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A Few Thoughts, Cheshvan 5775

By: Rav David Milston

 

Time and again the Torah alludes to our Holy Capital City (Bereishit – 14:18; 22:2; 28:11; Devarim 12:5 to name but a few), but the actual name "Yerushalayim" is left unstated and unidentified until the tenth chapter of Yehoshua. Why?

Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim (3:45) offers three answers to our question and they are as relevant today as they were at the start of the 13th century:

The first suggestion is that the Torah did not want the enemies of the nation to be aware of the exact location of our holiest site. Because if they did have advance knowledge of our final spiritual destination they would do anything in their power to stop Am Yisrael from realizing the dream.

These words of Rambam could have been written yesterday. Even now when Jerusalem is known to be the centerpiece of the Jewish nation, the "powers that be" refuse to recognize the truth and they will do their utmost to stop us from the ultimate realization of our dream.

Indeed, sometimes our greatest foes perceive the truth better than our own people do. The tree of the Jewish people is a wonderful tree. It is among the oldest trees in the world; it has overcome the mightiest of storms that have tried to uproot it. Its branches reach out in every direction, and there is nothing sweeter than its fruit. But no tree, however old, however prestigious, can survive without its roots – the roots of a tree sustain it and help it blossom; and the roots of the Jewish people are in Hebron, Shechem and Yerushalayim. Surely it is no coincidence that these three places were formally possessed by our forefathers, and surely it is no coincidence that our enemies will do absolutely everything and anything to deny us access to these holy sites, challenging our legitimate rights with political balderdash and outright fabrications.

They know that we have no future without our past. Now the time has come for us to internalize that fact too. One stands in astonishment at a situation where Jews who wish to pray on Temple Mount are forbidden to do so, despite Israel having sovereignty over the area, and it being our most holy site. And all of this in order to appease a religion that at the most can refer to the same place as its third most holy site, a place that is not mentioned once in the entire Koran. It is not my objective to discuss the halachik ins and outs of ascending Har Habayit, but rather to realize what is actually happening here and now.

Why are people so afraid to allow a Jew to pray on Temple Mount? Surely if young Muslim children are permitted to play soccer adjacent to the place of the Holy of Holies on Har Habayit, no harm could be caused by a Jew reciting a prayer to the one God that we apparently share? If a Jew in the Diaspora was denied access to his place of prayer, political pandemonium would erupt. I, for one, am certainly not suggesting that Muslims be denied access to their places of worship – all we ask is that a Jew be allowed to pray too.

The Rambam exposed the truth for what it is eight hundred years ago; but an issue that he discussed theoretically is our reality. We miraculously renewed our national independence after two millennia of a bitter exile – climaxing in the most terrible Holocaust. Nineteen years later we finally returned to our Capital. Nations of the world can refuse to build their embassies here, Arab "archeologists" can try to destroy proof of the Batei Mikdash of Israel, but the truth will always prevail, you cannot deny truth, any attempt to do so is destined to failure.

As we near the final redemption, the third Bet Mikdash, those who hate us will do all that they can to prevent us from realizing our dream. But it won't help. We are determined, we believe, we did not survive two thousand years of suffering to reach the gift of Eretz Yisrael, only to walk away when the going gets tough. Indeed, our determination is not marked by horrific acts of killing; we do not take to the streets in celebration when people are killed, but make no mistake, we will see this through to its wonderful end.

Kli Yakar comments at the beginning of Sefer Shemot "Pharaoh did not know Yosef" (Shemot 1:8) – had he known Yosef, had he been fully aware of the trials and tribulations that Yosef Hatzadik overcame before he became leader in Egypt and reunited with his family, if only he knew that Am Yisrael Chai, then he would not have enslaved us in the first place. Unfortunately, fighting injustice is not new to us; we have been doing this for millennia. But with the help of the Almighty, we overcame all of our foes, and we will overcome our latest enemies too! We have been exiled, we have been thrown in a pit, we have been cheated time and again, but just as Yosef survived and triumphed so will we.

In this weeks parasha we read about Yitzchak digging and re-digging wells:

"He had acquired flocks and herds and many enterprises; and the Philistines envied him. All the wells that his father's servants had dug, the Philistines stopped up, and filled them with earth. And Avimelech said to Yitzchak, 'Go away from us for you have become mightier than us!' So Yitzchak departed from there and encamped in the valley of Gerar, and dwelled there. And Yitzchak again dug the wells of water, which they had dug in the days of Avraham his father, and the Philistines had stopped up after Avraham's death; and he called them by the same names that his father had called them. Yitzchak's servants dug in the valley and found there a well of fresh water. The herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with Yitzchak's herdsmen saying, 'The water is ours,' so he called the name of that well 'Esek,' because they involved themselves with him. Then they dug another well, and they quarreled over that also; so he called its name 'Sitnah.' He relocated from there and dug another well; they did not quarrel over it, so he called its name 'Rehovot,' and said, 'For now Hashem has granted us ample space, and we can be fruitful in the land.'" (Bereishit, 26:14 - 22)

This episode is perplexing. The one event in the entire Torah in which Yitzchak takes the leading role is a seemingly unimportant sequence of conflicts regarding the digging of wells. Even though one could argue that Yitzchak was a central figure in the Akeidah, that event was introduced with the words: "And Hashem tested Avraham;” (Bereishit 22:1) the emphasis being placed on the father as opposed to the son.

