What does an independence day mean anyway? As a culture grows softer, it simply comes to mean another holiday, festive foods, fireworks and a day off from work. In the purely hedonistic misinterpretation, independence means a chance to celebrate your own creature comforts without thinking about the sacrifices they cost and the sacrifices needed to perpetuate that personal independence, made possible by a greater national independence.
Individual independence requires national independence. To be free, you must also live in a free nation. And for a nation to be free, it must be made up of free people.
Yet what happens when independence becomes just a word. When a nation isn't really made up of free people anymore, or when it's no longer quite free?
I return tonight from saying Hallel, from prayers that celebrate the independence of the State of Israel as a divine gift. In a little more than two months from now I will stand beneath the coruscating explosions of colorful fireworks in the sky over the city for the Fourth of July. And yet it would be entirely practical to ask whether there is anything to celebrate anymore?
The map of Israel that hangs on the wall of the synagogue has been turned from a miracle into an act of wishful thinking, thanks to the concessions to terrorism made since the early 90's. Israel has been hollowed out and encircled by a terrorist state. At the same criticizing those same policies is considered "extremist" and in some cases borderline illegal. Israel is rapidly shrinking to its 1948 "Independence Borders", as if America were being reduced to the original 13 colonies.
Meanwhile in the United States, the popular culture has shifted from celebrating America, to celebrating the egotistical figure occupying the White House. A Fourth of July under Obama will be less about America, than it will be about a lying amateur politician who successfully turned himself into a celebrity and now sits at the center of American government, despite his unfitness to hold that position.
America and Americans meanwhile are far less "independent" than ever. The constantly expanding Federal Government is reducing freedom at both the State and the individual level. Meanwhile international treaties have further reduced the autonomy of even the Federal government. The socialist credo that calls for government without end is not freedom, it is the tyrannical antithesis of freedom. And yet that is what rules over America today, far more securely than any British monarch ever did.
So what independence is there left to celebrate? In the hedonistic misinterpretation, we celebrate the independence we have at the present, but that is not what a celebration of national independence is truly about. Either in America or Israel. Independence is not rooted in the moment, but in the ideas that give it birth. And those ideas can be and must be reclaimed.
A nation is not merely a government or a flag. It is not a symbol. It is an ideal built up through blood and toil, and through law and aspiration. And when those ideals falter and when freedom seems remote, independence day is a reminder that what was done once, can be done again.
As bad as things can get, nothing is forever lost because a nation is embodied in those ideals which gave it birth. Buildings can shatter, land can be conquered, men can die-- but when those ideals are held deeply in the minds and hearts of even a small number of people, then nations can rise from the dust once again.
That is the decisive lesson of Israel's own independence. And even if Israel falls, it shall be rebuilt again. Even if America falls, it shall be rebuilt again. Perhaps not under the same name or the same flag, but what was done once can be done again. That should be an abiding inspiration to us all.
Europe drove out the Muslim hordes once. Despite the millions of Muslims that have overrun Europe today, what was done once, can be done again.
A minority of American colonists rose up against a foreign tyrant, and underequipped fought a hopeless battle, against the soldiers that had been sent to protect them, against foreign mercenaries and against their own loyalist brethren. And they won. What was done once, can be done again.
None of these acts were perfect. None of the people who did them were perfect. They were flawed and argumentative. Some were corrupt, some were radicals, some made tragic mistakes, and many had little idea of what they were doing or what the future would truly hold for them. In that they are just like us, standing on the cusp of history, hearing the waves of time crash around us, and wondering what to do, and whether this struggle we are engaged in has any hope at all.
The answer comes on independence day. What was done once, can be done again.