This Wednesday is Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day) and I thought it would be a good idea to say a few words about this and what it means to me. I had better emphasise that I was a little boy when the events of 1967 took place. Indeed I was only 3 years old and I can remember nothing of the event.
I am sure we can find many people around today who could definitely tell me a thing or two about what happened. And that is the great thing about Yom Yerushalayim- it is here in the recent consciousness of the Jewish people. It is an event about which we have photographs, films, and books have been written from people who experienced it first hand and are still alive today.
The Baal Shem Tov taught that everything that happens in our lives- whether it is a positive or a negative event works according to the laws of Hashgachah pratit- Divine Providence. This means that everything that takes place should have special significance to me. Therefore the fact that we are living in a post 1967 age means that there is deep and profound meaning to me and indeed to all of us.
You cannot deny the reality of what occurred in 1967
As a Jew- Yerushalayim is part of my make up- my identity. In our Tefillot we petition G-d every single day:
Veliyrushalayim Ircha berachamim tashuv, Bring us back with compassion to Jerusalem your city. Notice the next words-Vetishkon betocha ka-asher dibarta-And You will dwell in its midst as you have spoken. Yerushalayim with the Temple was the earthly abode of the Divine Presence.
In Birchat HaMazon we request: Uveneh Yerushalayim Ir Hakodesh bimheira beyameinu- Build Jerusalem, the Holy city – speedily in our days.
On Motzei Yom Kippur and Seder night- the two holiest nights of the year we declare LeShanah Habaah biyerushalayim habnuyah- Next Year in Yerushalayim rebuilt.
Indeed in our Tenach- Yerushalayim is mentioned over 700 times.
You cannot be a religious Jew without recognising the importance of Yerushalayim in the life of the Jew.
The First and the Second Temples were built there and it was the centre of Jewish life; the place about which it is written: Ki Mitzion Tetze Torah Udevar Hashem miyerushalayim- From Zion shall go forth the Torah and the word of G-d from Yerushalayim.
Yerushalayim was the focal point for all Jews throughout the world until the destruction in 70 CE. The city was ploughed up and eventually there was even a name change by the Romans in 135.
But it remained imbedded deep in the consciousness of the Jewish people. Wherever Jews were, they trained their minds and their hearts, they modelled their Shuls on the Beit HaMikdash. They might have been living thousands of miles from home, yet they never forgot Yerushalayim.
The Talmud in Berachot makes it clear when it says that if you are living in the Diaspora and you want to daven you should face Eretz Yisrael. If you are living in Eretz Yisrael you should face toward Yerushalayim. If you are living in Yerushalayim you should face toward the Har Habayit- where the Temple stood. And if you are in the Temple precincts you should face toward the Kodesh Hakadoshim- the Holy Of Holies. In reality we as Jews wherever we are in the world, are all facing toward the same direction.
At every Jewish wedding we break a glass and we declare from Psalm 135 Im eshkachech Yerushalayim tishkach yemini- If I forget thee O Yerushalayim may my right hand forget its dexterity.
On Tisha B’Av we sit on the floor and we wail the loss of the Beth HaMikdash and we yearn for the rebuilding of Yerushalayim.
But there always remained a Yishuv in Yerushalayim-a small Jewish community. Despite the difficulties, Jews still maintained a presence in the Holy City
So Yom Yerushalayim – what does it mean to me?
Let’s look at the figures. In May 1967 the Arabs had 500 000 men, 5000 tanks and 900 planes. The entire Arab world were united against Israel.
“Our basic aim” said Nasser “will be the destruction of Israel”.
“Our goal” said President Aref of Iraq “is to wipe Israel off the face of the map”.
Israel fielded 275 000 men, 1,100 tanks and 200 planes. (source: Jerusalem by Sebag Montefiore)
The Israeli leadership looked very weak. Prime Minister Levi Eshkol came across as a ditherer and General Rabin suffered a nervous breakdown.
Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren went around the parks and cemeteries of Yerushalayim to see if there were extra places for burial. He expected a very big death toll.
There were people who expected a second holocaust
But that is not what transpired. The Israelis surprised the Egyptian air force off guard and pulverised them. And they launched an attack into the Old City. Before they knew it the cries of “Har Habayit beyadeinu”- “the Temple mount is in our hands” were to be heard and Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren was to blow the Shofar triumphantly at the Kotel.
It was a turn around of epic proportions. Now 44 years later we sit back and we take it for granted. But the truth is, it was an event where we witnessed the Yad Hashem- the Hand of G-d. Even people who were not religious at all, after the events of 1967 experienced a religious awakening.
What was the reaction of our Rabbis?
I’m not going to dwell on the views of the anti or non Zionist element of the Jewish community. They believe that we should not have Eretz Yisrael as a separate Jewish state before Maschiach comes. The events of 1948 and of 1967 were wrong, blips on the history of the Jews and they justify their outlook by quoting from the Aggadata in Ketubot 111 that says that Israel was adjured when going into exile to swear three oaths: one of them being not to go back to the land of Israel with force. Another time and place I will go into why I believe that their outlook is wrong.
But what was the reaction of the Orthodox mainstream?
I think firstly of Rabbi Yeshayahu Leibowitz brother of Nechama who took quite an extreme position, writing in an article in Tradition magazine shortly after the events of 1967 he said that like any war there is a winner and a loser. We won, but he did not see anything particularly heroic or Divine in this.
On the other side of the coin there are ultra Zionists like Rabbi Shea Yashuv Cohen who says that after the six day war we have witnessed first hand the wonders and miracles of G-d, indeed the promised redemption has arrived and this is it-the itchalta digeulah-the beginning of the redemption- take it to the next degree and we need to very soon rebuild the Temple in Yerushalayim and offer up the sacrifices once again.
Rabbi Norman Lamm- the Dean of YU says that you definitely cannot deny the Hand of G-d, the Divine intervention in the events of 1967. For the first time in 2000 years Yerushalayim is now in our hands,it is an opportunity of epic proportions. However this is not the redemption. We still need Maschiach to come but the events of 1967, the liberation and reunification of Yerushalayim still have great religious significance to all of us.
Whatever the outlook- we need to internalize the message of Yom Yerushalayim and that is not to forget Hashem’s Hand in the great victory that took place.
Barak Obama says that we should go back to the pre 1967 boundaries. Yerushalayim 1948-1967 was in the hands of the Jordanians, they destroyed 54 Synagogues in the Old City. Jews were unable to daven at the Kotel. Jerusalem was divided, our people suffered from ongoing sniper attacks. My message to Obama- Get real!!
In Psalm 122 we read the following:
Yerushalayim Habenuyah- keir Shechubrah lah yachdav
Jerusalem- built as a city joined together.
Yerushalayim is not for sale!