Latest update: July 14th, 2014
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.
Other amazing things have happened as well. The Land of Israel has come alive as per all the prophecies. The desert is blooming; the mountains are green, just as they were before the Churban HaBayit; the orchards are lush with fruit, and the fields are covered with grain and growing things. The Torah tells us that these are the signs of Redemption.
And Torah in Eretz Yisrael is blossoming as never before. Yeshivot are scattered across the length and breadth of the Land. You cannot travel five minutes in any direction without finding a minyan. Am Yisrael is again speaking, thinking and creating in its own language, not the languages of foreign nations, even if it is a new, contemporary idiom of our old language. Israel is a recognized world leader in hi-tech, agriculture and medicine. And Jewish men and boys are standing in a Jewish army to protect the Jewish people. When was the last time we were able to do that? Not all of our soldiers sport peyot or tzitzit yet, but someday, they will. As a believing Jew, I was taught to believe that the day will come when all Jews are Torah Jews.
Yet not all is well. Despite the countless yeshivot, synagogues and schools, despite all the amenities of a big, modern, cosmopolitan city, the heart of Yerushalayim – Har HaBayit – is still shomeim – desolate. A golden dome covers the place where the Beit HaMikdash should be standing. We are still in mourning.
I must admit, it’s difficult for me to envision a world with a Beit HaMikdash. What will it be like? How will it affect our daily lives? How will it affect the Jewish State? The world at large? One thing I do know is that it would necessitate Jewish unity. That in itself is an overwhelming challenge. Are we capable of meeting it?
I assume there will be other challenges, new developments, problems and solutions; new demands and ways of doing old things. In short, a new reality. There are so many unknowns that thinking about them makes me dizzy! Fortunately, the world is not waiting for my solutions! There are devoted talmidei chachamim who are not only studying the subject theoretically, but who are attempting to prepare for it.
The research institute Machon HaMikdash has, so far, produced over ninety different utensils and articles of clothing for the future Beit HaMidkash. Painstakingly based on halachic sources and crafted by professional artisans, the golden menorah, clothing for the Kohein Gadol and various musical instruments have all been produced. All are on display in its museum facing the Kotel.
A team of dedicated architects and engineers are designing a comprehensive urban Master Plan to enlarge and prepare Yerushalayim for millions of Olei Regel. They envision a sophisticated railway system to Har HaBayit and a large network of hostels and hotels in outlying districts surrounding the city.
Yeshivot are engaged in studying the korbanot. (Even kids in grammar schools in Eretz Yisrael study the korbanot!) There are people searching for a kosher Parah Adumah.Like the people who set aside special clothing in anticipation of the arrival of Mashiach, we too are anticipating and preparing.
How can we remain in a state of mourning amidst all this blossoming, developing, growth and activity? We are obviously living in the midst of an ongoing miracle. Surrounded by enemies, we walk daily under protective Clouds of Glory. The groundwork for the Geula is being laid; the physical foundation for a new spiritual world is being built. Our hospitals, supermarkets, soldiers and firemen, our telephones, water and electricity, enable millions of Jews to live here and a vibrant world of Torah to exist and expand.
Our miracle, however, is not yet complete. Changing the human landscape is infinitely more challenging than building another highway, although in a democratic system, an influx of frum Jews from the Diaspora could bring about great changes. But to speak ill of Hashem’s Land and people is a blatant example of dibat ha’Aretz. The one thing we do not want to do is to repeat the sin of the Meraglim!
Meanwhile, we are still waiting. We don’t know when or how Mashiach will arrive, and there is still much to do, but in Eretz Yisrael ripples of redemption are wafting in the air.Today we mourn; tomorrow we shall rejoice. For Tishah B’Av is a day of hope, the day Mashiach was born. The Churban will not last forever.
Chazal tell us that the Land of Israel is acquired through tribulations – through yissurim. These are yissurim shel ahava – bonds of love,well worththe awesome gift of Eretz Yisrael. With Hashem’s Mighty Arm and His helping hand, we continue to move forward. Thankful for all we have merited and full of faith, we look forward to the Geulah Hashleyma, speedily, in our days.
Your sun shall set no more, your moon no more withdraw;
for G-d shall be a light to you forever and your days of mourning shall be ended.
Your people, they are all righteous. They shall inherit the Land for all time.
I am Hashem. In its time I will hasten it [Yishaya 60, 20-22].
About the Author: Yaffa Ganz is a well-known author who has written over forty books for Jewish children, three books of essays on contemporary Jewish life, hundreds of articles in Jewish publications worldwide, and recently, "Wheat, Wine & Honey" - a book of poetry.
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