When contemplating the significance of events on and around July 4, 1776, one can’t help but acknowledge that as religious Jews we have a unique appreciation of the freedoms and rights granted by this great country.
For example: This year marks the 90th anniversary of the arrest, imprisonment, and ultimate freedom of the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneerson, at the hands of the infamous GPU, the Soviet secret police. His “crimes” were his continuous support of yiddishkeit in the USSR by sending melamdim to teach children Torah in places where no teachers lived, building mikva’os, and other “counter-revolutionary” activities. (Unfortunately, the efforts against him were led by the Yevsektsiya, the Jewish arm of the Communist party.)
In his subsequent visit to the United States two years later – during which he met President Herbert Hoover, who as a candidate had been involved with putting pressure on the Russian Government to release him – he made a point to visit Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Here are some excerpts of his personal diary describing the visit:
At 2:30 p.m., we went to the Hall where a large crowd waited. A few hundred other cars followed us. All the streets were closed and we traveled with a police honor guard (not like in the past, the one that brought me to Spalerna [prison in the USSR]). The most significant area in the building consists of two rooms, one of which contains President Washington’s chair, in which he sat 150 years ago… The other room contains the historic bell upon which is engraved “Freedom for all Men.” This bell was rung in order to inform the country of the news of liberty.
It is considered a great honor to be allowed to enter the room and to inscribe one’s name in a book, as well as to lay a wreath of flowers near the bell. People who have been victorious [in their battle for liberty] are so honored. This honor was awarded a few years ago to General Fas of France when he visited America. An additional honor given to kings and heads of state is to be allowed to sit on President Washington’s chair, in which he sat 150 years ago… The chair is placed high up and one must ascend a few steps to reach it. The entire area is cordoned off by ropes and nobody is allowed to go up to the chair.
When we entered the room where the chair is, the mayor’s representative delivered an address in English, the gist of which described how happy they are for the privilege of having such a guest who has fought and continues to fight for religion, which is one of the principles of the American Republic. In the name of the city of Philadelphia and in the name of all officials of the city, Mother of Liberty, he blessed the great guest and asked for a blessing for the American Republic. This took 15 minutes.
I responded in Yiddish, “I think it is obvious to everyone what a fine impression such a warm and humanitarian reception would have on someone who was imprisoned for his religious and moral endeavors. It is difficult to find the appropriate words of appreciation. I will just say a few words of heartfelt thanks to G-d and bless the American Republic.
“Blessed is G-d Above, Maker of heaven and earth, Who grants man wisdom.
“For the good relationship the American Republic has with all nations, for the good care the American Republic bestows upon the Jewish people, the eternal nation, I bless the American Republic with great success, with all its esteemed leaders, mayors of all its cities, led by President Hoover, the great implementer of principles of religion, spirit, and humanitarianism everywhere.”
Then they brought me to the place where the chair is and honored me by allowing me to sit in it. All the invited guests stood nearby and I said, “The great G-d who created man and endowed him with understanding to bring the true light to humanity; He, blessed is He, shall give blessing and success to all who fight for justice, truth, and faith.”
From there we went to the room where the bell is. The mayor’s representative and Mr. Feigen picked up the wreath of flowers which I was supposed to place near the bell. When we arrived there, they handed me the wreath of flowers. I took the wreath and the crowd was most somber. Before placing it I said, “Liberty based on faith is the most proper and the strongest.”
There were other revolutions both before and after the American Revolution. One of the big differences is that the inspiration and foundation of its cause was rooted in an all-knowing and just Creator who has bestowed equal rights to all men and from whom the social fabric of moral conduct is derived.
May G-d continue to bless this great country, granting her success until the time when there will be no more wars and all nations shall live as one.
Wishing you a wonderful Shabbos,