Summarized by Zev Jacobson
In Parashat Bamidbar (chapters 1 & 2), the Torah relates in great detail the manner in which Benei Yisrael camped in the desert. Why is it necessary for us to be made aware of these details, especially seeing that they were applicable only to the Generation of the Wilderness? Without question, there must be a message that is being conveyed to Jews throughout the ages, a message that penetrates far deeper than the surface minutiae.
The Gerrer Rebbe, author of Chiddushei Ha-Rim, notes that the laws of building the mishkan, also a temporary measure, take up a disproportionate amount of space in the Torah. He explains: Benei Yisrael were counted and encamped in order to allow the Divine Presence to dwell in their midst - a purpose identical to that of the building of the mishkan. Man cannot rely on his own limited understanding to devise the means that will cause God to dwell within the camp. It is only by carrying out every minute detail, as prescribed by the Torah, that man can come closer to his Maker.
There is, however, a further lesson to be learned. Although Benei Yisrael consisted of twelve "mini-nations," twelve separate entities who camped apart, they were held together by the magnetic force of the mishkan. The mishkan, or more specifically the Ark of the Covenant, served as a focal point around which the entire nation revolved. This is clearly evident in the formation in which they camped, surrounding on four sides the centerpiece of the Ohel Moed.
Before the Jews entered Eretz Yisrael, it was vital that they understand and master the skill of functioning as a nation. They were to be a diverse people, unified by a common loyalty to the principle represented by the Ark. This would lead to the dwelling of the Divine Presence amongst Am Yisrael.
The Second Temple, though spiritually on a much lower level than the First (since it lacked the Aron, etc.), was in a certain respect greater nonetheless. In the times of the First Temple, the Jews were not unified in their service of God, and many people offered sacrifices in places other than the Temple. This divisive phenomenon did not exist when the Second Temple stood. Therefore, the Second Temple became a symbol of the Jews' unity. When this unity was lost, through baseless hatred, the Temple and Jerusalem were destroyed.
Yet, even today, Jerusalem serves as the heart of the modern Jewish nation. We face her while offering our prayers heavenward thrice daily and beg that she be rebuilt. There was not a Jew in 1967 who did not feel attached to the recaptured city. Jerusalem bonds a nation fragmented and divided, and within it can be heard the rallying cry of religious and non-religious alike. Until recently, even politicians were undivided in their attitude towards her.
On Yom Yerushalayim, we should appreciate the message that the city brings to our nation. However, it is necessary not only to feel exultation and jubilation but also a profound sense of loss. The history of Jerusalem dates back long before 1967, and the Western Wall symbolizes infinitely more than a mere military victory. Jerusalem does not stand in her former glory, and until the Temple is rebuilt, the Jewish people and the world at large have much cause for distress.
Yom Yerushalayim is not a national holiday. It is a religious holiday that should serve to enhance the spiritual aspect of Am Yisrael, and it should be celebrated in a fashion appropriate to its innate holiness.
May our fervent prayer soon be answered: "Return in mercy to Your city Jerusalem and dwell in it as You have promised."
(This sicha was delivered at seuda shelishit, Shabbat Parashat Bamidbar 5755 .)