Today we celebrate Yom Yerushalayim. More than 3000 years ago King David himself established Jerusalem as his undisputed Capital – long before anyone else contested it. Alas later we were exiled and for a lengthy period of time we remained without a homeland. Fifty years ago Jerusalem came back into our hands.
To grasp how pivotal Jerusalem is to our identity as a people let’s consider the words of last week’s portion. G-d says: “If you will keep to everything of the Torah “And I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and also My covenant with Isaac, and also My covenant with Abraham will I remember, and I will remember the Land….”
Note the curious wording: “I will remember My covenant with Jacob and My covenant with Isaac and My covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land.” Why is the order of the patriarchs reversed – first Jacob, then Isaac then Abraham.
I suggest to you that G-d is essentially outlining the redeeming factors for Israel. First and foremost, if the Jewish people are fully committed to Judaism as were all of the sons of Jacob, then they will merit redemption. Even if they are not, but are willing to sacrifice for the sake of faith, as was Isaac, then they will still be redeemed. Even if they are not, but are full of kindness and compassion as was Abraham, then that is sufficient merit to still ensure our security. And even if we may lack all this, and the sole bond connecting us Jewish people is the land of Israel, then that too will guarantee our happiness and well-being.
No people exiled from its land ever retained its love and identity with the land as did the Jewish people. And at the heart of that love was the love of Yerushalayim Ir ha-kodesh. No city has ever been so engraved in the heart of a people. The word Yerushalayim appears almost 700 times in Tanach. Wherever Jews prayed, they remembered Yerushalayim. They prayed for Yerushalayim. They prayed facing Yerushalayim. At every wedding they broke a glass in memory of Yerushalayim.
Several years ago I found myself standing in Teresenshtat, about 40 kilometres outside Prague. There, I was taken to a small courtyard, at the end of which was a brick wall. And behind this brick wall was a tiny room. On one wall in this room was written the Hebrew words dah lifnei mi atah oimed – “Know before Whom you are standing,” the clearly determined east in this makeshift synagogue as one would find within many synagogues today. On another wall, amazingly, in beautiful Hebrew lettering was embossed im eshkachech Yerushalayim – “if I forget thee oh Jerusalem.” And as I stood there praying I pondered upon the incredible fact that there will have been Jews in that room, knowing that they were praying quite possibly their last, and yet still they lived with a dream and a vision of seeing Jerusalem.
Jews never voluntarily left Yerushalayim. Even when Hadrian destroyed it, rebuilt it as a Roman city, and forbade Jews to enter it, still they came on the one day they could, Tisha b’av. When they were able to return, they did. Even after every single Jew in the city was killed by the Crusaders in 1099, still they returned. And when 50 years ago, at the end of the Six Day War, the word spread – Yerushalayim be-yadenu – even Israelis who had declared themselves secular, identified and wept. They identified and knew they had witnessed one of the most momentous days in 4,000 years of Jewish history.
A Jew may be Jew far from Israel, but not without Israel. None of our prayers are as passionate as those that speak of Israel and our yearning to return. It is the dream of our dreams, the light that illuminates our hopeless moments. Its legitimacy lies in its sovereignty. To oppose one is to deny the other.
But amidst all this there is a fundamental point to consider. For all the threats that Israel faces from the outside, its greatest threat is from the inside. When peace is lacking internally – if Jew is pitted against Jew – then we have an altogether different kind of problem.
King David, when declaring Jerusalem as the Capital writes in Psalms: ירושלם הבנויה כעיר שחברה לה יחדו: Jerusalem is built as a city joined together. On this the sages said:
אמר רבי יהושע בן לוי עיר שהיא עושה כל ישראל חברים
Jerusalem is the city that makes all Israel friends. In simple terms, Jewish people are divided over many things. But we are united in our love for Jerusalem.
I would add a dimension to this however and suggest that when we are chubrah lah yachdav – when we maintain our unity then we retain our Jerusalem. And when we lose the chubrah – the friendship and the yachdav – the unity – then we risk losing Jerusalem as well. That’s what we must aspire to – making all Israel friends because there’s no more powerful a security than that.
As in the words of the same portion: “If you will keep all the mitzvot then you will live securely in the land.” We know from both Rabbi Akiva and Hillel that the essence of all mitzvot is the love for a fellow Jew. Clearly then that’s what we need more than anything to be guaranteed security in the land – not just in the land of Israel but in our land, our community and in our personal lives.
Some year’s back I was in Israel and went one morning to the Kotel to pray; Judaism’s holiest site in Judaism’s holiest city. There was a Rabbi Swerdlow conducting a Bar Mitzvah ceremony. He runs an organization working for families that were victimized by terror and he had arranged for a fatherless young man to celebrate his Bar Mitzvah at the Wall. I was a random bystander and was asked to join in. As I later ascertained the father had been on military duty and dropped himself on an explosive device in a busy marketplace thus absorbing the impact and saving the many others that were there. Let me ask you something: Do you think he first stopped to consider who he was saving? Do you think he asked first, for their political affiliation? Are you Sephardic, Ashkenazi, pro-peace, anti-peace, Orthodox, Reform…He saw people – his brothers and sisters – chubrah lah yachdav.
We will soon be celebrating the festival of Shavuot when we are told that the Jewish people stood at the mountain with this compelling sense of unity – k’ish echad b’lev echad – as one man with one heart. You have to wonder: How did the Jews evolve from such intense selfishness and individuality, each man fending for himself, looking after number one to this compelling harmony – looking after one another? How do you go from being independent to being interdependent? Indeed how did we develop from being a divided people into one nation, as one people under G-d?
The answer is this: The giving of the Torah at Sinai is often referred to as the cosmic marriage – where G-d is the groom, the nation of Israel is the bride and the Torah is the marriage contract. The Mishna asks the question: When you are at a wedding, how should you dance before the bride? Shamai, true to their forthright manner, taught: You tell it like it is. If she’s pretty she’s pretty and you tell her so. If not, then not. Hillel, true to their softer approach taught: You see every bride as beautiful – you tell each bride how beautiful she looks. To which the school of Shamai counters: And what if she’s not? Are you going to lie? Doesn’t the Torah caution against lying? It’s a good question. What is the underlying rational of Hillel?
The answer is simple: Hillel is saying that you may not see the bride as beautiful. But the groom certainly does otherwise he wouldn’t be marrying her. So put aside your own personal judgments and see it through the eyes of another person.
That’s what happened at Sinai. For that one day only, the Jewish nation with our multitude of complexities, diverse mindsets, different shaped noses and a myriad of opinions – for that one day we put aside our differences and saw one another from the perspective of the Groom who peers into the inner recesses of our individual souls and recognizes the inherent beauty common to each of us.
Therein lies our ongoing challenge. See another Jew from the perspective of the Groom – our supreme Groom who sees the bride as beautiful – and so must we see each individual bride – each Jew. Whether as individuals, as a community or as Am Yisroel, regardless of our differences, we need to strive constantly to appreciate that though we may be 2 Jews, 3 opinions – we maintain one heart.
Indeed if every shul is referred to as a Mikdash me’at- a miniature Temple, then every community is a Yerushalayim me’at – a mini-Jerusalem. What is incumbent upon us as a nation vis-à-vis Jerusalem is incumbent upon us as individuals vis-à-vis our own community.
Fifty years is a milestone – a jubilee year. It has great practical and spiritual significance. Many years had lapsed, many lives were lost, many tears were shed – and then at long last, Yerushalayim biYadenu – it was back in our hands once more. Let’s ensure we do all that is necessary, to keep it that way always and forever.