The Beating Heart of the Jerusalem’s Heart

The Beating Heart of the Jerusalem’s Heart – Vayechi 5777

Jerusalem, and probably every other Israeli city after a terrorist attack is a very interesting place to be. Nachi and I were staying with friends, congregants from Newcastle who made Aliyah 10 years ago, less than a 5 minute walk from the deadly terrorist attack on the Armon Hanetziv promenade in which 4 soldiers were murdered.

 

It’s an interesting place to be; for half an hour later, once the roads were reopened, everything and everybody continued on with their lives. Obviously, families were torn apart, lives were snuffed out and dreams, hopes and futures were changed forever; but for the general public the everyday continued. I am unsure if it is an indication of their bravery and typical Sabra refusal to be dictated to by others, or if it is an indictment of their despair and acceptance of the situation.

 

For Nachi and I it was both a privilege to be amongst our people at that moment, but also a feeling of ‘outside’, knowing that we were essentially visitors, strangers in our own home; our children were safe and sound in England and we had tickets to return ‘home’ in a week.

 

Having walked the streets quite a bit this past week, both as a lover of Jerusalem – its architecture, its people and its absolutely unique taste and vibe, and also as a visitor here, I had a number of conversations and experiences, three of which I would like to share with you.

 

Firstly, it was the conversation that we had with a local Muslim a mere hour after the attack; the victims were yet to formally identified and nothing concrete was known other than the initial number of people murdered. Yet I had a fascinating Halachic discussion with Mustafa (details to be shared in Shul this Shabbat) and I agreed with his opinion and ruling.

 

Secondly, it was when we were sitting in the visitor’s gallery of the Knesset the very next day. This was a spur of the moment decision and a visit that I highly recommend, although to be able to fully follow the proceedings one needs a very good grasp of Ivrit. The Israeli’s version of decorum and ‘proper behaviour’ in the Knesset is in a world of its own, but their idea of democracy (not to mention their technology and speed) was a sight to behold. The first five speakers at that session included two Muslim members of the Knesset, two women and one Orthodox Zionist man. Here was true democracy and possibly the real meaning of Or Lagoyim – a Light unto the Nations.

 

Thirdly it was the discussion with a member of staff at the Temple Institute in the Old City.  The Institute educates and also recreates, they have models of the Temple and its vessels. They have full sets of the Kohanim’s clothing and every reference and scholarly work on the Temple in existence. Having completed their tour a number of times I had only popped in to browse their latest books and educational material, but still got caught up in a discussion with a member of staff. She proudly told me how they have now recreated both the Shulchan and the Mizbeach, which have been deemed by the top scholars in the land as fit for use in the future Bet Hamikdash. This of course led on to a discussion about the large gold Menorah that is proudly displayed half way down the Maalot (steps) of Rabbi Yehudah Halevi on the way to the Kotel.

 

I mentioned the well-known sketch of the Rambam who drew the Menorah with straight ‘v’ shaped branches as opposed to the curved ‘u’ shaped ones. She responded with a differing opinion, and we agreed that eventually, with the coming of Moshiach we would all know the correct design and that the actual proof of Moshiach would indeed be us all agreeing on the very shape of the Menorah!

 

Before leaving I told her my favourite Dvar Torah about Jerusalem, told to me by my father many years ago, and the whole point of recounting these three anecdotes.

 

The Mishna in Ethic of the Fathers lists the 10 miracles that took place in the Bet Hamikdash, including the fact that even during the 3 Foot Festivals when tens of thousands of visitors would make the pilgrimage, still “no man complained and said there’s no room for me to stay”. My father explains that the miracle here wasn’t the abundant accommodation, or even the ‘stretching of the Jerusalem’ as per a previous miracle, but was in fact that amongst all the Jews present “no man complained”.

 

Anyone can crowd extra people into a city, but it takes a G-d to ensure that we don’t complain.

 

What Nachi and I saw in Jerusalem, and what truly gave us hope in this dark world, were the people getting on with each other. Away from the glare of the media and world opinion, away from the soap box of celebrities and politicians and the heated arguments of world governing bodies, were the salt of the earth inhabitants of Jerusalem, Jewish and Muslim, Religious and Secular, Locals and Visitors, Natives and Newly Arrived Olim. In a world that once again is teetering on the brink of (if not already deep within) total terrorist anarchy, it was heart-warming to sit on a balcony in a mixed neighbourhood in Jerusalem and hear the Muezzin calling Muslims to prayer, see the Orthodox walking purposely to Bet Haknesset and the Secular Zionist proudly flying the flag of the State.

 

There were so many more events, and please G-d in time I will tell you about the conversation with the 3 soldiers at The Wall, and the sights we saw whilst walking through the Rovah on Friday night, we will remember the overheard conversation of the American non-Jewish visitors and the throwaway comment of the Flaffel man, but until then let’s take heart from the heart of Jerusalem.

 

Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Dovid

Greetings from Jerusalem – Juxtapositioning of Fasts and Celebrations

Greetings from Jerusalem

Juxtapositioning of Fasts and Celebrations

Vayigash 5777

 

This Shabbat Nachi and I will be celebrating with our family in Jerusalem as we prepare for her nephew’s Bar Mitzvah on Sunday. We therefore have a run of Shabbat, the Fast of Tevet on Sunday and the Bar Mitzvah on Sunday evening, culminating in the call-up by the Kotel on Monday morning.

