Three years ago, I had the privilege to celebrate Yom Yerusholayim in Cleveland with my dear mother. Within days, she suffered a stroke that would take her life just weeks later. Oh how she loved Israel. Today she rests in the beautiful hills between Yerusholayim and Beit Shemesh. May this essay be a merit for her neshama, Bracha bas Shimon.
Radical Responsibility, and Bubby
As the days of creation followed one after the other, God surveyed the landscape and, vayar Elokim ki tov, “And God saw that it was good.” Then, on the sixth day, after the creation of the first human beings, God saw creation as tov meod, “very good.” The creation of human beings wasn’t just the addition of another facet of creation, rather it was, and we are, the only aspect of creation that bears responsibility for the entirety of creation, and that changes everything. The creation of people was the creation of responsibility, and the presence of responsibility is a radical distinction between people and all other creatures, no matter how good or beautiful they may be. Everything God created is good, we are spectacular: Spectacularly responsible.
Every problem that plaques the world; every threat that hangs over our heads, every homeless person, every addict caught in the clutches of using, every challenge facing the Jewish people, with whom does the responsibility lie to make a difference, to fix what is broken?
With communal leaders?
With the dialectic forces of history?
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, (Dibros Moshe, Vayakhel 35:10), said that when the nation was told to build the Mishkan, that the person put in charge was Betzalel. However, prior to that, God said that the work should be done by “every wise-hearted person.” So who was responsible? Every wise-hearted person, or Betzalel? To this Rabbi Feinstein said that, “Every Jew that had the slightest ability was responsible for building the Mishkan … as if Betzalel had no responsibility at all. Therefore, whatever needs the Jewish people may ever have, if, for whatever reason those most capable don’t act, then the responsibility automatically lies with each and every Jew.”
That was my mother, our Bubby, though just one facet of her regal personage: Whether it was a struggling addict, an African American minister who was feeling down and knew he could count on my mother for a cup of tea and a listening ear and heart, a grandchild in need of comfort and wisdom, a struggling family that never asked but nonetheless received shoes for all their children, or the State of Israel. It never occurred to my mother not to be responsible.
And so, Yom Yerusholayim …
Awakening From Below, Awakening From Above
“God is your shadow …” (Psalms 121:5)
… God is our shadow, and like every shadow, He follows our lead. As the Ramchal says, (Daas Tvunos chelek bet, p. 22-23), “Therefore, the actions of the Creator change based on their (Am Yisroel) desire-ratzon. For He always aligns Himself with their will and desire.”
This breathtaking picture of our potential is an expression of arguably the most pivotal, consequential principle taught in the Zohar and the sefarim ha’kedoshim. It’s known as itaruta d’ltatah and itaruta d’layla, the relationship between an “awakening from below,” and an “awakening from Above.” This dynamic relationship between our will, choices, and actions, and God’s shadow-like response, is the great determinant on which the hinges of history, and redemption, swing.
“There is no itaruta d’layla until there is first an itaruta d’ltata; for the awakening from Above requires a yearning from below.” (Zohar aleph, 86:2)
“Every revelation of awakening from Above first demands an even more forceful awakening from below. The heavenly kindness that is showered on the individual, and on the nation, requires the formation of a vessel that can hold that revelation … and if we don’t continually fashion those vessels, the flow of revelation is constricted, and can even close up entirely.” (R. Shaul Yisraeli, Zeh HaYom Asah Hashem, 179)
As we know, redemption is a multi-phased process. First comes the phase of pekida; the phase primarily focused on the body, on the return to the land, on the building of the infrastructure and the country. Then comes zechira, where the primary focus is on the soul, the inner life of the nation; on not just building a country like any other, but one that is the beautiful vessel for mamlechet kohanim, v’goy kadosh, a radiant, holy nation.
Yom Ha’atzmaut is primarily about pekida, the body.
Yom Yerusholayim is primarily about zechira, the soul.
However, Jerusalem itself is also multi-dimensional, and multi-phased.
There is Yerusholayim shel maleh, the heavenly Jerusalem, and Yerusholayim shel mateh, the earthly Jerusalem. The earthly Jerusalem is the Jerusalem of awakening from Below; it’s the Jerusalem that we fight for, liberate, and build and build and build. On the 28th of Iyar, 1967, after two thousand years, Jewish paratroopers liberated Jerusalem. At that moment, the moment of “har ha’bayit b’yadeinu” —the Temple Mount is in our hands—a remarkable wave of awakening from below was unleashed on Am Yisroel, and the world. Just listen …
General Motta Gur addressed the troops who survived the battle for Jerusalem—
“For some two thousand years the Temple Mount was forbidden to the Jews. Until you came—you, the paratroopers—and returned it to the bosom of the nation. The Western Wall, for which every heart beats, is ours once again. Many Jews have taken their lives into their hands throughout our long history, in order to reach Jerusalem and live here. Endless words of longing have expressed the deep yearning for Jerusalem that beats within the Jewish heart … The Kotel—the heart beat of every Jew—the place to which every Jewish heart yearns, is once more in our hands. The great privilege of giving back to the nation its capital, its center of sanctity, has been given to you.”
