Thursday, May 10, 2018



   Yossi Klein Halevi, author of Like Dreamers[1], related:
   “When I was writing the book, which I worked on for eleven years, I had several questions for which I searched for answers. The first question was about what the paratroopers did when the city was recaptured.  
   “Everyone heard the incredible announcement by Motta Gur that “Har habayit b’yadienu[2]. It was not just a military report, but a historical claim. Yet, shortly afterwards the soldiers were frantically searching for the way to get down to the Kotel Hama’aravi. How was it possible that the paratroopers of the 55th brigade left Har Habayit to go to the Wall?
   To us today it’s passé, but if we think back to that moment, how could they leave the place of the Mikdash itself to go to the remaining outer wall? A brigade is composed of roughly two thousand men. 20 % of the brigade were religious Zionists. They understood the holiness of the Temple Mount. Why would they want to pray by the Kotel rather than at the place of the Temple?
   “I asked this question to Chanan Porat[3]. He replied, “I don’t have an answer. But we knew of the Wall. That was the place of Jewish prayer for hundreds of years, and we just wanted to touch the Wall.” But he couldn’t give me a clearer response.
   “I remember as a fourteen-year-old boy going to the Wall soon after the war ended, and not even looking up. I felt so entranced just to stand in the presence of the wall.
   “In retrospect, my feeling is that the soldiers wanted to be in the place where Jews had prayed for centuries for that moment to occur. Har habayit, korbanot, avodah, were unfortunately too abstract for them. In 1967, they wanted to have a physical connection with the collective two-thousand-years of prayer throughout the exile. At that moment, the Jews wanted to honor two thousand years of longing.
   David Rubinger is the photographer who took the famous picture of the three soldiers standing in front of the Wall shortly after it was liberated. I interviewed him and asked him about the picture. He admitted that at first, he didn’t think it was such a great picture. In fact, he chose a different picture of Rabbi Goren with people dancing around him. It was his wife who pointed to the now iconic picture and told him that it’s the one that grabbed the moment.
   “I believe the reason why we connect so much to the picture is because it captures paratroopers at the greatest moment of victory, being transformed into pilgrims with a look of humility and surrender, rather than hubris and victory.
   “I believe that was why they went down from Har Habayit to the kotel. At the moment of their greatest victory, they were overwhelmed with gratitude and humility toward all those who had prayed and longed for that moment.
   “That’s what that moment is about – not Motta Gur stating “Har Habayit b’yadeinu”, as much as it is about the paratroopers rushing down to the Wall to connect with generations of prayers and yearning.

   It seems like a complete enigma. How is it possible that Har Sinai, the place where the most seminal event in world history took place, today possesses absolutely no sanctity? This is contrast with Har Habayis which retains its holiness until today.
   This question also touches on another question people often ask: why doesn’t G-d inspire me?
   At the conclusion of Chumash Vayikra, two of the laws the Torah discusses are bechor and ma’aser. A first-born animal is consecrated to G-d from birth. “A firstborn of animals, however, which—as a firstborn—is Hashem’s, cannot be consecrated by anybody; whether ox or sheep, it is Hashem’s.”[4]
   The laws of ma’aser beheimah, tithing animals, was performed in a unique manner. “All tithes of the herd or flock—of all that passes under the shepherd’s staff, every tenth one—shall be holy to Hashem.”[5]
   Rashi explains how the tenth animal would be tithed: “When he (the farmer) is about to tithe them (the cattle), he passes them through a door one after the other, and the tenth he strikes with a rod smeared with red dye, so that it should afterwards be recognized as being one of the tithes. That is what he does to the young sheep and calves of each separate year.”[6]
   There is a fundamental difference between the sanctity of the bechor and the sanctity of the ma’aser. The bechor is sanctified automatically, its holiness is innate from birth. The ma’aser however, is separated and designated for holiness by the farmer’s actions.
   The final law mentioned in Chaumash Vayikra[7] is that once an animal is sanctified as ma’aser beheimah, it’s holiness cannot be exchanged, even for a more robust and fitting animal. If one tries to do so, both the originally sanctified animal, as well as the animal he wants to transfer the holiness to, are sanctified.
   Following that halacha, the Chumash concludes: “These are the commandments that Hashem commanded Moshe for the B’nei Yisroel on Har Sinai.”[8]  
   Chumash Vayikra ends with the concept of generating holiness through one’s efforts, emphasizing that such holiness is permanent, and cannot be exchanged.
   The covert message is that permanent holiness is the result of one’s efforts. If one wants to be a holy person he cannot wait for inspiration to hit, or for ‘holy moments’ to occur. Rather, he must create them.
   Har Sinai was analogous to the wedding hall where our marriage to Hashem, as it were, transpired. It was an incredible event, but what’s important is not where it happened, but what happened. After a couple gets married, the location of where they tied the knot is no longer relevant, beyond the pictures. What’s important is that the knot remains securely tied, their devotion and pledge to each other endures.
   Before a wedding, the florist sets up the flowers, the photographer sets up the lighting and equipment, the band arranges the music, and the caterer prepares and organizes the meal. The groom and bride need to only show up.[9] Afterwards, everyone takes their equipment, and the groom and bride head home. All the details involved in the wedding were ultimately arranged for them and have no effect upon their marriage.
   However, once they move into a home and live there for several years, and raise children there, if they decide to move, it will be harder to leave. Memories developed lovingly over time, with shared emotional experiences are not easily erased.
   There are many homes of famous personalities that are preserved. One can visit the home of FDR in Hyde Park, NY, Thomas Jefferson in Monticello, Virginia, or Abe Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois, to name a few. Long after the person is gone, his mark is left upon the place where they lived.
   It was Hashem who brought the holiness and incredible revelation upon Har Sinai. The nation had to do nothing more than to show up, witness it, and accept it[10]. Therefore, when the event ended, the holiness departed as well.
   The Bais Hamikdash however, was the place where we created holiness through our efforts and service. Therefore, that holiness is eternal, even two thousand years after the physical structure has been destroyed.
   We indeed celebrate Sinai, but the event, not the place. We celebrate it by living its message and legacy, every time we study Torah, and strive to live by its standards.  
   After the wedding ends, what’s important is that the groom and bride remain committed to each other. After Sinai, our commitment to Torah is what remains paramount, and that is what we celebrate on Shavuos. True greatness comes from the holiness we generate, far more than temporal holiness that is effortlessly pre-arranged.

   “Every tenth one—shall be holy to Hashem”
   “These are the commandments that Hashem commanded… on Har Sinai.” 

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

[1] “The story of the Israeli Paratroopers who reunited Jerusalem and divided a nation”
[2] “The Temple Mount is in our hands”; Gur made the announcement on June 7, 1967, during the 6 Day War, when Yerushalayim was recaptured from the Jordanians, who had maintained control of the city since 1948.
[3] who was part of that brigade and later became the Head of the Knesset Lobby for the Temple Mount
[4] Vayikra 27:26
[5] Vayikra 27:32
[6] Bechoros 58b
[7] Which follows the aforementioned law of tithing animals
[8] Vayikra 27:34
[9] And they, or their parents need to pay the bill….
[10] That was their way of “signing the check”


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