During this season of the year we experience two “connecting” periods that each link two festivals – the period between Pesach and Shavuot, and the period between Yom Ha-Atzma’ut and Yom Yerushalayim (the day commemorating the liberation of Jerusalem during the Six-Day War, 38 years ago). The fact that the ancient pair (Pesach-Shavuot, dating back to ancient Israelite history) and the modern pair (Yom ha-Atzma’ut and Yom Yerushalayim; both related to modernday Israel) occur in close proximity is no coincidence. These two intermediary periods in fact share a profound connection.
The festival of Pesach commemorates the Exodus from Egypt, and on Shavuot – fifty days later – we received the Torah. The transition in the intermediate days is one of ascent from physical liberation from slavery (Pesach) “upwards”, as it were, towards spiritual liberation (Shavuot – the receiving of the Torah).
The period in between Yom ha-Atzma’ut and Yom Yerushalayim may be characterized in a similar way. On Yom ha-Atzma’ut we celebrate something similar to Pesach. This day commemorates, principally, the attainment of our physical, political independence; our exodus from subjugation to foreign nations. This event is a profoundly joyful one, and we celebrate it with all of Am Yisrael.
Yom Yerushalayim is more similar to Shavuot. During the Six-Day War, Israel regained many places whose strategic importance for the survival and security needs of the State are immeasurably greater than that of Jerusalem. The I.D.F. expanded the country’s narrow waistline in Judea and Samaria, defended the Galilee “finger” (panhandle), and even took over the Hermon, the “eyes of the country”. All of these are important achievements, and without them Israel’s situation would be all but impossible. But Jerusalem is in a different category: it is neither the waistline, the “finger”, or even the “eyes” of the country. Jerusalem is the heart.
There are no stories of Golani soldiers shedding tears upon reaching the Hermon; no emotional scenes were recorded among the tank companies at the liberation of the Sinai. But the paratroopers weeping at the Western Wall have become a symbol. These soldiers – like the nation as a whole – understood that the liberation of Jerusalem had significance far beyond the relief that it brought to the city’s inhabitants, living in fear of sniper fire. This was a spiritual historical moment of the sort that happens once in thousands of years.
We recite the phrase, “Next year in Jerusalem” a few times each year. Many of us believe that this motto belongs to those who live outside of Israel; for those who were born in Israel or who immigrated there, they believe, it has no real meaning. But not everyone feels this way, and it is interesting to read what two great people who share a common background have to say in this regard.
Natan Sharansky, a “prisoner of Zion” for many years, is now a minister in the Israeli government. When he finally got to Israel, he said: “Now the next time I say, “Next year in Jerusalem”, these words will finally have only symbolic meaning, for I – body and soul – now dwell in the capital of Israel.” These were the heartfelt words of someone who suffered and waited for so many years in order to reach that moment.
But another former “prisoner of Zion” presents a completely different view. Yosef Begun, also a “refusenik” for many years, said the following, when he was already living in Israel:
“Some people say that there’s more depth when you’re in the Diaspora. I, too – during the long nights in prison, on the Pesach nights, used to ask myself: “Nu, so when I get to Jerusalem – what then? What significance will there be to the words of the Haggadah there, in Eretz Yisrael?” And here I am now, in Jerusalem, and I still utter with the same intention in my heart, with the same passionate hope and prayer: “Next year in the rebuilt Jerusalem.” Because a “rebuilt Jerusalem” means the Temple, it means the Sanhedrin, it means a fully Jewish life. And it is specifically here, since I made aliya, that I see and am more conscious of the deficiencies and delays in our lives. It is specifically here that I understand better the spiritual content; not the physical, geographical aspiration towards the rebuilt Jerusalem. And on the Seder night I am able to utter these words with the heartfelt prayer that I, too, shall be able to make my contribution towards the rebuilding of this Jerusalem – may it be rebuilt soon.”
Aliya is not the end of Zionist fulfillment. After this great step comes the readiness to improve the situation in Israel – in all aspects; to work towards the goal of all of us being together next year in a Jerusalem that is rebuilt in all sense of the word.