Today is the 54th day of the lockdown making 7 weeks and 5 days of lockdown!
There are some similarities – during the lockdown we can’t go to live music concerts, hold wedding celebrations or get a haircut!
However, unlike the lockdown, there are days in the Omer where we can ‘suspend’ the customs of mourning. There are three of them. However, the Jewish world is only unanimous on one of them – Lag B Omer which we celebrated this week.
The other two – Yom Ha’atzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim are still debated and discussed within the Orthodox world with a variety of opinions of how these days should or should not be celebrated. I do think that as the years go by, more and more of the Orthodox world is coming in line with the views of the Religious Zionist world that these days should be filled with celebration and prayers of thanksgiving to Hashem.
There is an idea in this week’s Parsha which can shed light on this area.
This week we read about the dreadful Tochacha – the curses. Just before the long litany of tragic punishments we read of a very strange promise which is part of the thirteen verses of blessing.
‘V natati mishcani btochchem v lo tigal nafshi etchem’ – And I will place my Sanctuary in your midst, and my Spirit will not reject you (Vayikra 26:11)
V’lo tigal Nafshi etchem seems very strange. After promising the utopian state of His dwelling in our midst – the highest state that we can ever hope to achieve in this world, Hashem “throws in” as part of the blessing “and I will not be disgusted with you”. What kind of blessing is that?
“Lo tigal nafshi” is a very strong term, it actually indicates revulsion! What does the verse mean?
The Shemen HaTov, Rav Shmuel Horowitz of Nikolsberg makes a stunning observation, which can shed light on the dilemmas of Yom Ha’atzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim.
Unfortunately, we know that there is divorce in the world. It has been documented that sometimes by the time people get divorced, they already hate each other.
It is explained that there is no hatred as deep and as bitter as that which can exist between two people that were man and wife, two people who once loved each other dearly. Sometimes that hatred can be immense – precisely because of the closeness that they had once shared. Filling the void of this deteriorated love, is sometimes the worst hatred and disgust.
Says the Shemen Ha Tov, this is the tremendous blessing that Hashem guarantees the Jewish people which has such a huge impact today.
“I will live with you. I will place my Sanctuary in your midst…” says the verse. But Hashem knew that there would come a day when the Jewish people would sink to such depths that He would literally have to “throw us out of the house”. It happened on the 9th of Av in 586BCE and 70AD and we were exiled from our land.
That was when Hashem and the Jewish people had the equivalent of a separation but not, Heaven forbid, a divorce.
You see what Hashem is promising here is that in spite of all this, in spite of the fact that our powerful love and intimacy that we had at the times when the Shechina was in our midst in the Bet Ha Mikdash, had turned into a thing of the past, nevertheless, “I will never despise or be disgusted with you”.
We as a nation may do despicable acts, we may be banished from “Hashem’s abode”, but He will never become nauseated by us. Despite everything, He will never hate us. This is the great blessing that no matter how bad things become, “V’lo tigal nafshi etchem” – “I will never be disgusted by you”.
The Shemen Ha Tov wrote that in the late 18th century in Russia when we were still separated, while we were still enduring the longest exile.
Yet his Dvar Torah was prophetic, lo tigal nafshi etchem, he knew what that meant, that we would one day come back, because he had emunah, faith in the future. We now know he was right, because we are living in that era, the era of return, the era of a trial reconciliation.
There were those in 1948 who refused to see the signs, who still refuse to see the signs. Yet, some had a point. Yes we may have returned to national sovereignty in Israel after 2000 years, but we lacked our soul, we lacked Yerushalayim. Even Rav Tzvi Kook of Mercaz Ha Rav wrote about 1948 ‘At first, I could not go out and join the jubilation. I could not accept the fact that indeed ‘they have …divided My land (Joel 4:2)’
However, then in the most miraculous 6 days in modern history we regained Yerushalayim, we regained the Old City, we regained the Kotel. As the immortal words rang out across the world Ha Kotel Be yadenu – the Kotel is in our hands, I can imagine Rav Shmuel smiling in heaven saying, ‘I told you so.’
This Thursday night will be 53 years since that epic day. If we are to be worthy of being a light unto the nations, we need to understand and internalize what is our light, what is our hope, what is our future.
Yom Yerushalayim is all of those.
So this Thursday night at 8:30pm on our Youtube channels and Facebook pages please tune in to watch ‘Heart of a Nation’ our new film for Yom Yerushalayim. It tells the story of our connection to the Eternal capital of Israel with words, images and powerful songs from Jonny Turgel. It is a film not to be missed.
And then on Friday night we will begin our second UK Shabbaton at Home with the United Synagogue in honour of Yom Yerushalayim. It will begin at 6:30pm across the nation, uniting nearly 100 communities and thousands of people with a Yom Yerushalayim concert pre Shabbat and words from the Chief Rabbi and the Israeli Ambassador and then stories, quizzes, divrei Torah and programmes for the entire Shabbat with the theme of Yerushalayim.
So the lockdown continues, but despite being confined to our homes we need to show to ourselves and each other that we understand in a deep and meaningful way what Hashem and Jewish history is telling us about who we are and who we need to be.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach for Thursday night
Rabbi Ari Silbermann, Shalich Manchester
This week, on the night of Lag Ba’omer, a soldier, Amit Ben Igal, was killed during an anti-terror operation. A stark reminder of the constant actions necessary to secure our homeland and of the sacrifices we still need to make. He was the only child of his father Baruch, who I later realized I had known many years ago. My heart was torn twice – the first time when I had learned of the father who had lost his only son and the second time when I realized it was Baruch Ben Igal – a man dedicated to Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael – who was always ready to volunteer.
Another son of Israel taken before his time,
Another family torn apart by loss and tragedy.
Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and Rabbi Moshe Isserles,
Both commemorated on Lag Ba’omer,
Both great and holy shepherds of Israel
Both teachers of the depths of Torah
Dwelling upon high closest to the throne of G-d
Both with tears in their eyes and open arms
Welcomed Amit to sit beside them.
And as the heavenly hosts recited Kadosh Kadosh Kadosh,
Amit’s father Baruch recited Kaddish.
And those searing words pierced the hearts of all Am Yisrael, who live free in His land.
I was comforted by an old friend who, upon hearing of the tragedy, quoted Shai Agnon’s poem ‘Introduction to Kaddish,’ written during Israel’s founding. Perhaps before Shabbat you may take a moment to read it and reflect. Amit’s father, Baruch, has also asked that just as Amit loved singing Lecha Dodi with his family, that this shabbat, as many people as possible joyously sing Lecha Dodi in his memory.
May the spirit of Rabbi Akiva, who provided solace to the Rabbis when they saw the destruction of Jerusalem, and whose students ceased dying on Lag Ba’omer comfort Amit’s family among the mourners of Zion and Yerushalayim.