May 21 of this year is the 42nd day of the Omer *1, approximately 9th-week post-COVID-19, and Jerusalem Day – a Jewish holiday commemorating Jerusalem’s recapture on June 6, 1967, the 27th of Iyar 5727, on the Hebrew calendar.
On this day, Jews regained sovereignty over the temple mount and the entire city of Jerusalem. Almost 1900 years after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD. It was not a war of conquest. Israel was threatened by her surrounding Arab neighbours, Egypt to the South, Syria to the North, and Jordan to the West, for a long month before the war broke out. The outcome was not at all predictable. For a very long month, Egypt threatened to destroy Israel and was building up military supplies while the UN turned a blind eye and the US urged against the war. Fear was mighty. The military expected a possible 100,000 dead and had delegated rabbis to expropriate parks as potential burial places.
I studied and lived in Israel from 1966-1971. I recall the tiny area of Jerusalem 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 observing the news. Not accepting my positive 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 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 300 planes on the ground and in the airfields and capturing all of the Sinai. Next, the Jordanians attacked Jerusalem, which 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 excellent teachers in Montreal and Jerusalem. I acquired a new perspective on 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, no subject under the sun has not been carefully dissected. Somewhere in these texts, the conversation continues into the present. (More about this in blogs to come.)
Rabbi Shlomo Vilk of Jerusalem gave a zoom class on “Why the temple was destroyed.” The Rabbis of the Talmud said the temple was destroyed by corruption and debate among the ruling Jewish priesthood. Nevertheless, the Rabbis, who abandoned Jerusalem and continued to study and share their legacy via the creation of the Talmud, preserved the Jewish canon.
The classic statement is that the temple’s destruction was caused by violence and hatred among brothers (sinat hinam in Hebrew). The temple reconstruction will occur 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 fantastic video about the miracle of the Six-Day War and Jerusalem. It’s an hour long but shares the present and Jerusalem’s history. I urge you to take the time to watch it. 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
Below is the Moscow Male Jewish Capella choir singing a traditional 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.