Burst Forth and Sing Together, Ruins of Jerusalem

  • Harav Yehuda Amital zt"l

 

Summarized by Aviad Biller

Translated by Kaeren Fish

 

"How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace, who brings good tidings, who announces salvation, he who says to Zion, 'Your God reigns.'  Hark! Your watchmen raise their voices, as one they shout for joy; for every eye shall behold the Lord's return to Zion.  Burst forth and sing together, ruins of Jerusalem, for God has comforted His nation, He has redeemed Jerusalem.  God has revealed His holy arm before all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our Lord."  (Yishayahu 52:7-10)

            The last two verses in the passage above - "Burst forth and sing together..." and "God has revealed His holy arm..." refer to two different things.  The first verse refers to the redemption of Jerusalem, while the second refers to the salvation of Israel.  Their juxtaposition in the text teaches us that these two phenomena are interconnected.  That a connection exists between the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the revival of Israel is not in itself a novel idea.  What strikes us about these verses is that they relate to the rebuilding of Jerusalem as a phenomenon of universal scope; it is an event of significance to all inhabitants of the world: "God has revealed His holy arm... and ALL THE ENDS OF THE EARTH will see...".  Although these verses deal principally with the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple, leaving mention of the salvation of Israel to the very end, their juxtaposition nevertheless indicates that there is some measure of similarity between these two processes, and that there is a connection between the salvation of Israel in the universal sense and the rebuilding of Jerusalem.

            This connection also arises from a halakhic dispute in the Gemara (Berakhot 49a) concerning the question of whether it is possible to conclude the third blessing of Birkat Ha-Mazon (the Grace after Meals) with the words "moshia Yisrael" (Savior of Israel) instead of "boneh Yerushalayim" (He who builds Jerusalem).  The Gemara's conclusion is that actually we could conclude with both, since the beginning of that paragraph opens with the words, "Have mercy on ISRAEL Your nation and on JERUSALEM Your city...", but the words "He who builds Jerusalem" include within them the concept of the salvation of Israel, as we learn from Tehillim 147:2 - "God builds Jerusalem, He gathers the outcasts of Israel."  Therefore this wording is used.

            We witnessed the connection between these two concepts - the salvation of Israel and the rebuilding of Jerusalem - quite clearly, with our own eyes, thirty years ago, during the Six-Day War.  We witnessed the sharp transition from "In the evening, he lies down weeping" to "and joy comes in the morning" (Tehillim 30:6).  The transition from weeping to joy usually takes a certain amount of time; in this case God's salvation came in the blink of an eye.  During those days of waiting, after Nasser expelled the U.N. forces from the Sinai and announced that he was going to push Israel into the sea, there wasn't a nation in the world that was ready to help us.  Our Foreign Minister, in a desperate attempt to request assistance, shuttled back and forth between Paris and London, asking, "What about our guarantees?  You promised!"  No one would answer, and newspapers around the world were already carrying obituary notices for the young State of Israel.

            It is difficult to describe in words and to properly convey the depression which pervaded.  Jews of the diaspora sensed that another holocaust was about to take place, and they sent telegrams to Israel imploring: "Send the children, at the very least save them, so that some remnant of Israel will be left!"  Even those who firmly believed that Israel would be victorious envisioned a scenario of thousands of military and civilian casualties.  Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem had almost no bomb shelters and lay exposed to the enemy's aerial bombings.

            And then began the eruption of prayer more powerful than anything we had ever experienced before.  Tehillim and more Tehillim and more Tehillim.  Religious schools halted their studies and for two weeks students came to school in the morning and recited Tehillim until the afternoon.  It should be noted and emphasized, however, that the prayers were not for Jerusalem.  They were for salvation; we beseeched God that he should not let our enemies totally destroy us.  There were no prayers that we should enter Jerusalem.  On the contrary, we prayed that Jordan wouldn't enter the war.  The government send messages to the King of Jordan via the U.S., to the effect that we would leave them alone and they should leave us alone.

            I remember it as if it happened right now, how I was walking in the street and heard on the radio that Israeli planes had pre-empted the enemy's attack, and people had started descending to the shelters.  "In the evening, he lies down weeping."  A few hours later I called a friend who had connections in high places, and asked him what was happening.  He told me, "There are no more Egyptian bombers, they've all been destroyed.  The danger of bombings has passed."  We continued listening and heard that the I.D.F. had already reached Rafiah, and then El-Arish, and was pushing ahead.  Can there be any greater "joy in the morning" than this?  "God has revealed His holy arm...  and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our Lord."