“Slowly, slowly I began to approach the Wall. I approached it as a messenger of my grandfather and great grandfather and of all the generations in all the exiles who had never merited seeing it—and so they had sent me to represent them. I put my hand on the stones and the tears that started to flow were not my tears. They were the tears of all Israel.” (Moshe Amirav, a paratrooper)
“There was the Wall. I had never seen it before, but it was an old friend. I closed my eyes and brought my lips to the Wall. Tears burst forth. A Jewish soldier in the State of Israel is kissing history with his lips. Past, present and future all in one kiss. A soldier near me mumbled in disbelief, “We are at the Wall, at the Wall.” (Abraham Duvdevani, a soldier)
One week after the liberation of the Old City and the Kotel, the holiday of Shavuot dawned in Jerusalem. Tens of thousands flowed to the Kotel. In his memoirs, Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen wrote that——
“I was extremely fortunate because I happened to chance upon the unforgettable Tzaddik of Jerusaelm, Reb Aryeh Levin. Reb Aryeh was one of the best-loved students of the great Chief Rabbi Kook. We walked together in silence. He began to speak in Yiddish, almost in a whisper; ‘my whole life I have not been able to understand the words, “When God accompanied the captivity of Zion on their return, we were like dreamers …” But now I understand! In a dream you can see something that lasted for many years, but you actually see it in an instant. Through a dream moment you comprehend a whole era, a whole history, a whole story. This is exactly what is happening now. Right now we can see everything. We can see the long years of exile, the Shoah, the Underground [where I visited you and others in Latrun Prison], the War of Liberation, and, most recently, the Six-Day War. This very second, while you and I are walking to the Kotel, everything is happening as if in a dream. Because this is it! The rebirth of Israel, the moment when Am Yisrael are once more in control of the City of Jerusalem. How fortunate are we to be reaching the beginning of redemption …’”
Isaac Yehuda Hershkovitz recalled staying up all that Shavuos night, as is the tradition, studying the words of the Torah, and then—
“At last we set out for the Old City. The street was humming. From every side and corner a stream of people came pouring in. All roads and paths led to the Kotel, and spontaneously people burst into spirited singing and dancing. We saw soldiers amongst Chassidim, old mixed with young, Ashkenazim, and Sephardim. All barriers fell as though they had never been. On we marched utterly amazed and wondering: Were we really going to the Kotel? Was it only a week since we sat in shelters and prayed to be saved us from the killers who planned to exterminate us?
“The long twisting line of people has reached the Kotel at last. We stood there dumbfounded, all speech taken from us. Hot tears poured unashamedly from the worshipers’ eyes everywhere.” (R. Menachem M. Kasher, The Western Wall, pp. 61-66)
But all that was just the first phase of Jerusalem, the phase of the earthly Jerusalem. Without a doubt it was also a taste, the first heavenly dew drops of the higher Jerusalem, but …
Appear and Withdraw
In his Discourse on Redemption, the Ramchal tells us that—
“On the surface, in the realm where we live and act, pekidah preceeds zechirah. However, the truth is, in the higher dimensions, zechira actually appears first and operates as the hidden inner force that gives rise to pekidah …” (Mamar ha’geula I:8-9)
The Ramchal is telling us that while the physical-focused phase of redemption comes first, that’s not one hundred percent true. At a deeper, hidden level, there is first an infusion of the spiritual light of zechira that, only later, through the awakening from below, through our efforts, eventually gives rise to the ultimate awakening from Above.
Perhaps the same is true of Jerusalem.
On the 28th of Iyar, 1967, Jerusalem and the Kotel were restored to the embrace of a loving nation that had been battered, hounded, and incinerated across two millennia of history. A profoundly traumatized people could once again breath the air of Jerusalem, pave and walk her streets, build her many neighborhoods, and kiss the stones of the Kotel. And fifty-three years later—
Corona and the Kotel
For months, the Kotel has been closed. Now, it’s just beginning to “open up,” but she is far from her old self. But maybe that’s not so terrible, because after all, it is just the Kotel.
Just the Kotel?
Are you kidding me?
Consider the words of Moshe (Moses) Rabbeinu himself:
Standing on the border of the promised land to which he led the nation, but would never enter, he turned to God and …
“Pleaded with God, saying, ‘God, you have just begun to show your servant Your greatness and Your mighty hand … please allow me to cross over and see the good land, that good mountain, and the Lebanon.’” (Devarim 3:23-25)
Rashi tells us that “good mountain,” is Jerusalem, and “Lebanon,” is the Beit Hamikdash, the Temple. If we think about it, what Moshe said is astonishing. Moshe had experienced the burning bush, the plagues and the Exodus, and the revelation at Sinai, and yet he says that after all that, he was still just getting started! For Moshe, there was so much higher to go. Yes, he had been to the top of one mountain, but now he could go even higher; to the land of Israel, and still higher, to Jerusalem, and higher still, to Beit Hamikdash.
That’s what I mean by just the Kotel.
I love the Kotel. While in yeshiva, I was blessed to live in the Jewish Quarter. The Kotel was our neighbor. Years later, we traveled from Baltimore to the Kotel for our son’s bar mitzvah. And, for the first seven years after our aliyah, almost every morning, I would ride the light rail and then wind my way through the streets of the Old City to daven at the Kotel. I miss her so much. I ache for her. But maybe that is no longer where my inner aches and longings need to be focused, because after all, it is just the Kotel.
There is so much more, so much higher we can go; each of us, all of us, Am Yisrael, and the world. Since the arrival of Corona, the doors to our synagogues have been sealed shut, as has the way to the Kotel. Yes, we’re all looking forward to returning, but maybe, just maybe, we should be less interested in going back to what was, and should rather be looking, and longing, to go forward, and upward.
Higher and higher.
Not just to shul.
Not just to Jerusalem and the Kotel.
Not just to har ha’bayit b’yadeinu, but to har ha’bayit b’libeinu; not just to “the Temple Mount is in our hands,” but to the Temple Mount in our hearts.
“And it will be at the culmination of history (acharit hayamim) … many nations will go and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of God, to the Temple of the God of Jacob, and He will teach us His ways, and we will walk in His paths.’ For from Zion will come forth the Torah, and the word of God from Jerusalem. And … they will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks, and nation will not lift up sword against nation, and no longer will they study war.” (Isaiah 2:2-5)