Our discussion will begin with a story which is found in the book, “A tzaddik in our time” – a biography of Rav Aryeh Levin by Simcha Raz (Feldheim Publications). As we mentioned previously, Rav Aryeh Levin was a beloved chareidei rabbi of Jerusalem who devoted his life to acts of loving-kindness, and he was admired by all segments of the Jewish population. The following story about Reb Aryeh, as he was affectionately known, took place during the Six Day War of June, 1967:
From 1948 until 1967, Jerusalem was a divided city, with Jordan ruling over East Jerusalem, and Israel ruling over West Jerusalem. With the outbreak of the Six Day War in June, 1967, Jordan decided to attack Israel. Jordanian forces in East Jerusalem attacked West Jerusalem, but Israeli forces put an end to the attacks by taking control of East Jerusalem; thus, Jerusalem was once again united.
The day after the unification of Jerusalem, two members of Israel’s knesset (legislature) set out to visit the Kosel – the Western Wall of the Temple Mount – which is located in East Jerusalem. (The Sephardic pronunciation is Kotel.) They felt great joy over this opportunity, for after Jordan conquered East Jerusalem in 1948, Jews were not allowed to enter this part of the city. As we know, the nations of the world did not protest against the exclusion of Jews from East Jerusalem and the denial of their right to pray at the Western Wall.
On their way to the Western Wall, the two legislators decided to visit Reb Aryeh. “Mazel Tov,” said the two visitors to Reb Aryeh, “at last the Kotel is in our hands.” When the rejoicing among them subsided, Reb Aryeh commented: “Now we have to pray for Heaven’s mercy.” This left the two visitors wondering about his chareidi caution. They asked, “Now dear rabbi, when everyone is celebrating happily, you are filled with anxiety and worry? Why?”
Reb Aryeh then shared with them a Torah insight concerning the battle that Avraham, our father, had with the five kings. After Avraham defeated them, Hashem told Avraham, “Do not fear, I am your shield” (Genesis 15:1). Why did Avraham need this assurance after his stunning victory?
The answer, said Reb Aryeh, is simple: After so resounding and astounding a triumph in battle, Avraham was certain that the nations all about him would be stirred and would probably unite against him to undo his victory. This is why he needed the Almighty’s assurance. Reb Aryeh pointed out that we are in a similar situation today. And he added:
“The nations will not accept Israel’s victory calmly. They will not consent to have the holy sites remain in our custody. Now, like Avraham, we need Heaven’s assurance.”
A short time later, the pressure on this point by the great powers of the world began. Later Shumel Tamir, one of the two visitors, noted:
“Reb Aryeh had indeed a clearer, more sober view in political matters than we did. In his instinctive reaction, the age-old profound wisdom of the Jew found expression. I dearly wish that our leaders could see matters as he did.”
One does not have to be a political scientist to realize that we face a similar situation today. I am not just referring to the current international pressure on Israel to have Jerusalem officially divided again by giving full political and military control over East Jerusalem to the P.L.O. – a corrupt organization which refuses to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and which promotes through its media and mosques vicious forms of anti-Jewish hatred. I am also referring to the fact that the governments of most nations, including the government of the United States, do not even recognize West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. For example, the current president of the United States, as well as previous presidents, refused to move the American embassy in Israel to West Jerusalem, even though foreign embassies are usually located in a nation’s capital.
There is another recent example of this negative attitude. On the day the volcano erupted in Iceland, disrupting air travel and tourism in the United Kingdom (Great Britain) and most of Europe, the British newspaper, Independent, revealed that the Advertising Standard Agency of the United Kingdom had banned an advertisement from Israel’s Tourism Ministry which promoted travel to Israel. The reason for the ban was because the ad featured a photo of the Western Wall. According to this agency, the photo of the Western Wall implied that the Wall is part of the State of Israel, and the British government does not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over this area. Regarding this decision, the noted chareidi journalist, Jonathan Rosenblum, wrote:
“The Advertising Standard Agency’s ruling was but another sign of anti-Israel attitudes that permeate the British official classes. Its decision had everything to do with politics and nothing to do with truth in advertising. It is beyond dispute that the only way to reach the Kotel without crossing any borders is via Israel, and the ad implied nothing more.”