            Jerusalem was dragged into the war in a peculiar way, after the Egyptians deceived their Jordanian brothers by reporting that they were already close to Tel Aviv.  The Jordanians believed them and decided to join the "party" and participate in the war.  It is almost inconceivable that such a scenario took place so recently.  Could the Jordanians not have clarified the accuracy of the reports?  Weren't the Arab leaders known for stretching the truth?  Nevertheless, the Jordanian army was led astray.

            Thus events unfolded until, quite unexpectedly, we conquered Jerusalem.  After the fact, the commander of the Jerusalem brigade admitted that not only had there not been any operative plan to enter Jerusalem, but no such idea existed among the military echelons at all.  It never even occurred to us to fight for Jerusalem, and all of a sudden came this enormous "kiddush Hashem," and within a couple of days we found ourselves inside Jerusalem.

            The connection between the salvation of Israel and the redemption of Jerusalem is obvious and well-known, but it was only on the 28th of Iyar 5727 that we understood the connection between the universal dimension of God's redemption and the redemption of Jerusalem; the way in which "And all ends of the earth will see the salvation of our Lord" is joined to "Burst forth and sing together, ruins of Jerusalem."

            We prayed and prayed endlessly, but I am not aware of a single person who prayed that we would enter the Old City of Jerusalem.  We prayed for God's salvation, we prayed to be saved.  We did not pray - or even dream - about entering Jerusalem.

            Well, consciously and openly we did not pray for it, but in our heart of hearts we all prayed.  The author of the "Tania" once asked why we say, "God, hear within my voice" (Hashem shim'a BE-koli) rather than "God, hear my voice" (Hashem shim'a ET koli).  He explains: "You, O God, will hear what is in my voice.  You, Master of the Universe, will understand my words in their most profound sense, and will understand what it is that we are praying for in our heart of hearts, even without knowing it ourselves."  The Midrash says, "Most people pray only for the land: 'Will it produce or not?'  All the prayers of Israel are only for the Beit HaMikdash: 'My Lord, when will the Temple be rebuilt?'" (Bereishit Rabba 13:2).  Jews may pray for all kinds of things, but in our innermost hearts we are speaking only of Jerusalem.  Thus we did not pray for it openly, but in our hearts this was our most sincere prayer.

            Ten years after the establishment of the State, after we had left Jerusalem and it seemed that the city had been forgotten, the journal "Machanayim" of 1958 published the findings of a survey which aimed to investigate whether Jerusalem meant anything to the youth.  The result was that Jerusalem meant nothing to them.  They went to the Rishon Le-Zion (Sefaradi Chief Rabbi), Harav Nissim, to ask for his reaction.  He shook his head and agreed that, sorrowfully, Jerusalem did not hold much meaning for the youth.  They went to the Nazir (Rav David HaCohen), who commented that it was necessary to educate towards faith, since without fear of heaven, the youth would not be able to appreciate Jerusalem.  They went to the famous orientalist Prof. Rivlin, who said: "What can we do?  For my children, Degania is holier than Jerusalem."  That was the overt situation, this was the journalistic reality, only ten years after we lost Jerusalem.

            Another nine years went by.  The mood in Israel was pessimistic, and a popular joke reminded whoever was last to leave the Lod airport that he should please turn off the lights.  But the moment we returned to Jerusalem, the entire nation was ignited with excitement.  Secular youth - even members of HaShomer HaTza'ir - jumped out of their tanks and rejoiced: Jerusalem was in our hands!  So how could we say that Jerusalem meant nothing to the youth?  Nine years earlier the surveys had found that Jerusalem had been forgotten!

            I remember meeting someone who at the time was chairman of the society against religious coercion (today he's a professor).  I asked him, "Tell me honestly, when did you get most excited: when we captured Sharm-a-Sheikh from Egypt - the reason we went to war in the first place, or when we captured Shekhem, or when we captured Jerusalem?"  He answered, "I must admit - I got most excited when we captured Jerusalem."  I know a certain professor of philosophy, a non-religious Jew, who could find no way of explaining what he was feeling other than in terms of religious emotion.  If so, he said, we have to seek its sources, since it seems that it contains something beyond what we know.

