May 21st, 2020 was the 42nd day of the Omer, 10 weeks post Covid-19 and Yom Yerusahalayim (Jerusalem Day), a Jewish holiday commemorating the recapture of Jerusalem on June 6, 1967, 27th of Iyar 5727, on the Hebrew calendar. Today, June 21st. we are celebrating the annual Israel Day Parade which is happening virtually on Facebook.
It was on the second and third day of the miraculous six-day war in which Israel, physically threatened by her surrounding Arab neighbours, Egypt to the south, Syria to the north, and, Jordan to the West, took the initiative and trounced all three of their armies in 5 miraculous days, acquiring the Sinai desert from Egypt, the Golan Heights from Syria, and the area known till then, as the West Bank of the Jordan River and the ancient old city of Jerusalem which had been in Jordanian hands since the armistice of 1948.
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: He 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 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 neighbourhoods 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 – unwarranted hatred of the other – what is commonly called unjust discrimination whether based on colour of skin, or religion or creed, and the Rabbis of that period tell us that 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. It’s an hour-long celebration sharing both the present and past history of 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, 22 May 2020
The victory is a moral one that has only gotten better over the years. 2000 years ago, Jerusalem was destroyed and the Talmud tells us that the law had become rigid and not focused on people.
The Talmud is our living connection to those times and to the present. Rabbi Wilf Rosh Yeshiva of Ohr Hatorah in Jerusalem explained in a zoom class the problem when someone who thinks that he alone has found the truth. If someone feels totally complete, alone, and has no need for others, that too is problematic. Additonaly, communities, governments, leaders who feel that they know everything – that too is a danger. This is why we all need, both as individuals and as leaders, to embrace the prime virtue of “humility”. According to the Rabbis, Moses the premiere leader of the Jewish people, is described by our legacy texts as the “most humble person who ever lived”.
For we are all social animals as the Covid-19 pandemic has proved. We need each other in our homes, and as parts of broader communities, whether local or global. Perhaps, this is what the Covid-19 pandemic is here to teach us.
Jerusalem/Yerushalayim shows us the way to behave and to weather the storms – have compassion, help friends, neighbours, and others in the world. If we all were to embrace this path, we would truly be on our way to the messianic times prescribed in our holy texts – “when the lion can lie down with the lamb” and be comforted.