NEXT YEAR IN JERUSALEM

There is a fifth question, that we would do well to ponder two weeks from tonight, at the Pesach seder. Why is it that at the end of Seder, we proclaim: L’Shanah HaBa’ah B’Yerushalayim or Next year in Jerusalem (it should be noted that we proclaim the very same at the conclusion of  Yom Kippur as well, but that is not within the scope of this week’s message)? What is it about the Pesach Seder, that it warrants such final words? I don’t believe that it would be an overstatement to say, that more than a few of our ancestors in Egypt, believed that they would never see anything other than mortar and bricks. And yet, the celebration of Pesach is not so much about recalling the endless night of our ancestors being slaves in Egypt, as it is of the morning after, with its never-ending challenge of freedom.

“Next year in Jerusalem” reinforces the belief of a morning after. Say what you will about this year, but never speculate about the current confronting hardships. Temporally, next year and this year are 12 months apart (13, if it is a Jewish leap year). As far as our trials and tribulations, what next year might bring, could turn out to be eons away. Few, if any inmates of Auschwitz could foresee and fathom the life-changing freedom of Pesach 1945, as they defied the enemy and mustered the inner-strength to “celebrate” Pesach 1944. “Next year” connotes a new year as well as a different year. “Next year” connotes a better year, irrespective of how terrific or trying this year happens to be. 

“Jewish” DNA is about remembering. “Jewish” DNA does not distinguish between good and bad as well as the happy and sad. As Jews, we not only remember the past, but we also sing about the past. It matters little whether the past recalls our personal shortcomings (Ashamnu, sung time and time again every Yom Kippur) causing us shame or whether the past the evokes denial of freedom to our people (Avadim Hayyinu, sung immediately following Mah Nishtanah or the Four Questions at the Pesach seder) which ought to evoke anger. We sing about the past because we know, that just as better times preceded difficult and trying times, so too will better times follow difficult and trying times. It makes perfect sense therefore, that L’Shanah HaBa’ah B’Yerushalyim or Next Year in Jerusalem, the final words of the Pesach seder are sung as well.

“Next year in Jerusalem” serves as a promise. Generations of our people clung to that promise, despite the fact, that Jerusalem, as well Israel, was regarded as a pipedream. And yet, Israel ceased to be a pipedream a little more than 7 decades ago, with a united Jerusalem to follow,19 years later. “Next year in Jerusalem” serves as a reminder that promises are kept. There are those who maintain that given this reality, “Next year in Jerusalem” is no longer applicable. After all, countless Jews from around the world have visited Jerusalem, with a good many participating in a Pesach seder there as well. However cogent that argument, “Next year in Jerusalem” very much deserves to remain as part of the Pesach seder. Tradition aside, “Next year in Jerusalem” reminds us, that promises carry weight – so much so, that as far as Judaism is concerned, there is a sound basis to see promises indistinguishable from reassurances. “Next year in Jerusalem” is a message  of hope. Regardless how things appear to be at the moment, it is no indication of how things will be in the future. It’s merely a matter of time. “Next year in Jerusalem” is a pledge that “there’s got to be a morning after.” No matter how foreboding it may seem at present, there is a sun that will rise – sooner than many of us think – that will not only brighten our day, but our lives as well.

“Next year in Jerusalem!”


ON THE EVE OF DESTRUCTION

In all probability, tens, if not hundreds of thousands of Jews will be fasting this Sunday, as yet another Tisha B’Av is commemorated. It may very well be that the rabbinic sages who experienced and survived the horrors of the Temple in flames, would find it extremely hard to believe that the mourning over a destroyed Temple continues and perhaps in some cases has even intensified in some respects two thousand years after the calamity.

If the message of Tisha B’Av is to be truly understood and appreciated, it would seem to me that our focus as Jews not be in any way limited to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. There are other destructions that are not only worthy of notice, but actually cry out for our attention. Hopefully we will shed a tear for them as well.

The destruction of the holy Temple in Jerusalem was a two-time event. The destruction of the first Temple by the Babylonians occurred in the year 586 B.C.E. The destruction of the second Temple by the Romans occurred in the year 70 C.E. Since then, the Babylonians have not destroyed any Temples; since then, the Romans have not destroyed any Temples. Neither has any other nation, for that matter.

As members of the human race, we Jews have witnessed and unfortunately, in some cases gone so far as to participate in, other destructions, however. Long before the destruction of the two Temples, and ever since the destruction of the two Temples, we have destroyed relationships. Intentionally or not, we have turned the priceless loyalty of friends into a worthless heap of ashes. Placing personal agenda over devotion, elevating ego over esteem, we have destroyed cherished friendships, close friendships. Our siddurim or prayer books don’t seem to be at a loss for words when it comes to the reconstructing Jerusalem and rebuilding the holy Temple. Yet, when it comes to reconstructing a relationship or rebuilding a friendship, those very same siddurim are ominously silent. How very sad!

