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D'var Torah - Perashiyot Behar-Bechukotai

05/10/2018 05:05:34 PM


Rabbi Hayyim Kassorla

This week’s second Torah portion, Behukotai, begins Eem Bechukotai - "If you follow My laws and faithfully observe My commandments..." What follows is a list of blessings that we will receive for following the mitzvot.
However, this parasha is also known for its list of TOKCHACHOT - curses, what will befall us if we do not follow God's ways. I will lay your cities in ruin and make your sanctuaries desolate. And you I will scatter among the nations, and I will unsheathe the sword against you.  Your land shall become desolation and your cities a ruin.

Historically and metaphorically, our rabbis have cited the destruction of the 1st & 2nd Temples in Jerusalem as evidence in support of the fulfillment of the tokochachot.  But always, there lies an undercurrent of hope.  We note the words the Israelites, as recorded by the psalmist (137), as they were led into the Babylonian exile after the destruction of the 1st Temple: 1. By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. 2. Upon the willows in the midst thereof we hanged up our harps. 3. For there they that led us captive asked of us words of song, and our tormentors asked of us mirth: 'Sing us one of the songs of Zion.'  4. How shall we sing the LORD'S song in a foreign land? 5. If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. 6. Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I remember thee not; if I set not Jerusalem
above my chiefest joy.
Those exiled did not forget, they did return, only 600 years later to suffer through the 2nd destruction of the Temple and a more lasting exile.  Yet, again, our liturgy captured both the sorrow and hope in a psalm (126) that has become part of the Birkat HaMazon, Grace After Meals, on Shabbat and Yom Tov: Shir Hama’alot 1. A Song of Ascents. When the LORD brought back those that returned to Zion, we were like unto them that dream.  2. Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing; then said they among the nations: 'The LORD hath done great things with these.'  3. The LORD hath done great things with us; we are rejoiced.  4. Turn our captivity, O LORD, as the streams in the dry land. 5. They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.  6. Though he goeth on his way weeping that beareth the measure of seed, he shall come home with joy, bearing his sheaves.
This Sunday, the 13th of May we will celebrate Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day, the anniversary of the reunification of the city of Jerusalem during the Six-Day War, to become one city, under Israeli rule, open to all.
  A soldier, a paratrooper by the name of Haim Hefer, who participated in the liberation of Jerusalem, wrote a poem, titled
"The Paratroopers are Weeping:"
This Kotel has heard many prayers
This Kotel has seen many walls fall
This Kotel has felt wailing women's hands and notes pressed
between its stones
This Kotel has seen Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi trampled in front of it
This Kotel has seen Caesars rising and falling
But this Kotel has never before seen paratroopers cry.
This Kotel has seen them tired and exhausted
This Kotel has seen them wounded and scratched-up
Running towards it with beating hearts, with cries and with silence
Pouncing out like predators from the alleyways of the Old City And they're dust-covered and dry-lipped
And they're whispering: if I forget you, if I forget you, O Jerusalem
And they are lighter than eagles and more tenacious then lions
And their tanks are the fiery chariot of Elijah the Prophet
And they pass like lightning
And they pass in fury
And they remember the thousands of terrible years in which we didn't even have a Kotel in front of which we could cry.
And here they are standing in front of it and breathing deeply
And here they are looking at it with the sweet pain
And the tears fall and they look awkwardly at each other
How is it that paratroopers cry?
How is it that they touch the wall with feeling?
How is it that from crying they move to singing?
Maybe it's because these 19-year-olds were born with the birth of Israel Carrying on their backs - 2000 years.
It is a beautiful, moving poem, but what strikes me is the thought that 19-year-old boys are still shedding tears.
But, as our tradition teaches and demands, we must remain optimistic.  Therefore, it behooves each and every one of us to come together to celebrate Yom Yerushalayim every year.
Believe me, we have enough problems and challenges in life, our tradition is right, we need reasons to celebrate – and the reunification of Jerusalem - Yerushaliyim shel zhav, and one day, God willing, a Yerushaliyim shel Shalom - a Jerusalem crowned by peace is just one of those celebrations.

Chag Sameach, Happy Mother’s Day and Shabbat Shalom.

- Rabbi Hayyim Kassorla

Sat, March 23 2019 16 Adar II 5779