Yom Ha’atzmaut 5777
On Yom Ha’atzmuat 5777, the Chief Rabbi was delighted to join the Bnei Akiva annual ceremony in Finchley Synagogue, where he spoke about the centrality of the Land of Israel and in particular, the city of Jerusalem, in the Jewish faith.
You can watch the full address and read the transcript below.
Dayan Simons, Rabbanim Nichbadim, His Excellency the Israeli Ambassador, The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government the Right Honourable Sajid Javid MP, His Worshipful the Mayor, President of the Board of Deputies, Vice-President of the United Synagogue, the co-chairs of Finchley Synagogue, the Heads of Mizrachi, Morei VeRabbotai.
Ze Hayom Asah Hashem Nagilah Venismecha Vo, ‘This is the day that Hashem has made, we will be glad and rejoice there on’.
2017 is a remarkable year of anniversaries. From the 29th – 31st of August this year, we will mark 120 years since the staging of the first Zionist congress in Basil, Switzerland. Then, the first practical steps were launched to enable us to realise a dream of millennia – to have our own home in Zion.
And then on the 2nd November, we will be celebrating the centenary of the Balfour Declaration and the celebrations in this country will be led by Her Majesties Government. And we are so heart warmed through the knowledge that our Governments recognises the centrality of the State of Israel for the Jewish people today and a reflection of this is the presence in Synagogue this evening of a representative of the Government, the Secretary of State Sajid Javid MP, and Secretary of State, we appreciate enormously the fact that you are here in the midst of the frenzy of the run up to the forthcoming general election. We would like to thank, through you, the Government, for the warmth and friendship towards our community and to the State of Israel. And we would also like to thank you, in your own capacity as Secretary of State, for everything that you are doing to strengthen the security of the Jewish community. And also, through the leadership that you are showing through your department to enable the United Kingdom Holocaust Memorial Foundation to achieve its goal to erect a memorial and to build a learning centre in memory of the victims of the Holocaust, alongside the Houses of Parliament. And also, to thank you for your efforts to guarantee that those who seek to employ moves towards BDS within local authorities around the country, will simply not be able to do so. For all this and more, Secretary of State, thank you very much.
And then there will be yet another anniversary. On the 29th November, 70 years since the decision by the United Nations to establish the State of Israel. And if that’s not enough, in a few weeks’ time, Baruch Hashem, we will be celebrating the Yovel, ‘the Jubilee’, 50 years since the liberation of Yerushalayim Ir HaKodesh and the reunification of the capital and the State of Israel.
And actually, what we are celebrating has an absolute parallel in our history. In the year 586, before the Common Era, our First Temple fell and we were condemned to 50 years of exile in Babylon. After half a century, in 536, before the Common Era, we were back in Zion and we immediately took upon ourselves the task of rebuilding the Temple – it took us 20 years to do that and in 516, before the Common Era, the Second Temple was dedicated.
50 years with a dream for a return to Zion, followed by 20 years within Zion where there was a dream on the Temple Mount to have the House of God. And that is exactly what has happened since 1897 – 50 years until 1947 with the decision of the United Nations, the realisation of our dream for our national homeland to be back in our hands once again and then an additional 20 years until in 1967, once again, the Temple Mount, the location of our two temples, was once again back in our hands.
And there is a further extraordinary parallel, what enabled the Jews of Babylon to return to the Holy Land so swiftly after they had been exiled? It was an event in 539, before the Common Era, just 3 years before their return when against the odds, Cyrus the Great defeated the Babylonian Empire. And as a result, the entire political configuration of the world was changed to our advantage, facilitating our return to Zion. And in 1945, just 3 years before the establishment of the State of Israel, thank God, we saw the end of the Second World War and the Shoah. As a result of which, against the odds, so swiftly we moved from a time when there was no light at the end of the tunnel, towards a period of the remarkable establishment of the State of Israel – just 3 years later.
But we need to ask, why Israel and why Jerusalem? Why davka that particular piece of land?
When Hashem commanded Avraham ‘Lech Lecha’, it was ‘El Haaretz Asher Erekha’, it was’ to the land which I will show you’, to the land of Gods choosing. And on 31 occasions in Chumash, Hashem refers to Bemakom Asher Yivchar Hashem, ‘the place which God will choose’, the Land of Israel is the place of Gods choosing, it is a land with unparalleled spiritual properties. And if that is the case with regard to the whole land, how much more so is it the case with regard to Jerusalem, the holy city.
I don’t know if you have ever thought of the suitability of Jerusalem to be a capital? You know, to be a capital city, it needs to be in a place which is accessible, the cross roads of civilisation, a major port by the sea, or at the very least on a river. And most significantly of all, the capital, as is the case with any city, needs to have an ongoing source of water. But Jerusalem doesn’t tick any one of those boxes!
