Monthly Archives: May 22, 2020

Yom Yerushalayim: When Streams of Tears Carried Us to the Wall

For two thousand years of exile, our people have prayed.  We have prayed – not to return to the land of Israel, but to return to the holy city of Jerusalem, Yerushalayim Ir HaKodesh!  “Please turn Your wrath and anger away from Jerusalem, Your holy mountain…And now, our G-d, heed Your servant’s prayer and pleas, and let Your face shine on Your desolate Sanctuary, for Your sake, O Lord…” (Tachanun Prayer)
When Jews began to return to the land of Israel after the destruction of the first temple, Nechemiah came to the land of Israel and saw a community in crisis.  What was the cause of their difficult situation?  Nothing other than the degradation of Jerusalem: “The remnant that are left of the captivity there are in great affliction and reproach; the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire…” (Nechemiah 1:3) When Jerusalem is desolate, so are we; only with its rebuilding can our people regain its strength.
When the Independence War ended in 1948 with the Old City of Jerusalem in Jordanian control, our joy was muted; when Jerusalem was liberated nineteen years later, our joy knew no bounds!  Even today, 53 years later, every Jewish heart beats faster when we hear those awesome words: “Har HaBayit b’Yadeinu”, “The Temple Mount is in our hands!”
Yom Yerushalayim, the return of our people to our holy city, is not merely a miracle of our generation; it is a miracle that belongs to all generations.  As R’ Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “We did not enter the city of Jerusalem on our own in 1967.  Streams of endless crying, endless praying, clinging, dreaming, day and night, midnights, years, decades, centuries, millennia, streams of tears, pledging, waiting – […]

By |May 22, 2020|

A Corona Jubilee?

Imagine a world in which no sale of property is final; a world in which, every fifty years, a nation’s economy is turned completely upside down as land is returned to its original owners.  Real estate empires would crumble, with massive land holdings divvied up into small farms overnight.  Thousands of impoverished tenants would be transformed into landlords, with each family reclaiming its ancient heritage.

It sounds fantastical, but this is an accurate description of Yovel, the Jubilee year described in Parshat Behar.  Every fifty years, on Yom Kippur day, the shofar was blown throughout the land of Israel.  With the call of the shofar, each man returned to his family’s ancestral land, and all Hebrew servants were set free.  And for the entire Yovel year, the land would lie fallow; “for it is a jubilee; it shall be holy unto you.” (Vayikra 25:12).

Although the Yovel year has not been practically operative for close to 2,500 years (since the destruction of the first Temple), it nevertheless demands explanation.  Why does G-d call require a dramatic restructuring of the economy every fifty years?  And what are we – 21st century Jews – meant to learn from the Mitzvah of Yovel?

When our ancestors first crossed the Jordan River and entered the land of Israel, each family received its own portion of the land.  From that time forward, every Jew was bound up with his unique piece of earth, working and developing it and ultimately passing it on to his children.

In Jewish thought, the ownership of land represents something more fundamental than an economic asset, something deeper than rock and soil.  Each portion of land symbolizes its owner’s unique “portion” in life; for just as every plot of land is unique, so […]

By |May 14, 2020|

After the Cave: A Lesson from Rebbe Shimon for the Post-Corona World

As the Talmud famously relates, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was once overheard criticizing the Roman regime, and when his comments were reported to the Roman authorities, he was forced to flee for his life.  Without telling anyone of their whereabouts, Rabbi Shimon and his son hid in a cave, where they were sustained by a spring of fresh water and a carob tree that had miraculously sprung up at the entrance to the cave. For twelve years, Rabbi Shimon and his son studied and prayed without interruption, until they became the holiest sages of their day.

After twelve intense years, the prophet Eliyahu brought them good tidings; there was a change in the Roman government, and it was now safe to emerge from the cave and return to society.  Rabbi Shimon and his son left the cave, and soon passed a field where they saw Jewish farmers working the land.  Shocked by such mundane activities, they said, “How can people give up the sacred study of the Torah (חיי עולם, eternal life) for worldly matters (חיי שעה, temporal life)?!”  As soon as they uttered these words, all the produce of the field erupted in flames!  Immediately, a voice from heaven spoke to Rabbi Shimon and his son: “Have you come out to destroy My world? Go back to your cave!”  And so they returned to the cave for another twelve months, only leaving when they heard the same heavenly voice calling them to leave.

Upon leaving the cave for the second time, they saw an older Jew carrying two bunches of myrtle, rushing to get home on Friday afternoon.  Curious, they asked the man what the myrtle was for. “It is to adorn my house in honor of the Shabbat,” the […]

By |May 11, 2020|