She’hechiyanu… [Parshat Behar-Bechukotai By Rabbi Zalman Lent]

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Visit Jerusalem at any time of the year, day or night, and you will find one place always bustling with people … the Western Wall. There you will find men, women and children of every affiliation, from every country, speaking many different languages, all praying at the wall. Some will be happy and some will be sad, some dancing and some grieving … but all join together in the shadow of this silent wall.

Why? What is so meaningful about this wall?

This Wednesday we celebrate Yom Yerushalayim, forty-six years since Wednesday June 7th 1967, a historic and joyous day in Jewish history – when we were once again able to visit and pray at our holiest site – the Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall or the Kotel.

For 19 years, from 1948 until 1967, the city of Jerusalem was divided, with no access for Jews to pray at this spiritually and historically charged location.

It was after the unification of Jerusalem, and the reclaiming of the Kotel, that the song Yerushalayim shel zahav (Jerusalem of Gold) went from being popular to being almost the national anthem. The song about loss and longing transformed to joy and song touched the hearts of the entire Jewish people.  So solitary lies the city – wrote Naomi Shemer  and at its heart … a wall. The song is a mournful one, lamenting the abandoned city:

The wells ran dry of water, forlorn was the market square,
The Temple Mount dark and deserted, in the Old City there.

On June 7th IDF paratroopers reached the Kotel and some began emotionally singing Jerusalem of Gold. Whoever was at the Kotel at that time, soldiers, medics and journalists, all joined together in this heartfelt expression of great elation. When Shemer heard this she added a final verse to the song, expressing their joy and hope. She wrote of the shofar sounded there by Chief Rabbi Goren, and of the crowds rushing to the wall they had been barred from for so long.

The wells are filled again with water, the square with joyous crowd,
On the Temple Mount within the city, the shofar rings out loud.
Within the caverns in the mountains, a thousand suns will glow,
We’ll take the Dead Sea road together, that runs through Jericho.
Oh, Jerusalem of gold, and of bronze and of light, I am the harp for all your songs.

Shemer explained that in writing the song she saw before her eyes two thousand years of destruction, and not just the nineteen years from 1948. The chorus of the song refers to a piece of gold jewellery depicting Jerusalem, given by the great Rabbi Akiva to his wife after many years of poverty.

There is a famous account of the liberation of Jerusalem by a paratrooper called Moshe Amirav. He wrote it on June 8th, 1967 in Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, waiting for surgery to remove shrapnel from his head.

On Monday, the 5th of June 1967, I arrived in Western Jerusalem as a soldier in a paratroop brigade.  At the end of that night … I climbed up onto the roof of the adjacent building and in dawn’s first light I was able to see – Jerusalem.

A Jordanian shell exploded on the roof of the building.  As a result of the blast, I flew up in the air.  I felt a piece of shrapnel ripping my face. A few hours later, I was already at Hadassah Hospital in Ein Karem.  I could hear the echo of shooting from the Old City. 

The next morning, we listened to the broadcast of the Voice of Israel reporter, Raphael Amir: “At this moment, I am going down the stairs toward the Western Wall… I am touching the stones of the Western Wall…”  Sounds of gunfire could be heard in the background mixed with the elated cries of the soldiers and the sounds of shofar blowing.  I could not continue listening to the broadcast.  I got out of bed and told Motti, who was lying in the bed next to mine: “I am going to the Kotel!”

I smile now when I remember how I ran to the Kotel, holding Motti’s hand since I could hardly see where to go.  We did not take our time – we ran quickly, past the Moghrabi Gate, pushing forward in a hurry.  Suddenly we stopped, thunderstruck.  Standing opposite us was the Western Wall: huge, silent, and restrained. Slowly, I began my approach to the Kotel, feeling like a shaliach tzibbur, a cantor praying for a congregation; representing my father – Herschel-Zvi of Jerusalem and Lithuania, representing Grandfather Moses and Grandfather Yisrael who were slaughtered in Punar, representing my teacher and rabbi Menachem Mendel and his entire family that was killed in Treblinka.

Someone near me made the “She’hechiyanu” blessing, but I could not answer “Amen.”  I just put a hand on the stone and the tears that streamed from my eyes were part water and part prayers, tunes, and longing of generations of Mourners of Zion.”

Behind this wall are thousands of years of Jewish history dating all the way back to the binding of Isaac. Behind this wall stood two Batei Mikdash – two Holy Temples. At the heart of the Beit Hamikdash was the Holy Ark containing the Luchot HaBrit – the Ten Commandments, the same tablets engraved by G-d and given to Mankind. In a short time we will celebrate Shavuot, when we prepare to receive those Ten Commandments afresh, and we will pray that one day soon we will have the opportunity to visit not only the outer walls of the Beit Hamikdash … but the real thing itself.

Then, once again we will sing:

The wells are filled again with water, the square with joyous crowd,
On the Temple Mount within the city, the shofar rings out loud.
Yerushalayim shel zahav, ve’shel nechoshet ve’shel or ….
Oh, Jerusalem of gold, and of bronze and of light, I am the harp for all your songs.

 

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Zalman Lent

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Rabbi Zalman Lent is a Community Rabbi in Dublin and director of  Chabad of Ireland.


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