“No other country in the world has any claim to the Kotel. The Jordanians only came into control of the site, which they systematically desecrated over the next 19 years, by overrunning the Old City and forcing all its Jewish inhabitants to flee. Jordan’s sovereignty over the Kotel was never recognized internationally. If the UK’s Advertising Standard Agency wishes to retroactively recognize the Jordanian conquest as establishing sovereignty, it should have no problem with the Israeli re-conquest of the Old City, or of the West Bank for that matter, in 1967.
“By focusing on the Kotel, the symbol of Jewish religious longing throughout the millennia, the Advertising Standard Agency tread pretty close to outright anti-Semitism.” (From the article “Thinking Jewishly” which appeared in Mishpacha Magazine, 7 Iyar, 5770/April 21, 2010.)
I began this letter with a story about a beloved chareidi rabbi, Rav Aryeh Levin, and I will share with you a related story about another beloved chareidi rabbi, Rav Israel Meir Lau. He became the Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi in the Chief Rabbinate office, an agency of the Israeli government, and he represented the State of Israel in many meetings with world leaders. For example, in 1997, Rabbi Lau traveled to Cairo to meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. At the president’s request, he also visited the grand mufti of Egypt, Dr. Mohammed Tantawi, also known as Sheik Al Azhar, Egypt’s most senior religious representative. In their discussion, the sheik challenged the status of Jerusalem, and Rabbi Lau responded to the challenge. In the following excerpt from his memoirs, “Do Not Harm the Child,” Rav Lau describes his discussion with the Sheik:
Then I asked, out of politeness, if he would be willing to pay me a visit in Jerusalem. I promised to receive him with the same degree of respect that he had shown us, but his answer was abrupt: “Only if my passport is stamped with the seal of a Palestinian state. I will not have my passport stamped with the seal of the State of Israel.” I was unwilling to let this extremist view pass, and I pressed him. “Here we have been talking about friendship and good neighborliness, so why does the stamp bother you? My passport has the Egyptian stamp, and I am proud to have visited President Hosni Mubarak. Every attempt to advance peace and understanding between us is welcome.”
But Sheik Al Azhar did not change his position. In his eyes, the Israelis had stolen Jerusalem from the Muslims. I could not allow such a statement to go unchallenged:
“I have done a little
‘homework’ on you,” I
admitted. “I know you
have a doctorate, and I
was curious about the
topic of your
dissertation. I found
out that you wrote about
Jews and Judaism in the
Koran. So I conclude
that not only do you
know Islam, but you know
about Judaism as well. I
also know something
about Judaism, but I
don’t know anything
about Islam. So please
permit me to ask, how
many times does
Jerusalem appear in the
Koran? After all, we’re
talking about the holy
city, Al Kuds. Islam’s
fundamental text must
surely make mention of
such a holy city,” I
said. The sheik gave me
a long, silent look. I
continued to press my
point: “In our Bible,
the word ‘Jerusalem,’
and its synonym ‘Zion’
appear not just once or
twice, but 821 times.
This proves the
centrality of Jerusalem
in the Jewish faith and
“So tell me,” I repeated my question. “How many times does the word Jerusalem appear in the Koran?” Again the sheik held his tongue. “I can make a guess,” I said, and he looked at me in silence. “Is the answer zero?” I asked. Zafzaf, his deputy, nodded his head. With that unforgettable affirmation, I left for the synagogue to recite the afternoon and evening services with the tiny Jewish community of Cairo. I had the feeling that despite Israel’s official peace with Egypt, we had a long way to go to achieve a stable and lasting peace, because some people, parties and movements still refused to accept the existence of the State of Israel as a fact.
The above translated excerpts from his moving memoirs, “Do Not Harm the Child,” appeared in Jewish Action Magazine (Summer 2007/5767).
As we know, our Sacred Scriptures discuss the future exile and the final redemption of our people in Zion. Regarding our people’s return to Jerusalem, King David prophetically proclaimed:
“The Builder of Jerusalem is Hashem; He gathers in the dispersed of Israel.” (Psalm 147:2)
According to the Talmud, this verse is teaching us that Hashem builds Jerusalem through gathering the dispersed of Israel (Brochos 49a). What, however, is the ultimate purpose of our ingathering in Jerusalem?
