Photo credit: State of Israel Ministry of Tourism
May 21, 2009
I have just read that the pope removed his shoes to enter Islam’s third-holiest shrine and he followed Jewish custom by placing a note bearing a prayer for peace in the cracks of the Western Wall. He followed what others have done for years, including then candidate Barack Obama. To the pope and Mr. Obama, the Western Wall marks the beginning and end of Jewish holiness.
May 22 marks Yom Yerushalayim, the day commemorating the 1967 recapture of Jerusalem from Arab hands and its subsequent reunification as one city under Jewish dominion. After 19 years of domination by the Arabs, Jews were once again able to pray at Judaism’s second most holy site, the Kotel, the Western Wall.
Yet, despite the joy that Zionists will express as they march around the city of Jerusalem on that day, I find it terribly depressing because, if that is all that we are celebrating, then we have missed the point entirely.
Instead of recognizing Jewish fate and destiny in the recapture of the city, we are still thinking as suffering Diaspora Jews without any appreciation of what the capture of Jerusalem means or could have meant.
Let me explain by turning towards the second parsha that we read this past Shabbat morning, Behukotai. Behukotai contains both promises and warnings, rewards and punishments.
When we follow God’s commands, it appears that, in addition to our physical well-being both in terms of material success and avoidance of disease, there are three major line items dependent on our national conduct:
- We will live in the land of Israel.
- We will dominate our enemies in battle, if should it come to that.
- God will walk amongst us.
But if we do not follow God’s commandments then, after a few minor warnings relating to disease and poverty, we get to the Tohaha, a section of rebukes so terrible the Torah reader lowers his voice and reads quickly in order to indicate the uncomfortable nature of the details of what happens when we do not fulfill God’s commands.
Strikingly, we find that the punishments contain the same three elements as the rewards:
- Our enemies will subdue us.
- God will destroy the mikdash [the Temple].
- God will exile us from the land.
What is abundantly clear is that the litmus test for the Jewish people and their covenant with God is based upon our observance of the Torah and that it manifests itself in these three items: Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel, our relationship with our enemies, and the Temple — having God, as it were, reside among us.
These three areas are at the crux of every issue in the Middle East today: our existence as a sovereign state, to the dismay of many; our relationship to our many enemies in the area; and, to use today’s terminology, the final status of Jerusalem, the makom hamikdash. It is uncanny; it is as the Torah promised.
A few weeks ago, on Yom Ha’atzmaut, we celebrated the creation of the state of Israel. We celebrate, not only because after 2,000 years of wandering and persecution we could finally return home. Our primary celebration is over the fact that we could once again sense God’s hand in history and we could participate actively in the unfolding of our fate and destiny. We had returned to the land and were victorious over our enemies. The capture of Jerusalem was important not for the Kotel, but because that represented the third piece of the puzzle: Jerusalem, the place where the temple stood and the Jews had their rendezvous with God, where God could walk among us.
We celebrate these days because we believe that we are in the midst or at the beginning of our long awaited redemption. That is what we are celebrating: the reversal of the Tochacha and the fulfillment of our national aspirations and dreams. Our future lies not with a wall, but with the land and people of Israel striving to live in peace and in holiness with God.
Rabbi Nasanayl Braun is spiritual leader of Congregation Brothers of Israel in Long Branch.