 

The Fast of Tevet of course commemorates the siege of Jerusalem by Nevuchadnetzar and the Babylonians in 587 BCE. The other two fasts of 17 Tammuz and 9 Av, commemorate the breach of Jerusalem’s walls and the destruction of the first Bet Hamikdash respectively.

 

So being here in Jerusalem for this weekend is especially poignant.

 

On the face of it, the two fasts in Tammuz and Av would seem to be more significant and be commemorating more severe events than the fast of Tevet; surely the actual breach of the walls is more severe than the mere besieging of them, not to mention the subsequent destruction of the Temple. However it is only the fast of Tevet that can override Shabbat, whereas the other fasts would be postponed to the Sunday.

 

The unique quality of this fast is that it commemorates not just the tragedy and destruction committed by the enemy, but also the failings of the Jewish people at that time. When the siege began, we were once again exhorted by the prophets Ezekiel and Jeremiah to repent, except this time we refused to listen. At that moment the future, the destiny of Jerusalem and the Bet Hamikdash was in our hands, yet we failed to grasp the opportunity and ultimately paid the highest of prices.

 

So for Nachi and I, to be commemorating a Bar Mitzvah at the end of this Fast day, to stand the next morning by the Kotel and witness another link being made in the chain of our Jewish tradition; to see a young man accept the responsibility to behave in the manner described by our Prophets and the Torah, takes on an added significance here in Jerusalem on this date.

 

Yet it is not just the day after the Fast, but also the day before hand. In years gone-by there used to be a fast of the 9th and we mention it in our Selichot on the 10th. Amongst other events, the significance of this date was the preparation for the siege of Jerusalem; Nevuchadnetzar needed to prepare his forces, he had to position his army and then close the trap on the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Thus whilst the 9th seems to be even less significant than the 10th, it is in fact a milestone within our history and an important lesson for us all. Before the events that ultimately culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple could begin, the enemy needed to gather his forces. Encircling a city doesn’t happen by itself and before the trap was sprung the inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Hezzekiah really had an opportunity to change the course of history. Yet we failed.

 

For this date to fall on a Shabbat, and especially the week when we read of the reconciliation of Joseph and his brothers, brought about because Judah was prepared to sacrifice his life for the safety of Benjamin, should be a lesson to us all. Rather than being forced together by a siege let us instead unite together out of a shared destiny, a proud history and a bond of family and faith.

 

There is unfortunately much that divides the Jewish Nation at the moment, both religiously and politically, and we – as ever – have the choice how we deal with it. We are masters of our own destiny, but until we take responsibility for both our own actions and for the welfare of our brothers and sisters, then we may as well sit back and watch as the enemy encircles Jerusalem and prepares for its destruction.

 

Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom and a meaningful Fast,

 

Rabbi Dovid

 

 

Cushions and Monuments – Vayetzeh 5777

Cushions and Monuments

Stones From Start To Finish

Vayetze is one long closed paragraph. It is the longest such paragraph in the Torah, being over 7500 letters long. It is not surprising therefore, that there is a direct correlation between its start and finish, even though over 34 years had passed in the interim.

 

We begin with Yaackov stopping for the night on his midnight dash fleeing from his brother Esav. This of course had been pre-empted by the sudden setting of the sun, thereby prompting him to stop on Mount Moriah, which would later on become the Temple Mount. Before going to sleep, Yaackov takes from the stones on the mountain top and arranges them around his head as protection.

 

The Sedra ends with Yaackov once again taking stones and arranging them. This time it is when he makes a pact with his father-in-law Lavan, who was disappointed that he had not been able to send off his daughters in a fitting manner. This monument of stones was in essence a permanent truce between Yaackov and Lavan as well as their descendants for all time.

 

What though is the correlation, if any, between these two incidences?

 

The Biblical Grammarians point out the use of the letter ‘vav’ as a dynamic introduction on both occasions. ויקח מאבני המקום “and he took from the stones of the place” (Gen 28:11), and then again והמצפה אשר אמר – “and the watch tower” (Gen 31:49).

 

When Yaackov stopped to rest at the beginning of his epic journey, he makes a conscious decision to take from the stones of the place and arrange them as a protection around his head. He was heading out into the wide world with which he was going to have to interact, but he took from that world and asked the Almighty to work together with him and protect him on his journey.

 

34 years later, at the end of that journey (and our Sedra), he was being challenged by Lavan; he was told that he could not take back that which he had made in the Disapora with him to the Holy Land. Yaackov responded by once again taking from the stones of the place and this time setting them up as a witness, with the Almighty acting as the guarantor. He told Lavan that all his achievements, everything that he had gained whilst away from his father’s house, whilst in exile away from the Holy Land, was specifically for use back home.

 

{Lavan tried to then corrupt it by calling the monument by a local name, but Yaackov gave it its Hebrew and spiritually significant name.}

 

This Sedra in essence mirrors our life.

 

When we are born, we are like Yaackov at the beginning of his journey and it is our duty, often played out by our parents, to take from this world and ask the Almighty to grant us the protection to enable us to do our job. After 120 years, when we prepare to return to our Father in Heaven, we need to be able to say to the world, ‘everything that I have achieved whilst on my journey here has a purpose, it wasn’t just for use whilst in exile, but is actually a watch tower that guards over me whilst I go back home – and the Almighty is my witness to this.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Dovid

 

{Thanks to my Hebrew Professor C Fierstone for the inspiration for this article}