In ancient times, the way of the sea took one from Egypt up to Lebanon, the kings highway from Arabia up to Damascus – nobody ever went close to Jerusalem, you would only get there if you were flabomzered, if you were lost on your way, up in the hills in the mountains. Jerusalem’s not by the sea and remarkably there is no river in Jerusalem and water has always been an ongoing problem there. And if you have ever been in Yerushalayim for Rosh Hashanah, you’ve had a problem with regards to Tashlich. So how come was such a place chosen to be a capital city?
The answer is given in Psalm 132, Ki Bachar Hashem Betzion Ivar Lemoshav Lo, ‘For the Lord has chosen Zion, he has wanted it to be his habitation’ – this is the holiest place on earth and vowed to the Jewish people for all time. And we appreciate how remarkable Yerushalayim is and that’s why we’re going to be celebrating Yom Yerushalayim in a few weeks’ time in such a special manner and that is why Medinat Yisrael is so precious to us to this day.
But you know, the name Yerushalayim is quite remarkable. It’s a Kri U’chativ, on 669 occasions it is mentioned in Tenach, spelt Yerushalym, spelt without the yud before the final mem, but we pronounce it Yerushalayim. Where as everyone else calls it Jerusalem, Yerusalem in the singular, we are the only ones who refer to it in its correct plural form.
And I would like to suggest the following. There are 3 phenomena in the Hebrew language which have no singular – they are water, the skies and life.
One tiny drop on water is Mayim, ‘waters’, that is because when you look out to the sea, the horizon seems to be never ending. One square inch of the sky is Shomayim, ‘the heavens’, because when you look out to the sky it seems to be never ending. And one nanosecond of life is Chayim, because as we know, the soul lives on forever.
So too, Yerushalayim is in the plural. There are some who would prefer to presume that once upon a time, perhaps on a one off occasion, the Jewish people had it but that’s it. That’s what the Romans thought. So after the year 70 when they destroyed our Temple and exiled our people, they ploughed the fields in order that they should never notice that a city existed there. It was as if they were erecting a Matzeivah, ‘a monument’, on it to declare ‘here lies a place where there was once a capital city of a nation that once existed’. And that is because Yerushalayim, which is a symbol of the whole land, which in turn is a symbol of the whole people represents the ongoing life of Am Yisrael. And if you deny the rights of the Jews to have a home in Zion, it is a direct attack on the Jewish people because the Land of Israel is a symbol of Am Yisrael throughout all history.
And you know, this two phased development, first a period in which we come to the land and then within the land we go to Jerusalem, that has the Biblical background – it is the two ‘Lech Lechas’. First, God said to Avraham, ‘Lech Lecha’, uproot yourself from Mesopotamia, from the Diaspora, make Aliyah and then once Avraham was in the Land of Israel, there was the second ‘Lech Lecha’. There are only two ‘Lech Lachas’ mentioned in the whole of the Tenach and the second ‘Lech Lecha’ is Lech Lecha El Eretz Moriah, now make a second Aliyah, go to Jerusalem, appreciate the Kedusha in the land.
I’m so pleased that here in our community, through Torat Bnei Akiva, we have recognition of all that I have been speaking about of the centrality of the Land of Israel in our lives. Of the fact that Israel is a God given gift to Am Yisrael for all time. Of the fact that Yerushalayim is the heart of our people and the fact that it is the ongoing spiritual capital of the Jewish people, it is the symbol of the ongoing life of the Jew, representing Am Yisrael Chai, that the people of Israel lives forever.
And it is thanks to Bnei Akiva that throughout our communities, we’ve got the spirit of Torah Ve’Avodah, a wonderful injection of Yiddishkeit, through their regular Shabbat programmes, through their camps, through their Israel programmes. And it’s not just here in the UK, Bnei Akiva is surely the greatest Jewish Youth Movement on earth.
And it is here this evening that we are here to benefit from the Ruach that the Tenuah will provide for us. So thank you Bnei Akiva for everything that you do, not just this evening, but indeed throughout the whole year. Thank you for enabling us every year on Yom Ha’atzmaut to have such a remarkable experience here at this Tefillah. And thank you for giving us hope for the future, because if our young people realise the centrality of Israel and its crucial importance to the Jewish people, we indeed have hope for the future.
Thanks to Bnei Akiva, we can openly and enthusiastically declare tonight on this Yom Ha’atzmaut – Ze Hayom Asah Hashem Nagilah Venismecha Vo, ‘This is the day that Hashem has made, let us be glad and rejoice thereon’.