For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone.
The blossoms appear on the earth;
the time of the singing of birds has come
and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our Land – Shir Hashirim 2, 12.
Ibn Ezra says that the turtledove is the sound of Redemption.
Spring is the universal season of renaissance and revival. The world wakes up, shakes off its heavy wintry coat and bursts into bloom. Fields are sown, flowers blossom, ethereal aromas drift in the breeze. Rainbows of color fill the land and birdsong fills the air.
Nissan, Iyar and Sivan – these are the months of Divine birth and renewal, the time of Redemption. In Nissan, amidst great miracles, we left Egypt to become a Nation, no longer merely a “family.” The Mishkan, the precursor to the Beit HaMikdash, was dedicated in the month of Nissan. We first entered the Land of Israel and first began the conquest at Jericho in Nissan.
In Iyar, Shlomo HaMelech began building the first Beit HaMikdash, the same month that Ezra HaSofer began building the Second Temple centuries later. On Lag BaOmer – the 18th of Iyar – Rabi Shimon bar Yochai revealed new and holy dimensions of Torah.
And on the 6th of Sivan, the Torah itself was given to the People of Israel making them a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation.
Nissan, Iyar and Sivan – these are also the months of the Counting of the Omer. Originally destined to be a period of great joy, they were later marred by the death of the students of Rabi Akiva, but their spiritual energy and Divine potential remain. In our own time, the rebirth of a Jewish State after 2,000 years of exile and the reunification of Jerusalem both took place in the month of Iyar.
This year, on Yom Atzmaut 5777, we entered the 70th year since the declaration of renewed Jewish sovereignty in Eretz Yisrael. And we’re celebrating fifty years – a “Yovel” – since the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967. Yet we still do not fathom or sufficiently appreciate the miraculous times we are living in.
At a recent wedding, we met a well-learned, serious, very sincere man; a fine, upstanding and respected member of his community. He commented on the rather loud music and somewhat overly enthusiastic dancing and went on to discuss current fashions and trends among the younger generation. It was obviously not quite his cup of tea and he was full of righteous indignation at the lack of proper decorum. The discussion then turned to the State of Israel and all the supposedly dreadful things that have taken place as a result of the “Zionist return” to Eretz Yisrael. Ever since our sojourn in the desert, Jews have been a stiff-necked people while passionately searching for perfection. And like his forefathers, our wedding companion was obstinate and full of complaints.
But what about all the good things, I asked? I could write a detailed, six page, single-spaced list of all the things that are wrong in Israel. (I could similarly write the same about any other country.) But it all pales besides a hundred and fifty years of Jewish settlement infused with miraculous events, unheard of in the history of civilization. We are truly like the phoenix, the mythical bird that never dies but always rises out of its own ashes to live again.
Stand at any high point outside of or around Jerusalem or on the Tel Aviv/Jerusalem highway, and gaze at the hills surrounding the city. They are covered with thousands of homes that did not exist a mere fifty years ago. Har Nof in the west, Ramot and Givat Zev in north, Gilo in the south, Har Choma in the east – fifty years ago, it was all “beyond the border” and bare. (One hundred and fifty years ago the Galil and the Golan were bare and empty as well!)
Bet Shemesh was a tiny backwater hamlet; Modiin and Beitar were wild, empty landscapes. Gush Etzion did not exist. Nor did the cities of Maaleh Adumim or Ariel. Today more than 800,000 Israeli Jews reside over the 1949 Armistice Lines (the so called “Green Line” which was never intended as a permanent, legal border). One hundred and fifty-three settlements dot Judea and Samaria. But whereas the land beyond that infamous “Green Line” was brown, dry, bare and abandoned, it is now truly green – growing, pulsating, full of life and people, full of Am Yisrael in all its multiplicitous wonder. Learning, teaching, growing and hurrying about the business of living.
Our cities and streets are full of children, crowded stores, noisy schools and renowned universities, factories and hi-tech industry, state-of-the-art health clinics and hospitals, and markets overflowing with produce. The sounds of Torah emerge from tens of thousands of schools and seminaries and yeshivot across the land and our men and boys in uniform guard and protect us. In the midst of this awesome, miraculous, Jewish resurrection, my “cup runneth over” and I am dizzy with gratitude. And all of this after sixty-nine years. Imagine what we will accomplish, b’ezrat Hashem, in the next sixty-nine!
A Yovel is a time when all lands returned to their original ancestral owners. Jerusalem’s original “owner” is and was the G-d of Israel who gave it to His people as an eternal legacy. But our legacy comes with a price. 23,544 Jews sacrificed their lives fighting for the Jewish State from 1948 to 2017. 3,500 more died in a hundred years of battle before the founding of the State. Each life added a tiny flame to help extinguish the darkness of a two-thousand-year Exile. Each added a stitch in the star on our blue and white flag.
The main military cemetery on Mt. Herzl holds 3,400 graves. On Memorial Day, memorial lights are lit on each one. At night, it looks as though an entire sky of stars descended to the ground in honor of these harugei malchut. Miniature blue and white flags are placed by each stone and a young soldier stands guard alongside each grave throughout the day. The scene is repeated in every military cemetery across the country. We do not forget our kedoshim.
The demographics of our rebirth are another miracle. In 1948, there were approximately 600,000-700,000 Jews in the country. Now there are over six and one half million – a population explosion of over 1000 % – in seventy years. Experts predict that, b’ezrat Hashem, we will reach ten million by 2025… or sooner. Meanwhile, 45% of the Jewish population in the world now resides in Israel.
How can anyone believe it was all a mistake? How can anyone complain that the glass is faulty, or not full enough? The State is not religious enough? It’s not the State we envisaged and hoped for? Is it possible that G-d has somehow erred? Can such an outpouring of Jewish love and blood and sacrifice be the work of the forces of evil? Is God not the Ultimate Director of human history?
I didn’t try to argue with our tablemate. Weddings are not a place to argue and our large, noisy weddings are, after all, just another sign of our growing vitality. And Jews are, after all, an obstinate people who do not relinquish their opinions lightly. Unfortunately, not all of us merit to see the Hand of G-d, even when it moves before our very eyes. Nor does every Jewish heart hear the Divine Voice clearly. So I went to join in the dancing and sing the songs of joy, so full of thanksgiving and hope, while waiting patiently until our cup is fuller still.
God has blessed us and brought us home. It is our job to fill the house with His Presence. Eit hazamir higiya – the sound of Redemption has arrived. May we hear it and rejoice.