Yom Yerushalaim – A Golden Opportunity
The Talmud (Shabbat 31a) states that when we face the ultimate judgment there is a series of questions we will need to answer. The first point to which we will have to answer is whether we have dealt in business honestly and with virtue. The second question is whether we incorporated the study of Torah into our schedules. The next challenges is whether we engaged in procreation, helping to populate the world God created. The fourth question is whether we waited in anticipation for the redemption. The last two deal with our pursuit of wisdom and understanding.
In relation to the fourth point, the expectation and anticipation of redemption, the Rambam writes a very powerful statement. “Anyone who doesn’t believe in the coming of the Messiah, or doesn’t await the coming of the Messiah, denies not only the words of our prophets but also stands in defiance of the Torah.”
There is a Midrash that admonishes our state of apathy when it comes to this point. The Midrash describes how God says to the righteous, “It is not good that you adore My Torah and devote yourselves to it, but you do not display the same concern for My kingdom!” In other words, even the righteous are often lacking in this area, becoming comfortable in our state of exile where God’s dominion is secondary. We may pursue the study of Torah, which is vitally important, but we fail to express the same commitment and regard for the state of the world. We are obliged to hope and yearn constantly for the Messianic time.
When I was a child, about 8 or 9 years old, my father returned from a trip to a New York and approached me with a twinkle in his eyes, holding something behind his back. “What do you want most in the whole world?” he asked me. Without hesitation I answered that I wanted Mashiach. “Aside from Mashiach,” my father continued to tease. (It was a sephardic siddur of my very own – something that set me apart and appealed to the non-conformist in me).
I would like to think that a small part of me really felt a strong desire for the arrival of the Messiah, and this was not entirely a case of gauging what the questioner would like to hear. But it at least reflects an upbringing that fostered an appreciation of the importance of the Messiah. We were immersed in an environment that took to heart these vital aspects of our Jewish faith.
Some years ago I had occasion to sit at a meeting with other Jewish clergy, planning some community events. The Israeli shlicha to the community was also present, and she spoke of some project of tikkun olam, rectifying the world. I will never forget the sharp rebuke that came, of all people, from the Reform rabbi. We pray three times a day “letaken olam b’malchut shadai,” to rectify the world in the Kingdom of the Lord. As a Reform Jew this rabbi probably had a slightly different intent, but in principle he was absolutely correct. All our efforts to make the world a better place must be in the context of the Kingdom of the Lord.
As we celebrate Yom Yerushalaim on Sunday, the day on which, just half a century ago, Jerusalem was liberated and brought under the control of our people for the first time since the second Jewish commonwealth, it is especially appropriate to remind ourselves of this. The Psalmist (122:3) declared that “The built-up Jerusalem is like a city joined together.” Our sages teach that ‘joined together’ refers to the heavenly city of Jerusalem joined with the physical city of Jerusalem on earth. The heavenly city reflects the ideal of perfection, while the lower city is one of regular life, where people work and play, love and cry. The prophet (Zachariah 8:4) promised in the name of the Lord that “Elderly men and women will yet sit in the streets of the Jerusalem.” It will be a city pulsating with life, children playing and commerce thriving – the materialization of a concrete reality to which we bear witness today.
The joining of the city under Jewish sovereignty is not a distant historic event but an occasion in living memory. Many of us know people who were there at the time, or people who were driven to volunteer in the county when the 1967 war was imminent. Some made it before the war broke, others landed in the country in the first days of the war. Still others were only able to reach Israel after the war was over. The one thing they shared in common was the realization that they are living in historic times, and they wanted to participate, not just be bystanders during this cataclysmic time. They all felt the call of the Messiah and believed in it. When Prime Minister Levi Eshkol urgently summoned his cabinet on the third day of the war to discuss whether an attempt should be made to take Jerusalem it was also with a sense of profound recognition of an historic opportunity to shape the destiny of Israel.
We are now witnessing the beginning of a great political revolution as well, when Jerusalem is recognized politically as the capital of the Jewish State. We can choose to ignore this, continuing to fade under the cloak of invisibility, or we can recognize that this too is part of the great process of making the world into the Kingdom of God. As members of the tribe of Israel we should lend our voices unabashedly in support of the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s eternal capital. Let’s not miss this opportunity.