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Yom Yerushalayim Reunification of Jerusalem 1967

Following along the weekly Torah reading, we periodically encounter a passage that is audacious. We wonder how Moshe could say such a thing or make such a bold prediction. This week’s Torah portion, Bechukotai, contains two such passages. Verses like these teach us fundamental principles of Judaism. They serve first to confirm that the Torah is not a compilation of the thoughts and opinions of Moses or various other authors. Rather they express the will of God.  Second, they demonstrate and teach a concept underlying the relationship between God and man.

The bulk of this week’s Torah portion, explicitly and in some alarming detail, lays out the collective rewards or punishments that will accrue to the nation of Israel for observing or abandoning the system of 613 mitzvot. What is striking is not the extent of the promised bounty or the magnitude of the devastation foretold.   What catches our attention is verse 32 in chapter 26. “I will make the land desolate and your foes who dwell upon it will be desolate.” This verse plainly states that should the Children of Israel be exiled from their land not only will the land become desolate but the conquerors and occupiers who live on it will remain desolate as well.  This condition will continue for the duration of the national Jewish exile from the land of Israel.   

The idea expressed by this verse is simple yet profound. The physical land of Israel has a specific function and purpose. When that purpose is being met, the land is bountiful and the Jewish people will live on the land safely and securely. But when the objective of the land is purposely thwarted, it will cease to be productive and the people will be subject to conquest and expulsion.  This phenomenon cannot be explained by any law of science, sociology or history.  This pronouncement can only be true if it is based on one fundamental philosophic premise. There is a unique metaphysical relationship between this particular land, a particular people and the Creator of heaven and earth.

Such a claim, of course, sounds haughty, egocentric, and self-serving.  Yet anyone living today is a first-hand witness to the truth of this axiom. For close to 2000 years (70 to 1948 of the Common Era), the Jewish people were exiled from their land. During that time, great civilizations were in possession of that land. Renamed “Palestine” by the conquering Romans, to purposely obliterate any vestige of the once proud nation of Israel, the land changed hands no less than to 7 succeeding empires: Byzantine, Moslem, Crusaders from Europe, Ayyubid, Mamluk, Ottoman, and British. Some of these empires dominated the land for centuries. Yet what was the state of the land of Israel during that time? It remained desolate and unproductive.

In his famous travel journal, “The Innocents Abroad,” Mark Twain describes the land of Israel in 1867, fifteen years before the birth of modern Zionism.  “…a desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds…a silent mournful expanse…A desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action…We never saw a human being on the whole route…There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere. Even the olive and cactus, those fast friends of the worthless soil, had almost deserted the country.” Only when Jews started to return in mass to their ancestral homeland, during the late 1800s did Israel once again become fertile and productive.

It is not surprising that there was prolonged reluctance by the ecclesiastical leadership of the Catholic Church, headquartered in the Vatican, to recognize and establish formal relations with the modern State of Israel. The date was December 30, 1993. The U.N. had already recognized the creation of Israel in 1948. What took the Vatican so long? We are also aware that the Moslem countries of the world, save Egypt and Jordan, give no formal recognition to the State of Israel. The question again is why? Both Christian and Islamic theologies agree on one point. The expulsion of the Jews from the land of Israel by the Roman Empire and their continued exile over the centuries demonstrated God’s rejection of the people of Israel.  Recognizing the return of the Jews and the reestablishment of the country of Israel would requires them to abandon or to reformulate, as the Vatican has done, fundamental principles of their faiths.

The return of the Jews to the land of Israel and the creation of the country of Israel must be regarded as a miraculous. It confirms the promise stated unequivocally in this week’s Torah portion.  It affirms the Divine authorship of the Torah and teaches us the metaphysical law that the Jewish people are God’s eternal people together with its corollary, the land of Israel is designated by God as the homeland of the Jews. “I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and also my covenant with Isaac and also my covenant with Abraham will I remember, and I will remember the land.” (Leviticus 26:42)  Those parts of the land of Israel that remain outside the jurisdiction of the Israeli government since the conclusion of the 6 Day War and the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967, remain unproductive and dilapidated, hence the term “the green line.” Simply compare the areas of land controlled by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.

Even for us, at the moment of our greatest personal joy, standing under the marital canopy, we conclude the wedding ceremony by placing ashes on the groom’s forehead, reciting, “ עם אשכחך ירושלים תשכח ימיני, if I forget you Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning…” and then by stepping on a glass. We recognize that our happiness is not complete without the full restoration of Jerusalem including the rebuilding of our Holy Temple.

And so, we did not need President Trump and other world leaders to confer a special status or recognition of Jerusalem. However, we are grateful to him for leading the way by his politically courageous act of moving the American embassy to Jerusalem. It is a concrete and visible testament to the world, to both Jew and non-Jew alike, of the reality that the entire city of Jerusalem,עיר הקודש,  the Holy City, is our rightful and eternal capital.

The manifestation of God’s word and will as revealed in the Torah are today on worldwide display. May we continue to merit Hashem’s protection over Israel, Jews and God-fearing people worldwide.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Robert Kaplan