Jerusalem – A City That Turns All of Israel into Friends

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Based on a sicha by Harav Baruch Gigi

Summarized by Chaim Mayer

Translated by David Strauss

Tonight we celebrate the liberation of Jerusalem and other regions of Eretz Yisrael in 5727 (1967). We who have been privileged to rebuild the ruins of Gush Etzion are enveloped at this time by a special feeling. The voices of Torah study are being sounded between Bethlehem, where mother Rachel cried over her sons, and Hebron, city of the Patriarchs, from where father Avraham set off with his son Yitzchak on their way to Mount Moriah.

In 5727 I was a boy of ten living in the Diaspora. I remember well the joy that filled our hearts when we heard that the people of Israel had returned to the gates of Jerusalem, and the exciting feeling that “my beloved is knocking” (“kol dodi dofek”), that a renewed encounter was taking place between the Beloved and His loved one.

What was the special light that God shined upon us at the time of that great victory in 5727? Let us try to clarify the matter by way of a comparison to Yom Ha-Atzma’ut. Concerning the question whether or not to say Hallel on that day, some have pointed out that Hallel is only recited over a miracle performed for the entire people of Israel, but at the time of the establishment of the State of Israel, only a minority of the Jewish people lived within its borders. There is much room to argue with this position, but I wish to focus on a different point: Hallel is recited only when those for whom the miracle was performed recognize the miracle. Let me cite the words of my revered teacher, HaRav Amital, in the name of Rav Unterman zt”l: It was not for naught that the Chief Rabbinate decided that Hallel on Yom Ha-Atzma’ut should be recited without a blessing, whereas on Yom Yerushalayim it should be said with a blessing.

At the time of the founding of the state, there were many who did not recognize the hand of God in the events, who did not see our deliverance as a Divine miracle. There were even those who saw the establishment of the state as a misfortune, rather than an enterprise blessed by God. It seems to me, however, that in 1967, with the liberation of Jerusalem, in the wake of the entire period that preceded the war, there was an all-embracing feeling that “my beloved is knocking.” All sectors of the population sensed that they were witnessing a unique shining of God’s light. Eli Landau, a journalist who accompanied the forces that broke into the Old City, wrote as follows:

We heard the command given to our forces to enter the Old City. Even in the tumult of battle, [Motta Gur, commander of the Paratrooper Division] explained to his men who were about to breach the city walls the extraordinary nature of the moment. He climbed onto the front of the half-track in order to be first, always first, to lead the way to the Lions’ Gate. “Har Ha-Bayit be-yadenu,” [Motta Gur triumphantly announced] – “The Temple Mount is in our hands!”

Motta did not say: “The Temple Mount is in my hands!” There, on the white plaza, Motta chose not to be first, alone, but rather to be there together with everybody else. Motta was not only an officer; he was a friend and a partner, he was an agent. With his three historic words, Motta brought together the shared, unifying experience of those paratroopers who were privileged to participate in the event, of those paratroopers who did not enjoy that privilege, and of all Jews throughout the world. The plaza was then a narrow alleyway east of the Mugrabi neighborhood. It was shadowed by a narrow mosque over which flew a blue and white flag that had just then been raised. This alleyway was a gate that led to the giant wall, built from enormous gray, ashlar blocks, from whose crevices wild flowers grew, a gate hanging from the heights of heaven.

These words, written by someone who was not Torah-observant, accurately express the general feeling in 1967.

 What is special about Jerusalem? What makes it so unique? It says in Berakhot (48b):

Whoever omits to mention covenant and Torah in the blessing of the land [in the Grace after Meals] and the kingdom of the house of David in the “Who builds Jerusalem” blessing – has not fulfilled his obligation.