            On the 28th of Iyar we discovered that the mystical is rational, that the hidden is revealed.  We discovered that what had appeared to be scientifically-proven journalistic "fact" had no connection to Jerusalem, and was in fact an enormous falsehood. 

            Jerusalem is not revealed without effort on our part.  The Midrash Sifri teaches, "Should we then wait until a prophet tells us so?  No - and the proof is that it says, 'You shall seek His dwelling' - first seek, then the prophet will come."  The Gemara brings a proof from the words of King David: "Remember, O God, in David's favor all his suffering, how he promised to God and swore to the mighty One of Ya'akov: I will not come into the shade of my home nor climb onto my bed, nor give sleep to my eyes or rest to my eyelids, until I find a place for the Lord, a dwelling place for the Mighty One of Ya'akov" (Tehillim 132:1-5).  King David suffered and swore that he would not sleep until he found a dwelling place for God.  And here we merited to receive Jerusalem almost unconsciously, without any military plans, without speaking of it, without mentioning it in our prayers.

            Speaking from the perspective of Shir haShirim, all of Zionism came about only for the sake of Jerusalem.  In the early days of Zionism, when the chances of our getting Eretz Yisrael were looking slim and even Herzl was beginning to feel pessimistic, Uganda was examined as an alternative.  The Zionist Congress voted against this possibility.  Who was prepared to accept Uganda?  The Mizrachi movement, the religious Zionists.  And why?  Because they knew that their connection with Jerusalem would remain, even in Uganda.  The religious representatives said, "We pray three times each day towards Jerusalem, so we're not afraid of forgetting her."  The secular representatives, on the other hand, knew that if they were not in close proximity to Jerusalem they would lose their connection with Jerusalem and, thereby, all ties to Judaism.  This is the inner reason why it was specifically the secular Zionists who were opposed to the Uganda plan.

            This was truly a case of "O God, hear within my voice."  We were really praying for Jerusalem, even if openly this wasn't apparent.  "Jerusalem has mountains all around her" (Tehillim 125:2) - from afar we could not see her.  But thirty years ago we beheld not only this earthly Jerusalem, hiding behind its walls, but we also revealed the Jerusalem that was hidden within the hearts of Israel.

            In Shir Ha-Shirim (1:5) we read that the nations of the world are called "daughters of Jerusalem."  Rashi (there) quotes Chazal's explanation for this appellation: "Because Jerusalem is destined to become a metropolis for all of them, as Yechezkel prophesied: 'And I will give them to you as daughters,' like 'Ekron and her daughters.'"  All the great powers will be daughters, provinces of Jerusalem.  Paris, London, New York, Washington, Moscow - all will be provinces of Jerusalem, the capital.  Israel speaks to the nations of the world from a situation of degradation: "Black am I, yet beautiful, O daughters of Jerusalem."  The nations of the world taunt us: "You are black!  Where is your radiance?  You are filthy!"  And from this very degradation and lowliness, Knesset Yisrael answers the nations: "O daughters of Jerusalem...".  We speak with pride.  And when the nations taunt us, we answer: "I have made you swear, O daughters of Jerusalem... do not awaken or arouse love until it so wishes" - do not taunt me, wait for redemption to arrive by natural means.  Don't make too much trouble for me.  And with what expression does Knesset Yisrael approach the nations?  "Daughters of Jerusalem!" You are provinces of Jerusalem, because Jerusalem will be a metropolis, a capital city, for the entire world.  For the word of God will come forth from Jerusalem and truth and peace will reign.

            The Gemara (Yerushalmi, Chagiga 2b) recounts the story of Yehuda ben Tabai, who went to Alexandria.  They sent him the following letter: "From the great Jerusalem to the little Alexandria...".  It's not just a concept in Shir Ha-Shirim; it's a reality.  Alexandria was a huge city, and what was Jerusalem at the time?  Nevertheless, that is what they wrote in the letter: From the great Jerusalem to the little Alexandria...