As members of the human race, we Jews have witnessed and, in some cases, gone so far as to participate in, the destruction of careers. One thing humans are quite adept at is character assassination. Sixty plus years ago, a lackluster senator from Wisconsin, aided and abetted by the press, as well as other media outlets, was catapulted to national fame as he fanned the flames of fear of the American people. A nation of “Chicken Littles” were caught up in a frenzy of this country being infiltrated by Communists. “We have to do something,” clucked the frightened fowl. And so, they put a kibosh on careers and ruined reputations. And yes, some whose lives were left in tatters even ended up committing suicide. Yet, lest one think that “Chicken Littles” have flown the coop, one would do well to consider the spate of sexual harassment charges that have been recently hurled. Who would ever have believed that there are secretaries who consensually misbehaved with their superiors, only to suddenly decide to take the moral high road after having been spurned and cast aside by those very same superiors as the appetites of those superiors are whetted by other women?

Speaking of suicides, did you know that suicide is the second ranking cause of death for individuals 15-24 years of age? Thanks to “cyber-bullying” otherwise known as using the internet to spread malicious gossip to ruin someone’s reputation, more and more of our youth are taking their own lives. Yet, parents from all social and economic strata refuse to even consider the possibility that their child is either in harms way as a potential victim, or is heaven forbid one of the perpetrators of such reprehensible behavior. Instead, time and energy are expended for the physical safety of the student, while the spiritual safety of that same student goes unnoticed.

As we mourn the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem this Sunday, we would well to also mourn relationships and friendships we’ve destroyed, careers we’ve shattered and teenage suicides to which we sit by idly and do nothing.

EMBASSY BLEATS

 

The words of Samuel II, 7:23, which find themselves in the Shabbat Mincha service, took on a new meaning for me this past Monday: “You are one (of a kind), Your name is one (unique) and who is like Your people, a suis generis nation on earth.”

Without a doubt I’m in the minority, but for me the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem was the “Shanda of all Shandas” (Shanda is German/Yiddish for shame or embarrassment.) What it shows is 70 years of Chutzpah of the highest order on the part of governments of pretty much all countries of this world. Would any of these countries have dared to open their embassies in New York rather than Washington D.C. or in Toronto rather than Ottawa? Yet, it was perfectly legitimate for them to open their Embassies in Tel-Aviv rather than Jerusalem. For shame!

As one who has an affinity for a number of Israel’s Prime Ministers, I share with you three different “embassy” responses taken out of context, from three leaders of the modern State of Israel. I do so with full knowledge that these responses are anything but politically correct in the eyes of contemporary culture:

“History has shown us time and time again that what is right is not what is popular.” Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s current P.M. could not have been more concise in evaluating the lack of courage exhibited by government after government. Obviously, popular is far more important than right. A modicum of justice would dictate that Israel open its embassy in Sao Paulo rather than Brasilia, in Manchester rather than London and in Leningrad rather than Moscow. Yet, there are those American Jews, who in response to our current president’s decision to open the American Embassy in Jerusalem exult: “Mah Rabbu Ma’asecha!” or “How great are you deeds!” (Psalm 104.) No doubt, I’m a lone voice, but as far as I’m concerned, such effusiveness smacks of the shtetl Jew beholden to the Poritz (wealthy Polish landlord) for the slightest of accommodations.

From my point of view, it behooves us to borrow from Golda Meir who turned to Anwar Sadat on his first visit to Israel over four decades ago and remarked “What took you so long!” All countries of the world, including these United States, have had over half a century to come to terms with the reality that Jerusalem is no longer a divided city. All countries of the world have had over fifty years to accept the reality that the unity of Jerusalem is non–negotiable. Refusing to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is tantamount to refusing to recognize New York City as being on American soil.

There is a speech made by Menachem Begin taking Helmut Schmidt to task for having the audacity to lecture Israel about the rights of the Palestinian people.  “Of all people, for you Germans to speak about human rights is a sham. What gives you the right to speak about minority groups? We Jews should be the ones lecturing you Germans about human rights and not the other way around. We are the people who introduced the notion of human rights to the world.” Given his conviction, given his boldness, it’s quite likely that Menachem Begin would have lectured the world by saying: Jerusalem has been the capital of Israel, long before any of your countries came into existence. If history has taught us anything, it’s that countries come and go. So do their capitals.  But Jerusalem is eternal. We welcome those who relocate their embassies to Israel. But know one thing. With or without your embassies, Jerusalem has been and will continue to be the capital of the Jewish State.