The six most important days in Jewish history

Over 1.2 million days have passed since we left Egypt. To pick just a few days to visit is an impossible task. Yet in my fantasies over the years, I kept settling on the same few days.

 TOUGHEST HEROES in tears: Rabbi Shlomo Goren sounds the shofar at the liberation of the Western Wall, 1967. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
TOUGHEST HEROES in tears: Rabbi Shlomo Goren sounds the shofar at the liberation of the Western Wall, 1967.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

When I was a kid, I used to love stories about time travel. I would imagine what I would do and where I would go if I had a time machine.

Over 1.2 million days have passed since we left Egypt. To pick just a few days to visit is an impossible task. Yet in my fantasies over the years, I kept settling on the same few days. I thought I would share them with you in the hopes that someone reading this will take me on an adventure with them.

The day of the Giving of the Torah

I put this day first, not only because it is the first day chronologically but because if I could pick just one day out of them all, this would be it.

It was on this day that God Himself spoke to all of the Children of Israel. On the Red Sea, and in Egypt, God made himself manifest in the world. But on Mount Sinai God actually spoke, and we listened. The echoes of His words still reverberate in our time. It was on this day that each and every one of us stood as one man and one heart and created a personal relationship with God.

Mount Sinai 370 (credit: Wikimedia Commons)Mount Sinai 370 (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

How can I not put the day we met God as the first of them all? Even the Torah itself fails to fully convey the experience, and that’s why I want to be there myself.

The day David danced as he brought the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem for the first time

Until this day, the ark had no permanent abode since the day it was taken from Shiloh and lost in war. It suffered Philistine captivity and eventual abandonment. Upon its return to Israel, it was hosted by Avinadav in his home for about 20 years.

David’s decision to bring the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem (after a short detour) solidified the city as the capital and paved the way for the building of the Temple.

On that day, David donned his ephod and just “let it go,” as he danced through the streets of Jerusalem as a commoner. The dance was despised by his wife, Michal, who had grown up a princess surrounded by aristocracy and couldn’t conceive of how David could “lower” himself like that. But to David, there were no pretensions, there were no airs; it was just him dancing before his Lord.

I wish I could see real religious ecstasy as displayed by someone who truly knew and felt God so intimately.

The day Solomon dedicated the Temple

Four hundred and eighty years after the Exodus from Egypt, the Children of Israel stood with Solomon and surrounded the Temple, as a cloud filled the area, leaving no room for anyone to stand, as the Glory of the Lord descended from on high.

Solomon stood up and asked, “Can God indeed dwell on Earth? Behold, even the heavens and the heavens of heaven cannot contain you, how much less this house that I have built!?”

Being there to witness God’s Glory, seeing the Temple in all its splendor and all of Israel at the dedication would be a dream.

The day of the destruction of the Temple by the Babylonians

Perhaps the saddest day in Jewish history. I know it sounds terrible to say this, but I would really want to witness it. It is one of the most pivotal moments in all of Jewish history. I would want to be there to see the Temple burning to help me feel it more.

I want to better understand the destruction, but I also want to be there to help assure my fellow Jews that this was certainly not the end. It was easy to think that the God of Israel was beaten and that the covenant was now broken. I want to stand there and help Jeremiah convey that the adventure of the Jewish people continues, and that there are so many paragraphs yet to write in our story. I want to help them maintain their faith that we would one day return home, and that the best is yet to come.

The day they removed Rabban Gamliel as head of the Sanhedrin

Rabban Gamliel, who became the first head of the Sanhedrin after the destruction of the Temple, was a man of impeccable pedigree.

Tracing his line to the great Hillel, Rabban Gamliel sought to unify the Halacha and leave no argument unsettled. It was under his leadership that Halacha was decided like Beit Hillel and not Beit Shammai.

He is credited with stamping out the different sects of Judaism and pushing forth the program of what we would call today Rabbinic Judaism.

Being of a certain class, he was seen as disconnected from the common man. And after getting into one too many arguments with Rabbi Yehoshua, and seen as “out of touch,” Rabban Gamliel was kicked out of his position and replaced with Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah.

“Oto hayom,” on that day, there was a revolution in the academy, as the gates were opened to all who wanted to come and learn. Hundreds of benches were added to the classrooms, and it was one of the greatest days of Torah learning in the history of the world. They say a whole tractate of Mishna was composed that day.

The excitement was so great that even the deposed Rabban Gamliel didn’t let his ego get in the way and came to learn as well.

To be in the same beit midrash with Rabbi Akiva, Rabbi Eliezer, etc. and watching the black fire of their Torah make its way across the white fire of God would be one of the greatest days of my life.

The day they liberated Jerusalem

It was on a hot summer day in Jerusalem, the third day of what would end up being the Six Day War, that IDF paratroopers liberated the Old City of Jerusalem.

To observe the tough heroes of the IDF break down in tears as Rabbi Shlomo Goren blew the shofar would be akin to witnessing God making Himself manifest on earth.

To me, personally, the best argument I have for the existence of a God who takes a personal interest in the affairs of man is the return of the Jewish people to its homeland. And in case anyone thought this to be a fluke, the capture of Jerusalem should leave no objective thinker with any doubt.

AGAIN, THESE days I have chosen aren’t necessarily the ones you might have picked. Of course, I would have wanted to visit Rashi; of course, I would have loved to spend a day in the yeshiva of Volozhin; but these days, in my biased view, are the six days I would like to experience, so that I can come home to the present for the seventh day of Shabbat.

I strongly believe that this day, in 2022, is the greatest day in Jewish history. Never before have we been stronger militarily, financially and, dare I say, even spiritually. We are a military superpower and a spiritual giant. Never before has the poverty level of Jews been so low. Never before in Jewish history have we had more men and women studying Torah as we have this year. More Jews put on tefillin today than ever before in Jewish history. More Jews are keeping Shabbat, engaging in their identity and creating Jewish culture than ever before. We now have more Jews living in a sovereign Jewish state than at any time in history. And while I would want to only visit the past, any of those figures I would encounter would, if given the chance, prefer to live in our era.

Not everything is perfect, and I am happy to do my part to make it an even better place and time. So if you do invite me to travel with you in your time machine, I would only do it if you get me home for Shabbat in 2022! ■

The writer holds a doctorate in Jewish philosophy and teaches in post-high-school yeshivot and midrashot in Jerusalem.