Furthermore, if this parasha aims to describe Yitzchak’s greatness, it would be fair to assume that we should be able to understand what that greatness is. Instead, we are told of a dispute that seems at first glance to be of no real consequence whatsoever.

If, however, we look at these events in depth, we will learn who Yitzchak really was and we will indeed see unparalleled greatness, we will also see exactly what we have to do.

What is the significance of wells?

As we know, we cannot exist for very long without water. We can therefore suppose that the digging of a well would be one of the first activities when establishing a new town. This tells us that Yitzchak was involved in something much more life-threatening than a simple business dispute.

His father, Avraham Avinu, had spread the idea of monotheism. He had established colonies throughout the land to reflect and perpetuate his beliefs. He was received as a prince wherever he went in Eretz Yisrael. Hence, when the opposing herdsmen filled in the wells, they were not simply disputing ownership of a particular area. They were aiming to uproot the colonies, with the ultimate objective of destroying Avraham’s ideals. By cutting off the water supply, they hoped to force the people to disperse and move elsewhere. Even then the aim was to cut off the roots!

Yitzchak would not stand by and watch his father’s achievements evaporate before his very eyes. Hashem commanded Yitzchak to remain in Eretz Yisrael; we know that he never left Eretz Yisrael. This was not by coincidence. Yitzchak was the defender of the Abrahamic idea. His role was to consolidate the concepts of Ahavat Hashem and Yirat Hashem (love and fear of the Almighty). He had to ensure that this new ideology would not disappear after just one generation. There were those who continually wished to stop him, as we can see from the wells episode, but he did not capitulate. He persisted, until he finally reached 'Rehovot.'

And we have every intention of following in the footsteps of our patriarch. We will dig wells. They may well try to fill them in, but we will keep digging. This is our land and it is the only land that we have. We will continue until we reach sweet water, until we reach "Rehovot" – the roots will not be severed, we will prevail, because the truth always prevails. We will continue to build and carry on our efforts on until our right to live in peace in our homeland is recognized.

The second reason suggested by Rambam is that once our enemies are aware of our holy sites they will desecrate and destroy them. Once again the words of Rambam seem almost prophetic. In the aftermath of the falling of the Old City in 1948, our enemies went to every length in order to ensure the destruction of our holy places. Indeed, some even used the Kotel as a latrine.

But it is the third suggestion of Rambam with which I wish to conclude:

He explains that Yerushalayim was not initially identified so that the people of Israel would not fight each other in order to inherit the city. Jerusalem means unity. It is a city that unites the entire Jewish people.

It is interesting to note that in the run up to the "Six day war", Levi Eshkol, the serving Prime Minister of Israel at the time, invited Menachem Begin, leader of the opposition, to join a National Unity Government. It was the first time in Zionist history that the factions of Mr. Eshkol and Mr. Begin came together – it was a first for unity and the undeniable result was the reunification of Jerusalem.

If we remain united as a nation then no one will ever move us from our city. There may be political debates about Yehuda and Shomron, but well over 90% of Jews in Israel view Yerushalayim as our capital, a city that is not up for negotiation.

We waited a long time for the honor of returning home to Israel, and the privilege of having Jerusalem as our Capital city. We are in terrible mourning over our recent tragedies, but we have no intention of moving from our homeland. We have come so far and our goal is on the horizon. We have merited to play a part in the return to Zion, we are living a prophecy, and we shall not be moved! I for one would never consider forgoing this opportunity. This is the city of peace and we want to live here in peace.

We are going through a rough period at present. But as we discussed in the Midrasha last week on the anniversary of Kristallnacht – if you think that our current predicament is bad then read some recent Jewish history. If seventy-six years ago the Jews of Europe had been offered to fight as an Army with a Jewish Government in the land of Israel for Jerusalem – they would have jumped at the chance. Things are tough but they are better than they have been for 2000 years, and however difficult the situation is, we must never forget that. Every so often we must step back and view our reality in perspective.

To you my dear students and alumni – "Never forget Yerushalayim!" We are in the Old City of Yerushalayim, and there is no better place in the world! We are here, we are actually here, after two thousand years – and we have every intention to stay!

In the words of Avigdor Meiri:

מעל פסגת הר הצופים --- On the summit of Mt Scopus
שלום לך ירושלים!  ---- Peace to you Yerushalayim!
אלפי דורות חלמתי עלייך, ---- For thousands of generations I dreamt about you,
לראות, לזכות, באור פנייך! ---- Just to see the light of your face!

ירושלים, ירושלים, ---- Yerushalayim Yerushalayim,
אני לא אזוז מפה!  ---- I will not be moved from here!
ירושלים, ירושלים, ---- Yerushalayim Yerushalayim
יבוא המשיח, יבוא! ---- The Mashiach will surely come!

Besorot Tovot,

Rav Milston    

 

 

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