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  • Writer's pictureRabbi Dr. Benji Levy

What Does Yom HaAtzmaut Actually Mean?

There is a tradition that the first time the root of a word is mentioned in the Torah, the essence of that word is established for the rest of time. The first time the root of the word ‘atzmaut’ was ever uttered, was actually part of the first words ever spoken by a human being (Genesis 2:23): ויאמר האדם זאת הפעם עצם מעצמי ובשר מבשרי לזאת יקרא אשה כי מאיש לקחה זאת Etzem mi’atzamay, ‘a bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh…’ As humanity separated into two independent beings, the concept of independence was born in the word etzem. The next verse says, immediately after, that the two independent beings got married: ‘al ken yaazov ish et aviv v’imo vedavak b’ishto – ‘and they shall be one flesh.’ Why is it that as the two individuals gain their independence for the first time, they immediately lose their independence by cleaving to one another and getting married? Perhaps, every single person is dependent on something or someone at all times. The child and parent, fashion and economy, friends and colleagues, health and sustenance; no one is truly independent in the pure sense of the word. This is especially relevant today, amidst this epidemic, as we’ve come to understand how dependent we truly are. So, the greatest expression of independence is the choice of who and what we want to depend on. This choice is perhaps the ultimate expression of our freedom as individuals. Independence is thus a paradox of sorts, whereby true independence is being ‘in’ dependence’ — because to be independent is to chose the right people to depend on.

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