            Genuine dialogue between ourselves and the nations of the world can only take place when we truly regard ourselves as the center, and them as the provinces.  Today people travel to universities in London, Paris, and New York, to study biology, medicine, physics and chemistry.  But the time will come when the world will recognize that science has not actually succeeded in solving the real problems.  There is still distress, and people are still suffering.  Until the world recognizes that "From Zion shall Torah come forth, and the word of God from Jerusalem," until they all declare "Let us walk in its ways" (Yishayahu 2:3) - there is no genuine value to all the scientific achievements.  One hole is plugged up - and another opens.  Human longevity is extended - and the AIDS virus flourishes.  Eventually they will come from London, from Paris, from New York - to Jerusalem, because this is the true metropolis.  What does it help that we develop all kinds of ways to prolong human life when each day thousands of people are killed?  We hear on the radio shocking reports about mass murders going on in Bosnia, Chechnya and Rwanda; and in other countries, the daily toll of road casualties and crime victims is frighteningly large.  Is this such an achievement?  Can Paris and New York truly be called great achievements?

            Only when "Many nations will go and say: Let us go and ascend to the Lord's mountain, to the house of the God of Ya'akov, and He will teach us of His ways and we will walk in His path, for from Zion shall Torah come forth, and the word of God from Jerusalem" (Yishayahu 2:3) - only then will all this take on meaning.  That is what they seek.  This isn't rhetoric - it's the real metropolis.  Christianity and Islam look for all kinds of signs of the past in Jerusalem; they point to places where the founders of their respective faiths lived and walked.  What's behind this is the quest for a hold on Jerusalem, born of the knowledge that ultimately the center of everything is here, in Jerusalem.  They speak about the past, but in reality they are gearing themselves for the future, knowing that in the future this will be the center, the metropolis of the entire world.

            "And eternity is Jerusalem" - we are the generation of eternity.  Sometimes I feel heartsore for anyone who did not experience the emotions of the Six-Day War.  We cannot speak of the redemption of Jerusalem as something separate from the salvation of God's "revealing His holy arm."  We say in the Kedusha: "Come forth from Your place, our King, and rule over us, for we await You.  When will You reign in Zion?  Soon, in our days, forever You will dwell and be magnified and sanctified within Jerusalem, Your city, for all eternity..."  In the Rambam's version, the word "Amen" is added before "You will dwell."  In accordance with the Rambam's version, the Yememites say, "When will You reign in Zion?  Soon, in our days, forever, amen.  May you dwell and be magnified and sanctified within Jerusalem, Your city..."  (Ashkenazi communities, who do not add the word "Amen," join the phrases together - "You shall dwell forever...")  According to the Rambam, these are two separate concepts: the sovereignty of Zion, and God's sovereignty in Jerusalem.  We, the Ashkenazim, have always said, "We don't want an 'amen' in between.  We want to join these two concepts together."  Until 1967, I always had the feeling that the Yemenites were right, that we had indeed merited sovereignty, but without Jerusalem.  Today we can wholeheartedly recite the whole phrase with no 'amen' in the middle: "Soon, in our days, forever You will dwell."  It is one single berakha - there is no sovereignty without Jerusalem.

            We need to guard Jerusalem as our most precious possession, because Jerusalem unites all of Israel.  "Jerusalem rebuilt [is] like a city which is united together:" it makes all of Israel into brothers.  We can bring the eternity of Jerusalem into the sphere of the present.

            When we speak of Jerusalem, let us remember that Jerusalem is of universal import - just as the victory in the Six-Day War had worldwide significance.  Long after the battle was won, the world was still discussing the victory, because there was a universal element to it.  Therefore Jerusalem, too, is something universal.  "For God has chosen Zion, He has desired it for His own dwelling place" (Tehillim 132:13).  Let us act wisely in protecting the eternity of Jerusalem; let us not turn the city into just another detail, of little importance.  When we speak of Yom Yerushalayim, let us keep in mind its dimension of "God has revealed His holy arm, in the eyes of all the nations."

            Rav Unterman, of blessed memory, during his tenure as Chief Rabbi, ruled that we should not recite a berakha on Hallel of Yom Ha-Atzma'ut, but we should do so on Yom Yerushalayim - not because of Jerusalem, but because of the great salvation which took place on that day, the great kiddush Hashem which in some small measure helped make up for the enormous chillul Hashem that was the Holocaust.  And he ruled thus specifically against the backdrop of the fear of a second holocaust which everyone felt was about to take place.  On this day, we became aware of the thread which runs through and joins the two verses into a single unity: "Burst forth and sing together, ruins of Jerusalem, for God has comforted His people, He has redeemed Jerusalem.  God has revealed His holy arm in the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our Lord."

(This sicha was delivered on Yom Yerushalayim 5755.)