June 10, 2022

Yevamot 82

One of my favourite films is Cast Away which tells the story of Chuck Noland, a systems analyst for Fedex who, after a plane crash killing the rest of the crew on his cargo plane, washes up on an uninhabited island somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. However, while Castaway is a survival movie, it is also a stirring love story between Chuck and his fiancée Kelly whose picture he has in a locket which gives him hope during the four years that he is alone on the island, and during his dangerous journey to try and find his way home. Yet while Chuck somehow survives, he discovers once he returns back to Memphis that though Kelly interrupted her professional studies and much of her life to find him, after two years and once he was considered to be presumed dead she gave up hope of finding Chuck, and she then married someone else – Jerry – with whom she had a daughter. This bittersweet and somewhat heartbreaking end to Castaway is hard for the heart to cope with, yet understandable given the situation.

I mention all this because tonight and tomorrow is Yom Yerushalayim – the day celebrating the incredibly victory of the fledgling State of Israel in the 1967 six-day-war and the reunification of Jerusalem. And while the six-day-war was a war for the survival of the Jewish State and its citizens, it is also a stirring love story – not only about the aching absence of Jews from Jerusalem for the 19 years between 1948 and 1967, but fundamentally, about our national exile from Jerusalem for 2,000 years and our return to our beloved city.

Yet there is a fundamental difference between the two. In Castaway, Chuck ached for Kelly while Kelly waited but then gave up hope. However, Yom Yerushalayim tells the story of the Jewish people who ached for Jerusalem for 2,000 years, and about Jerusalem who ached and waited for her people all that time – always knowing that, somehow, we would make our way home.

During those two millenia the Jewish people faced hardships even greater than Chuck Noland did on his island. We were marginalized, persecuted, and brutally murdered more times than we choose to remember. Yet every day we prayed towards Jerusalem. Every day we prayed for the day of our return to Jerusalem. And every day we prayed for the time that we could begin the process of rebuilding our beloved Jerusalem. As Rabbi Nachman of Breslev taught, “wherever I go, I go to Jerusalem.”

Fifty-five years ago we were reunited with our beloved. Of course, like every real-life love story, there are ups and downs in our relationship with Jerusalem – with real work still needing to be done to further improve our relationship. Still, what we celebrate on Yom Yerushalayim is our reunion with our beloved. It is a love story that is impossible to fully express in words. It is a story of the exile, the survival and the return of a people who did not give up hope on their beloved, and a city who did not give up hope on her people.

Lastly, to give a further boost to the significance of the day, today’s daf yomi (Yevamot 82b) quotes a biblical verse (Devarim 30:5) that speaks about our return to our promised land and which carries a veiled reference to the wars we may need to fight to achieve that goal, and as I learnt the daf as a Jew with a knowledge of Jewish history who has been privileged to make Israel my home and to teach Torah in Jerusalem, it sent a chill down my spine. As we are taught: “then the Lord your God will bring your captives back and show you compassion. He will bring you back together from all the nations among whom the Lord your God has scattered you. If you should be expelled to the further of horizons, even from there the Lord your God will gather you, from there He will take you back. The Lord your God will bring you into the land that belonged to your ancestors, and you will possess it.” (Devarim 30:3-5).

Wishing you a Yom Yerushalayim Sameach! 

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