Rabbi Oury Cherki
Independence Day - The Hallel of Hezekiah
The law requiring reciting Hallel as a thanksgiving prayer when somebody is redeemed (Pesachim 117a, see Rashi) was established by Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, after the Red Sea was split (see Shemot Rabba 23 on the words, "and they said, to say further" [Genesis 15:1]).
Hezekiah was king of Judah under the control of Assyria. He paid a tax to the Assyrians. When he stopped paying, Sennacherib was sent to attack and take over Jerusalem. But his army was decimated by a plague, and Judah once again became an independent state. Isaiah told the king he should recite Hallel in praise of G-d: "Sing to G-d, for He did great things" [12:5]. But the king refused, and as a result he did not become the Messiah (Sanhedrin 94a). Why did the king refuse to abide by the decree of Moses and say Hallel? And why did his refusal cause him to lose the position of Messiah?
The Messiah will be the one who will repair all of the faults of the world. The first sin was eating of the Tree of Knowledge, and the second one was failure to acknowledge the good that mankind received (Rashi, Genesis 3:12). The second of two sins is always the more serious one, and this means that the main bad deed was the failure to recognize the good that was done. The main way to mend this is to give recognition for the good. And that is what was so serious about Hezekiah's actions.
The true test of faith is whether a person can praise G-d even when he might have good reasons not to praise Him. In modern times we can speak of two different types of apostasy. Nonreligious apostasy is to say that the army of the Palmach established this country and not the Holy One, Blessed be He. Religious apostasy is to say that there can indeed be no doubt at all that the country was established not by the Holy One, Blessed be He, but by the Palmach.
In the case of Hezekiah, we can think of three approaches why he refused to say Hallel – religious, leftist, and nationalistic.
(1) Religious – Hezekiah felt that achieving independence had no religious significance. It was a matter of politics and not "Torah." When he came into power, Hezekiah moved all the budgets from agriculture to the yeshivot. The entire land was filled with thorns and weeds (see Isaiah 5:6), since the king drove a sword into the Beit Midrash in order to force everybody to study Torah. The entire world of the king was Torah, there was no room for nationalism.
(2) Leftist – It is written in the Talmud that Hezekiah tried to make the calculations of the Holy One, Blessed be He, and not what is appropriate for a man. Therefore, when he woke up in the morning and saw 185,000 bodies of his enemies underneath his window, he remembered that when the creations of G-d are drowning in the sea it is not appropriate for the angels to sing the praises of G-d. It is true that the children of Israel were wrong not to sing the praises until they had crossed to the other side of the sea (Sanhedrin 94a), but the king was taking heavenly considerations into account.
(3) Nationalistic – During the reign of Hezekiah, Sennacherib destroyed the kingdom of Israel. How could he recite the Hallel when so many Jews had been expelled from their homes?
The Talmud teaches us that when Hezekiah refused to recite the Hallel, it was recited by somebody else – by the earth, as is written, "We heard music from the ends of the earth" [Isaiah 24:16]. This refers to "Am Haaretz," the simple folks. Even if the leader did not sing the praises of G-d, the people in the land did so.
We have been given a great privilege, in that we recite the Hallel both at night and in the day (see the article, "In the Evening, when the Holiday Begins" on my website), that we act as the "earth" which sings the praise when others do not. By reciting Hallel on Yom Haatzmaut, Israel Independence Day, we are helping to made amends for the sin of Adam himself.