 Chazal emphasized that the blessing of the land cannot be detached from the covenant of the Torah: the foundation of our living in the land lies in the recognition that we are here by virtue of the Torah that makes it possible for us to communicate with God. Similarly, the blessing of Jerusalem cannot be severed from the kingdom of the house of David, which serves as an expression of God’s kingdom in this world, so that rebellion against the Davidic monarchy is equivalent to rebellion against the kingdom of God. This is the essence of Jerusalem: a city of spirit and justice, a city that belongs to God, rather than to individual people.

 How far are we today from that Jerusalem! We hope for the same revelation that occurred forty years ago, but owing to our lack of understanding of the city’s essence, we missed the opportunity to encounter the Beloved. Accordingly, this day of joy and gratitude toward God must also be a day of searching. After forty years, it is time that we understand the city’s special nature, and how “to awake love, till it please.”

 In these insane days, a certain journalist said: “Take Jerusalem, and give us Tel Aviv.” Jerusalem does not belong to one sector of the people, but rather unites the entire nation. This is the essence of the city, and this journalist’s attitude testifies to a total misunderstanding of the heart and soul of Jerusalem.

Rabbi Yose says in tractate Chagiga (22a):

Why are all people trusted throughout the year in regard to the ritual cleanness of the wine and oil [they bring to the Temple]? It is in order that everyone not go and build a private altar for himself, and burn a red heifer for himself.

 Rabbi Yose was concerned about the danger inherent in the attitude of “Give us Tel Aviv,” or, as he put it, “everyone building a private altar for himself.” Today, the situation that Rabbi Yose feared is far worse. In that talmudic passage, the Gemara is teaching us a clear lesson: The nation of Israel is one, and during the pilgrimage festivals everyone is equal. The unity of the people is an essential element of the city of Jerusalem, and this includes searching for ways through which all of the people can be brought together.

Some argue that our community’s responsibility today is to integrate ourselves into all areas of life in Eretz Yisrael. I agree, but we have a responsibility that comes before that – to bring the nation to that same feeling that prevailed forty years ago, according to which “God redeemed His people.” We must understand the enormity of the privilege that we have been given to live in Jerusalem and Eretz Yisrael. We are charged with the mission to teach the rest of the nation to reach this level of recognition of God. This we must do not as outside observers, but out of a feeling of partnership.

The Sages of Yavneh instituted the “ha-tov ve-ha-meitiv” (“who is good and bestows good”) blessing in the Grace after Meals as an expression of gratitude over the dead of Beitar having been brought to burial. The idea for which those rebels fought – the restoration of the kingdom and the Shekhina to Jerusalem – did not die, and eventually it will be realized. This is the idea of the “ha-tov ve-ha-meitiv” blessing: The Shekhina will one day rest again in Jerusalem. “He did good, He does good, He will do good” – the joining of the past to the glorious future that awaits us in Jerusalem. The Sages of Yavneh saw this even at a time when this vision of the future was so distant, and instead of despair they instilled the people with hope. It is our job to follow in the path of the Yavneh Sages and impress this awareness deep within us and within all of Israel.

I opened my remarks by mentioning our responsibility as residents of Gush Etzion and as those who have restored Torah to this place. It is incumbent upon us to feel our connectedness, to understand that we are part of a movement that aspires to establish a Torah society. Great things have taken place in our Yeshiva, and our sense of responsibility must bring us to take those things out of the narrow confines of the Yeshiva and into the public domain. We must enhance our sense of responsibility for the entire Jewish people, in all places, and thus also our responsibility to Jerusalem, to the Temple and to God who dwells in our midst. Let us pray that the day on which God will rebuild His house will soon arrive, so that we will be able to wholeheartedly say: “Lo, this is our God, for whom we waited that He may save us; this is the Lord for whom we were waiting – let us rejoice and be happy with His salvation” (Tehillim 145:13).

(This sicha was delivered on Yom Yerushalayim 5767 [2007] in honor of the fortieth anniversary of the reunification of Yerushalayim.)

Courtesy of VBM – The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash of Yeshivat Har Etzion