April 12, 2024
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A Yom Yerushalayim View From Yerushalayim

Hashem has blessed me with the great privilege of being able to spend my days learning, davening and teaching at Yeshivat Hakotel, overlooking the Har Habayit. I am often asked what this feels like. I would like to answer through the lens of the Yom Yerushalayim holiday we celebrate this week.

Having recently celebrated the miraculous founding, survival and success of the state of Israel on Yom Ha’atzmaut, many wonder why we need a second, similar holiday just three weeks later. I believe that there are two answers to this question. The first lies in the full appreciation of the 1967 salvation; the second is in a similar appreciation of the significance of the return of Yerushalayim, the Kotel and the Har Habayit.

The 1967 Salvation

Military experts see the 1967 victory as one of the most miraculous in modern history.

In the months leading up to the Six-Day War, people feared another Holocaust. Israel was outnumbered and outgunned on all sides by enemies who openly expressed their intention to “drive the Jews into the sea.” Israelis dug tens of thousands of graves in public parks. Fearing the worst, those with foreign passports sent their children abroad to safe havens.1

Amazingly, through the confluence of numerous miraculous “coincidences,”2 in a mere six days Israel not only vanquished all of those threatening to exterminate her, but also conquered territories that reinforced its future viability.

Like kriat Yam Suf after Yetziat Mitzrayim, the Six-Day War removed the existential threat the State of Israel faced even after Yom Ha’atzmaut. Like the Jews on the banks of the Yam Suf, Israelis could see the enemies who had just hemmed them in—with the intention to destroy them—completely defeated.

Yerushalayim

What made the miracle even more significant was its facilitation of our return to Yerushalayim.

In 1949, Israel’s Chief Rabbinate recommended omitting the bracha before reciting Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut (mainly) because the fledgling state did not include the Old City of Yerushalayim.

Throughout our exile, our ancestors exclaimed, “L’shana haba’ah b’Yerushalayim.” They yearned not just for our national home, but also for the center of our religious identity. Jews maintained their identity through thousands of years—in tens of different cultural milieus—because they saw Yerushalayim as part of not just an illustrious past, but also their imminent future. As opposed to Rome’s Pantheon, which is now just a tourist site, Har Habayit and the Kotel have remained holy sites that we seek to rebuild. The Kotel—which was never usurped by other religions—remains a pristine remnant of the past we envision in our future.

When Natan Sharansky was convicted of treason against “Mother Russia,” he was asked by the court to sum up his defense. Sharansky responded: “I have nothing to say to this court, but to the people of Israel and to my wife, I say: Next year in Jerusalem.”

A state that did not include Yerushalayim did not warrant a full Hallel. When the Kotel was returned to us in 1967, we heard Hashem’s call to reconnect with Him. The state founded 19 years earlier took on new meaning.

The most iconic photo from the Six-Day War is the one that immortalizes four soldiers at the Kotel. Despite the fact that most of the fighting did not take place in the Old City (and liberating the Kotel was not the initial aim of the war), once they reached the Kotel they looked back and realized that the entire process (of the war and the state) had led up to this moment.

With the Kotel and Har Habayit back in our hands (“b’yadeinu”), the Rabbanut sanctioned saying Hallel with a bracha on Yom Yerushalayim and Yom Ha’atzmaut. The return of Yerushalayim validated the religious significance of the state that had been declared on Yom Ha’atzmaut. The declaration of the state and the 1967 victory both necessitate a celebratory holiday. Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrates our sovereignty in an independent Jewish state. Yom Yerushalayim complements that celebration by highlighting the religious significance of our return and future here.

Our View

This is what learning and davening daily opposite the Kotel is all about. You begin each morning with a clear view of Hashem’s benevolence and the miracles He performs on our behalf. You awake every morning to the miraculous return of our people to our past, with a view of (the beginning) of the fruition of Jewish history.

Though many of us are not lucky enough to spend every day (or even Yom Yerushalayim) in Yerushalayim, most of us have had the zechut to visit and spend time in Yerushalayim. On Yom Yerushalayim, we remember these times and thank Hashem for gifting Yerushalayim (and all that it symbolizes) to us.

Yom Yerushalayim Reflection

In addition to the celebration, Yom Yerushalayim should also be a day of reflection. It is a time to remind ourselves of the state of Israel’s religious significance and of our responsibility to respond to Hashem’s miracles and kindness by returning to Him with a full heart. It is a time to consider how we can make ourselves worthy of the continuation of the Geulah process.

When celebrating Yom Yerushalayim, let’s make sure to reflect upon not only what Hashem did for us, but also on how we need to respond by strengthening our relationship with Him, in order to merit the ultimate rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash.

May this reflection merit our increased celebration: “L’shana haba’ah b’Yerushalayim Habenuyah!

1 Rav Dovid Miller (who traveled to Israel to offer assistance) tells how Rav Soloveitchik asked him to tell Rav Soloveitchik’s son, Chaim, (who was studying in Israel) that he loves him, as he feared that he might never see him again.

2 For a brief review of these miraculous occurrences, I highly recommend this Mizrachi video—mizrachi.tv/six-days-of-miracles.


Rabbi Reuven Taragin is the dean of overseas students at Yeshivat HaKotel.

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