The following perspective on the unification of Jerusalem during the Six Day War can help us to remember our true purpose in Jerusalem: Six days after the historic unification of Jerusalem was the Festival of Shavuos – the festival which celebrates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. With great fervor, over two hundred thousand Jews made a pilgrimage to the Kosel on that Shavuos. This was probably the largest spiritual pilgrimage of our people in Zion since the destruction of the Second Temple, and Divine Providence caused this historic pilgrimage to take place on the festival which celebrates the giving of the Torah! This may have been Hashem’s way of reminding us of the following spiritual and universal goal of our presence in Zion:
“For from Zion will go forth Torah, and the word of Hashem from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:3)
Our prophets gave us the following message regarding this spiritual and universal goal: If we abandon the path of the Torah that leads to this goal, then Hashem will respond with a strong wake-up call. The current serious dangers facing our nation may therefore be a Divine wake-up call to return to the path of the Torah and thereby fulfill our mission in Zion. In this spirit, we need to remember the following Divine message regarding our ability to dwell in Zion:
“Thus said Hashem, God of all the hosts of creation, God of Israel: Improve your ways and your deeds and I will cause you to dwell in this place.” (Jeremiah 7:3)
According to our prophets, the spiritual and universal goal of our presence in Zion will be achieved after the birth of the messianic age. The nations will then realize that Hashem chose us to be the custodians of Jerusalem not just for our sake, but for their sake, as well.
In the meanwhile, we are experiencing some of the birth pangs that precede the birth of the messianic age. During this period of birth pangs, we can derive inspiration and hope from the Lecho Dodi prayer which we chant when we welcome the arrival of the Shabbos Queen, as this prayer reminds us of the future redemption and renewal of Jerusalem. Some of the passages in this prayer are addressed to Jerusalem, and the following excerpts, which are based on biblical prophecies, can serve as examples:
“O Sanctuary of the Divine Sovereign, Royal City – Arise and depart from amid the upheaval; too long have you dwelled in the valley of weeping. And He will have compassion upon you!
“Shake off the dust – arise! Clothe yourself with my people – your garments of splendor; through the son of Jesse, the Bethlehemite (the Messiah). Draw near to my soul – redeem it!
“Wake up! Wake up! For your light has come, rise up and shine. Awaken, awaken, utter a song; the glory of Hashem is revealed upon you.
“Feel not ashamed, be not humiliated; why are you downcast? Why are you disconsolate? In you will the afflicted of my people find shelter, as the city is built upon its hilltop.
“May your oppressor be downtrodden, and may those who devoured you be cast far off. Your God will rejoice over you, like a groom’s rejoicing over his bride.”
After the Shabbos Queen has arrived, we begin the Friday evening service which includes the following words:
“Blessed are You Hashem, Who spreads the shelter of shalom over us, over all His people Israel, and over Jerusalem.”
May we be blessed with the sweetness and shalom of Shabbos.
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
Related Spiritual Teachings on the Unification of Jerusalem:
King David wrote: “The built-up Jerusalem is like a city that is united together” (Psalm 122:3).
The following interpretations of the words “united together” reveal that there are several levels of unity in the ideal Jerusalem:
1. Physical Unity: The very appearance of Jerusalem is to express the unity of the sacred city. The commentator, Sforno, explains that Jerusalem was designed in a way that caused the newer sections of the city to blend perfectly with the older sections; thus, the entire Jerusalem appeared as a city whose various sections were united.
2. Social Unity – The Jerusalem Talmud explains that the pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem on the Festivals inspired all the people to develop a greater commitment to the path of the Torah; moreover, through this shared commitment, they all became spiritual chaverim – friends (Chagigah 3:6). Jerusalem therefore became a city where the People of Israel were united together, and the Talmud cites the following commentary of Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi:
“The built-up Jerusalem is like a city that is united together” – a city that causes all Israel to become chaverim.” (Ibid)
3. Holistic Unity – According to our tradition, there is a heavenly Jerusalem which corresponds to the earthly Jerusalem. The Talmud (Taanis 5a) finds a reference to this idea in the above verse which describes Jerusalem as, “a city that is united together” – an allusion to the joining together of the heavenly and earthly Jerusalem. The commentator, Rashi, in one of his explanations of the above verse, cites the following teaching of our sages: There is the built-up Jerusalem in heaven, and in the future, the earthly Jerusalem will be like the heavenly Jerusalem.
The unity of Jerusalem is the joining together of the heavenly city with the earthly city – a reminder that the spiritual and physical aspects of our existence are to become one. This holistic unity will be achieved when life in the earthly Jerusalem will express the sacred and elevating spirit of the heavenly Jerusalem.