The Three Weeks and Tishah B’Av are a time of mourning and destruction. But they are also a time of promise and hope. Like Rabi Akiva, who laughed when he saw the destruction on Har Habayit because he knew it foretold the eventual Redemption, as I look out at our beloved city and Land, my heart sighs… and sings… at the same time.
Long ago in 1955, I spent a year in Israel. It was only seven years after the War for Independence. Life in the Holy Land was still harsh and lacking in basic amenities. Jerusalem was a small, off-the-track, provincial backwater. A quiet, dusty city with hovels, nooks and crannies and winding simta’ot. A forbidding belt of barbed wire cut, like a knife, through the heart of the city.
But none of this fazed me. I had arrived in paradise. It was a year of unparalleled joy, a dream fulfilled. In my youthful exuberance, I was swept along on the wings of the Shechina. The day I left a year later was a day of mourning. I didn’t actually tear kriah, but I felt like it.
In those long-gone days, the border was everywhere. The Old City was, of course, off limits. Entire neighborhoods, streets, even houses, were left to languish among weeds and stones. In order to see into the Old City, we climbed to the roof of Kever David on Har Tzion and peered over a corner of the wall. It was like a glimpse into some forbidden, untouchable world. The Kotel was only a hand’s reach away but we could not touch it.The Beit HaMikdash was only a dream.
Twelve years later, in 1967, after six miraculous days, those walls were down, the barbed wire gone. A week after the war, we dressed our kids in their Shabbos best and drove up to Jerusalem to join a massive crowd walking up Har Zion to the Kotel. It was a veritable rehearsal for the future Aliyah La’regel. The air was full of Shir Ha’Maalot; our eyes were filled with tears; our children were strangely silent, filled with awe.
Today, in 2014, Jerusalem is no longer small, quiet, dark or mysterious. To the immense chagrin of the world, it is large, open and light. A busy, thriving, noisy metropolis stretching out to the east, west, north and south. The UN and the EU are vociferously upset when they hear of new building in the ancient city, but the Navi tells us that one day in the future, the suburbs of Yerushalayim will reach all the way to Damascus!
For two thousand years, our streets were dark, empty, dangerous places, but Zecharya HaNavi prophesied that “Old men and women will yet sit in the streets of Yerushalayim… the city will be filled with boys and girls playing in her streets.” Today our streets are full of traffic and people. With grandparents and grandchildren. With expectant mothers and young children playing in parks. The maternity wards in our hospitals are overflowing; the nurseries are crowded with newborn Jewish babies. No place in the Western world rivals the Jewish birthrate in the Jewish Land.
One father summed it up succinctly. “When my grandfather came to Palestine one hundred years ago, there were 60,000 Jews in the country. When my father was born in 1948, there were 600,000. When my son was born last year, there were over 6,000,000!” (When his grandson is born, perhaps there will be sixty million!)
In a mere one hundred years, we have experienced an absolutely phenomenal one hundred-fold increase! Nothing like this has ever happened before. Today, everywhere outside Israel, the number of Jews is shrinking. Since there is no “happenstance” in our world, we can only say that something of great import is taking place in the Holy Land. As a believing Jew, I am (happily) forced to say: It can only be the Hand of G-d.