Jerusalem Day: Strength of our belief as miraculous as Israel's victory

The strength of our belief in ourselves as a nation is no less miraculous than the outcome of the war. This is a lesson for today, as well.

 ‘WHO EVER taught you how to be a general?’ David Ben-Gurion’s likeness decorates Tel Aviv’s Neveh Tzedek neighborhood. (photo credit: NATI SHOHAT/FLASH90)
‘WHO EVER taught you how to be a general?’ David Ben-Gurion’s likeness decorates Tel Aviv’s Neveh Tzedek neighborhood.
(photo credit: NATI SHOHAT/FLASH90)

King David wrote: “Our feet were standing within your gates, O Jerusalem. The built-up Jerusalem is like a city that was joined together within itself,” (Psalms 122:2-3).

“Our feet were standing within your gates, O Jerusalem. The built-up Jerusalem is like a city that was joined together within itself.”

Psalms 122:2-3

In the 1880s, Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib, Alter of Gur, wrote in his work Sfat Emet that there are three biblical pilgrimage festivals: Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot. Paralleling this, there are the rabbinic holidays: Hanukkah and Purim.

Hanukkah, he writes, parallels sukkot, when we sit in a sukkah – which reminds us of the temple, as Amos says: “On that day I will raise up the falling sukkah of David” (Amos 9:11). Hanukkah was the rededication of the temple.

“On that day I will raise up the falling sukkah of David.”

Amos 9:11

Purim, he writes, parallels Shavuot, since on Shavuot we were given the Torah (the Ten Commandments, the beginning of the Torah). But, the Talmud says that God picked up the mountain and said: “Either you accept the Torah or you will be buried under it,” (Shabbat 88b). Whereas, on Purim it says we accepted it upon ourselves voluntarily: “The Jews accepted it upon themselves and their descendants,” (Esther 9:27).

“Either you accept the Torah or you will be buried under it.”

Shabbat 88b

“The Jews accepted it upon themselves and their descendants.”

Esther 9:27
Exodus from Egypt (Edward Poynter) (credit: Wikimedia Commons)Exodus from Egypt (Edward Poynter) (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

But, what about Passover, the holiday of the birth of the Jewish people? What rabbinic holiday parallels it? The Rebbe of Gur says: “Concerning Passover, we hope to see another rabbinic holiday, as it says: “Like the days in which you left Egypt, I shall show you wonders” (Micha 7:15; Sfat Emet, Hanukkahh, 1881).

He does not say what it will be; however, today we know. Right after Passover we celebrate Independence Day, with Hallel and thanksgiving, and also Jerusalem Day with Hallel and thanksgiving.

What are these days? There are actually four days introduced by Israel; two memorial days and two celebratory days. All are between Passover and Shavuot.

Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars and Holocaust Remembrance Day are the week after Passover. As someone once said: Remembrance Day reminds us of the price we have to pay to have a state of our own and Holocaust Remembrance Day reminds us of the price we had to pay for not having a state of our own. The two celebratory days are Independence Day and Jerusalem Day.

THERE ARE halachic works explaining why Hallel is recited on these days, as it is on Hanukkah (see for example: Nahum Rakover: Hilchot Yom Ha’atzma’ut ve’Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem 1973), but I want just to mention one source.

“The Holy One blessed be He wanted to make Hezekiah messiah and Sanherib [his siege around Jerusalem] the battle of Gog and Magog, but the attribute of judgment said: Master of the Universe, if David, King of Israel, said all those praises and songs before you and you did not make him messiah, then Hezekiah to whom you showed miracles [by saving Jerusalem from Sanherib] but did not sing praises to you, him you will appoint messiah? Therefore, it closed all discussion,” (Sanhedrin 94a).

Unfortunately, there are those who even today fail to give thanks for God’s miracle of giving us the privilege of having a state after 2,000 years of exile.

Yet, this is not new. At the end of the Babylonian exile, after Cyrus made his declaration allowing the Jews to return to their land and rebuild the temple, there were Jews who said: “The time has not come for the house of God to be built” (Haggai 1:2).

“The time has not come for the house of God to be built.”

Haggai 1:2

The same happened in our day after the Balfour Declaration. However, not to recognize the miracle of the state after the Holocaust and after its coming to fruition is total blindness.

Kind David predicted this and said: “When God returned our captives to Zion, we were like dreamers. Then shall the nations say: God has done great things for this people [the Jews]” (Psalms 126:1-2).

Only after the nations realize the miracle of the Jews returning to their land after the exile, do the Jews realize it, as well: “God has done great things for us, we were happy” (Psalms 126:3).

“God has done great things for us, we were happy.”

Psalms 126:3

Rabbi Eliezer in the Talmud says: “One who experiences a miracle does not realize it,” (Niddah 31a). Thus, it will be the nations who realize the miracle of the State of Israel before we do.

An Independence Day miracle

A story is told that in one of the first Independence Day celebrations in the early 1950s, then-chief rabbi Isaac Halevi Herzog spoke of the miracles of the War of Independence.

David Ben-Gurion was present at the address and came over to him, saying: “Rabbi Herzog, what’s this about miracles? We had the Hagana, who were good fighters. We got them ammunition and trained them.”

Rabbi Herzog retorted: “David, you are the biggest miracle of the war. Whoever taught you how to be a general?”

“David, you are the biggest miracle of the war. Whoever taught you how to be a general?”

Rabbi Isaac Halevi Herzog

ASIDE FROM acting as a general, Ben-Gurion’s talent was to know when the right decision had to be made. A few days before May 14, 1948, US president Harry Truman heard that Ben-Gurion was planning to proclaim statehood based on the UN vote of the previous November 29. Truman thought it was not wise, since five Arab armies were threatening war, and asked him to hold off the proclamation for a few years; in the meantime, they could negotiate.

Ben-Gurion turned to Yigal Allon, who at the time was the intelligence minister for the Jewish Agency, the shadow government before the state and asked, “Yigal, what are the chances of us winning in a battle against four Arab armies?” Ben-Gurion asked.

“Not more than 50-50,” replied Alon.

Upon which Ben-Gurion remarked: “When in the last 2,000 years did the Jewish people have such good odds at taking back their land?”

It’s true that, in retrospect, the outcome of the war could have been different, but leadership is about knowing when to take a risk and when not to. I am sure that being three years after the Holocaust played a large part in this decision.

Moving forward to Jerusalem Day, again we had a situation of life and death. Just as in 1948, five Arab armies threatened to push us into the sea, so too, in 1967. The outcome of the war and the speed in which it happened, including the recapturing of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, brought a new feeling of hope and historical relevance to our connection with the land of Israel.

For the first time since the beginning of the state, there was a significant aliyah from first-world countries of Jews, who now were not running away from persecution, but instead wanted to be part of this new Jewish role in history. There was a feeling in the air that we were finally on the right track and that heaven was smiling back at us.

This was not a naïve sentiment, but the outcome of a people who believed in the righteousness of its cause and was willing to put its life on the line to reach its goal.

The strength of our belief in ourselves as a nation is no less miraculous than the outcome of the war. This is a lesson for today, as well.

Yom Yerushalayim sameach (Happy Jerusalem Day)! ■

The writer, a rabbi, is a senior lecturer at Bar-Ilan University.