Kodesh writes in his sefer Tzav V’ziruz that for a Jew to know they are growing is to know what challenge they’re working on right now. Where’s the place in our lives that we’re looking to put the ב״ה? Where are we striving, yearning and pushing ourselves? Which tefillah, or mitzvah or middah or sugya are we trying to grow in? It’s not about results, it’s about embracing the challenge of kedoshim tihyu.
Ultimately, the Avoda of Sefiras HaOmer, the challenge of Kedoshim Tihyu, and of course, the way to bring our beloved State of Israel to a place that reflects our ideology, history and future, is all the same.
We need to muster up the courage, strap our broken legs into a two seater plane, and plant that בעזרת השם all over our lives. One day at a time.