In the spirit of Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day, I would like to share with you a remarkable sermon I have just come across, which was delivered by my late father-in- law, Rabbi Israel Porush, at the Great Synagogue in Sydney one year after the Six Day War. The main message is as relevant today as it was then.
Israel stood alone in that hour of crisis, surrounded by a ring of modern armor of terrible deadliness, and beleaguered by the armies of seven nations who were united in their hatred of Israel and in their sinister plot to destroy it. The rest of the world cynically played a waiting game. Is it surprising that we view with a measure of cynicism the advice given us by our friends now?
And what of churches? Not a word of comfort in the hour of danger, not a sound of condemnation of the threats to our existence. The so-called ecumenical spirit, or the so-called dialogue between Church and Synagogue, which was promoted in some quarters, especially in the United States, has suffered a setback from which it will not so easily recover.
Did I say Israel stood alone? Israel never stands alone.
‘The Guardian of Israel never slumbers nor sleeps,’ and the people of Israel in all their dispersion were roused as never before in prayer and in action and stood united by the side of Medinat [the State of] Israel. The Jewish citizen- soldier knew what the stakes were, and he was ready for every sacrifice. And many hundreds of the cream of Israeli youth paid the supreme sacrifice upon the altar of Jewish survival.
We offer thanksgiving to the Almighty for the wonderful delivery of Israel from danger and fear, for the retreat of the enemy beyond wider and safer frontiers, and for the transformation that has taken place in the whole security situation of Medinat Israel.
But who can be unaware that our deepest emotions and our profoundest sensitivity revolve around the liberation of Jerusalem, which has been restored to its rightful owners after 19 centuries of dispossession?
Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) is a magic word for the Jew. It is pronounced in awe. It conjures up associations and feelings in our ears that no other word does, and that no other nation or religion can remotely experience. To us, Yerushalayim personifies the presence of God in our midst, the shechinah. It is the soul of our people. It is the national and religious center of all Israel, whether in its glory or in its ruin. Jerusalem is eternal; it can never die or be destroyed. Wherever the Jew settles in the four corners of the earth, Jerusalem is alive in his heart and near to his life.
Jerusalem is mentioned 630 times in the Bible, as the city of God, the capital of the nation, the seat of the Temple, the center of piety and learning and also as the emblem of the Kingdom of God that will ultimately be established on earth.
When the captives of Judea sat by the rivers of Babylon weeping over their humiliation, and their captors invited them to sing one of the songs of Zion, they replied: “How can we sing the song of the Lord in a profane land?” and they swore, “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning; let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I remember thee not; if I set not Jerusalem above my chiefest joy.”
Throughout the 1,900 years of exile there was never a time, with the possible exception of two brief periods, when Jews did not live in Jerusalem, at times facing great peril, at times massacred by fanatics.
Our prayers were always directed toward Jerusalem. Already Daniel, we are told, recited his three daily services with his face toward Jerusalem, and so have done all Jews in the synagogue to this day. There is not a service, there is not a simchah (celebration)], there is not a meal, when we do not remember Jerusalem and pray for its restoration. And when we sit in mourning over its destruction, we mingle sorrow with hope, and grief with glorification, and lament with pledges of eternal loyalty to Zion, as is reflected in the moving Ode of Judah Halevi:
“Thou art the house of royalty, thou art the throne of the Lord... O, who will make me wings, that I may fly afar and lay the ruins of my cleft heart among thy broken cliffs... Happy is he that waiteth, that cometh nigh and seeth the rising of the light, when on him thy dawn shall break – that he may see the welfare of thy chosen, and rejoice in the rejoicing when thou turnest back unto thine olden youth.”
Jerusalem is the physical capital of the nation and at the same time the spiritual center of all Israel, wherever they live.
Yerushalayim is the emblem of the eternity of Israel as the people of God. We would indeed betray our raison d’être and our mission among men if we were to think of Yerushalayim in secular or political terms only.
Jerusalem must return to its old destiny as “ir shalem,” which means on the one hand “the city of peace,” but also on the other, “the city of completion, or unity.” It is unthinkable that the unity between the people of Israel and its spiritual cradle will ever be allowed to be severed again.
The attachment of a people, for 3,000 years, as intense as that of the Jews to Yerushalayim cannot be set aside by international decree. None need be afraid that the Jews would deal ungenerously or restrictively with the holy places and legitimate interests of other religions and communities. We have proven that already.
Our rabbis also speak of Yerushalayim as the “metropolis of the world.” There is undoubtedly also a universal facet to the image of Jerusalem, embracing the whole of humanity, and that goes back 2,500 years to the days of our prophets who prophesied in the name of God that the messianic order on earth would begin with the restoration of Jerusalem, and that Jerusalem would become then the fountainhead of a new mode of living which would lead the world out of the morass of strife, hate and division toward brotherhood, righteousness and peace:
“And many people shall go and say: Come ye, and let us go up to the Mountain of the Lord, to the House of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us His ways, and we will walk in His paths. For out of Zion shall go forth the Law and the word of the Law from Jerusalem. And he shall judge between the nations, and shall decide for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
Jerusalem is more relevant to the ultimate salvation of humanity than Athens or Rome because it taught the world the supremacy of righteousness, brotherhood and charity. And even if the complete fulfillment of this ideal state of affairs must wait for the fullness of time, the inspiration of this vision could stimulate now the troubled peoples of the earth toward a more just and peaceful order of life.
In our immediate context we could in our imagination envisage a Middle East in which goodwill, mutual respect and harmony would prevail between the Jews and the Arab nations, initiating an era of peace and prosperity that would be a blessing to all. We know that this is the constant aspiration and the constant yearning of the Yishuv, and that Israel’s search for peace comes not only from practical considerations, but also from deep-seated convictions – the emblem of the Israeli army is, characteristically, a sword wreathed in an olive branch – and from the unshaken trust in the teachings of our prophets and the ideals of our tradition.
Rabbi Porush (1907-1991) was a fifth-generation Jerusalemite. His father was the first administrator of the Shaarei Zedek Hospital. Rabbi Porush received his smicha (rabbinical ordination) at the Hildesheimer Rabbinical Seminary in Berlin and also obtained a PhD in Mathematics. He was Minister at Finchley Synagogue in London before taking up his post as rabbi of Sydney’s Great Synagogue (1940-1975) where he also served as the head of Beth Din.
The writer’s website can be viewed at www.wordfromjerusalem.com