May 21st of this year was the 42nd day of the Omer, 9th week post Covid-19 and Jerusalem Day – a Jewish holiday commemorating the recapture of Jerusalem on June 6, 1967 (the 27th of Iyar 5727 on the Hebrew calendar).
On this day, almost 1900 years after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD, Jews regained sovereignty over the temple mount and the entire city of Jerusalem. This was not a war of conquest. For a long month before the war broke out, Israel was being physically threatened by her surrounding Arab neighbours – Egypt to the south, Syria to the north, and Jordan to the west. The outcome was not at all predictable. For a very long month, Egypt was threatening to destroy Israel and was building up military supplies while the UN was turning a blind eye and the US urging against war. Fear was very powerful. The military itself was expecting a possible 100,000 dead and had delegated rabbis to expropriate parks as potential burial places.
I was studying and living in Israel from 1966-1971. I recall the tiny area of Jerusalem that was in Jewish hands before the war – two main streets, Yaffo and King George. I was not listening to the radio, but my parents in Montreal were watching the news carefully. Not accepting my cheerful appraisal that there was nothing to worry about, my father arrived in Jerusalem to bring me home. We travelled to Haifa and stayed at a hotel. They were hanging blackout drapes on all the windows. We seemed to be the only ones there. We then travelled north to a farm settlement to visit my father’s cousin who was digging a ditch as a shelter. I suddenly realized the seriousness of the situation and I flew back to Montreal with my Dad.
The day we arrived in Montreal, the Israelis attacked. They took the initiative and trounced the Egyptian army in the south in six hours, destroying all of their 300 planes on the ground and in the airfields and capturing all of the Sinai. The Jordanians attacked in Jerusalem and this led to the routing of the Jordanian army and the recapture of the Holy City of Jerusalem by Jews after more than 1800 years of foreign occupation. The Syrians also attacked from the north and lost the Golan Heights to Israel.
Now, 52 years later, Jerusalem is a megalopolis with countless residential neighborhoods on all the surrounding hills, schools, museums, courts, government offices and a fast train and highway system connecting Jerusalem to all of Israel.
How did this happen? Over the last few years, I had the tremendous good fortune to delve into the Jewish canon with wonderful teachers in Montreal and Jerusalem. I acquired a new perspective of Jewish history, theology, philosophy, agriculture, civil and criminal law, and government. The Jewish nation exists today because it never let go of its rich cultural heritage. In good times and bad, we continued to study and hand down the legacy from generation to generation. Among the Five Books of Moses, the prophetic scrolls, the Talmud and the commentaries, there is not a subject under the sun that has not been carefully dissected. Somewhere in these texts, the conversation continues into the present.
Rabbi Shlomo Vilk of Jerusalem gave a zoom class on “Why the temple was destroyed”. He shared that according to the Rabbis of the Talmud, the temple was destroyed because there was corruption and dissension among the ruling Jewish priesthood of the time. But, the Jewish canon was preserved via the Rabbis who abandoned Jerusalem and continued to study and to share their legacy via the creation of the Talmud.
The classic statement is that the temple was destroyed because of violence and hatred among brothers (sinat hinam in Hebrew) and the temple will be rebuilt when the Jewish people can bring disparities together and treat every man as a brother.
Last night, I got up at 4 am to watch this amazing video about the miracle of the Six-Day War, and Jerusalem. I urge you to take the time to watch it. I think you will never again think of Jerusalem in quite the same way.
Jerusalem, the old new city for the old and renewed people. Yom Yerushalayim sameach! Happy Jerusalem Day!
Posted by Rabbi Sacks on Friday, May 22, 2020
Below is the Moscow Male Jewish Capella choir singing a traditinal song about Jerusalem “Bring the Sabbath and Bring Peace to Jerusalem”, the prayer of all Israel.
Performed at the European Cantors Convention at Villa Seligman in Hannover Germany on January 26, 2020.