I was in Orlando not too long ago and I had the pleasure of watching the incredible fireworks display as the sun set at Epcot. But, as much as I enjoyed the sights and sounds there, I did not get those goosebumps that I get watching similar displays on the 4th of July.
For some reason, this year, a question came to my head about why we celebrate the 4th with fireworks. The first person I asked told me that it had to do with a letter written by John Adams to his wife as the Continental Congress adopted the final version of the Declaration of Independence which said: “I am apt to believe that (Independence Day) … ought to be commemorated as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to G-d Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”
I thought that I had my answer. I thought that I knew why we shot off fireworks on the 4th.
But as I was preparing to write this article, I was looking over a recent Torah reading that we have done in Synagogue. And we have been reading a lot about death recently. We read about how to purify oneself if one comes in contact with a dead person. We read about the death of Miriam. We read about the death of Aaron. And, we read about the death of Moses.
How on earth did that fit into our upcoming Independence Day and the shooting off of fireworks? Well, oddly enough, there is more than one connection. First of all, it was Moses, Aaron and Miriam, with the help of G-d, who helped lead the Children of Israel from slavery in Egypt to freedom and from the Pharaoh.
Independence Day is about G-d helping us free ourselves from what one could conceive as a more modern Pharaoh, King George III, which brings me back to the whys of fireworks.
You see, in Pre-Revolutionary years, colonists held annual celebrations of the king’s birthday and they did so with ringing of bells, with bonfires, with processions and with speechifying.
But, in 1776, some of those colonists changed things just a tad. Instead of celebrating the king’s birthday, they held mock funerals for King George III. This was a way of expressing being led to freedom from the monarchy. These celebrations included concerts, bonfires, and the firing of muskets and cannons.
So now I thought I had my answer about fireworks.
But, then, I learned from another source that while Congress was in the midst of dealing with war, such loud and beautiful displays were held to build the spirits of those whose loved ones were off fighting for our freedom.
So, now I had my answer.
Nope, because then I found an article that talked about how, after the Revolutionary War, we continued to celebrate the 4th with loud noises, lights in the sky and political orations to create a feeling of unity among all Americans.
Okay, so maybe I’m still not really sure why we have fireworks on the 4th, but we can still enjoy those wondrous displays. And, as for unity, let me remind you, with the recent tragedy in Charleston, that that incredible city has a music festival each year called Moja. Moja is a Swahili word and it means “One.” As we celebrate American Independence Day, let us remember that we are all one. Let us celebrate together in peace, as One Nation, under G-d, Indivisible with liberty and justice for All.
Shalom my friends,
Rabbi Craig H. Ezring
Rabbi Ezring is the Spiritual Leader of Temple Beth Israel of Deerfield Beach (201 S. Military Tr., Deerfield Beach, FL 33442). Regular Shabbat services are open to everyone on Saturday mornings from 9 to 11:30 a.m.