Parshat Bechar/Bechukotai
May 12, 2018 | 27 Iyar 5778
Delivered by Rabbi Neil Sandler

Tomorrow is a special day, isn’t it? Do you know why?

Yes, of course, it’s Mother’s Day!

But at least in some portion of the Jewish world, there’s another reason that tomorrow will be a special day.

What’s that reason for celebration?

Tomorrow will be “Yom Yerushalayim” – “Jerusalem Day,” the 51st anniversary of the reunification of this unparalleled city to Jews.

“Shev’im panim la’Torah,” the Rabbis said. “The Torah has 70 faces.”

To our Rabbis, “70” was symbolic of totality, of all possibilities.

With that understanding in mind, each person could think of Torah; each person could understand Torah as he or she chose.

Well, “Shev’im panim l’yerushalayim…”

It occurs to me that, just like Torah, Jerusalem also has 70 faces!

It means different things to different people.

What does “Jerusalem” mean to you?

What comes to mind when you hear the word “Jerusalem?”

If you have been to Jerusalem, what does seeing it do to you?

What feelings does it evoke?

Our consciousness of Jerusalem is, in part, impacted by images common to a number, if not all, of us.

For example, the iconic Naomi Shemer song, “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav” tends to stir the hearts of those who are old enough to remember the Six Day War.

The Kotel is a potent image of Jerusalem.

For many, the Kotel is an image of the city’s unique spirituality, the place where God reigns supreme.

But for others, it is a place where it feels that Jewish peoplehood has been lost amidst Jewish communal strife.

“Shevim panim l’yerushalyim” – Jerusalem has so many faces, so many images that it conjures up for people.

What is that face; what is that image for you?

Is it rooted in romance or in reality?

Is it born of unique comfort or of concern?

What does Jerusalem mean to you?

For me, the faces of Jerusalem have become somewhat complex over the years.

I first went to Jerusalem when I was 14 years old.

My eyes were fixed on the beautiful young women of Jerusalem … and Tel Aviv …. and Haifa … and wherever else my parents and I went … and all I could think was, “They’re all Jewish!” … because when you’re an adolescent Jewish male, that’s what the face of Jerusalem and any other place in Israel is going to be!

At 16, after I arrived in Jerusalem following nearly two weeks behind the Iron Curtain, the face of Jerusalem became the face of hope and promise for Soviet Jewry.

And at 20, Jerusalem became the face of exhilarating romance … but not because of the beautiful Israeli women; no, it was because of the beautiful woman from New Orleans who was also attending Hebrew University that year …

And, yes, for Susan and me, the face of Jerusalem retains that image of romance and love forty-plus years later.

But during that year at Hebrew University and then throughout another year in Jerusalem four years later when I was in rabbinical school, the faces of Jerusalem multiplied and became more complex and even troubling to me.

With my longer periods of time in Israel, the face of Jerusalem was sometimes the face of contention – between religious Jews and non-religious Jews, between Ashkenazi Jews and Sephardic Jews and, of course, between Jews and Palestinians…”Palestinians”…a term referring to people I was only beginning to learn about in the late ‘70’s.

Two weeks ago, only a few days after I had returned from a trip to Israel with twenty-some-odd rabbis and Protestant ministers, I told you about another face of Jerusalem.

It was the face of spiritual beauty associated with Christian holy sites I had not previously visited.

But I didn’t tell you about another face of Jerusalem that I saw on that trip.

That face wasn’t entirely new to me, but the image, even if a necessary one, was no less disturbing than the first time I saw it.

It was the face of forced separation – of walls, of barriers – between Israelis and Palestinians, a separation that has undeniably saved Israeli lives, but assaults the eye and troubles the spirit.

It is the face of 12-foot high walls that separate one East Jerusalem Palestinian neighborhood in Abu Dis from the neighborhood next to it in the very same Palestinian community.

It is the face of disparity – of a beautiful Jewish neighborhood, Arnona, on the left where the new U.S. Embassy will be located in Jerusalem and of a decrepit Palestinian neighborhood, Jabel Mukaber, on the right – both within Jerusalem.

And this coming week, the face of Jerusalem will become one of greater concern and worry.

On Monday, the United States will open its embassy in Jerusalem.

That is as it should be.

But can we just turn a blind eye and not care at all about the feelings that action stirs among a number of Palestinians?

And if you think we should just ignore the Palestinian reaction, will we be able to do so the very next day, on May 15th, when Palestinians across Israel will gather to remember what they call

Nakba Day – what was to them the catastrophe of the founding of the State of Israel 70 years ago?

What will happen at that time at the border fence with Gaza?!

Combine all of that with the growing military engagement between Israel and Iran and, for anyone who cares about Jerusalem, at least one of Jerusalem’s 70 faces must be the face of concern and worry.

Nonetheless, friends, Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day, the 51st anniversary of the reunification of this most holy city to the Jewish people is a time to celebrate.

For nearly 2000 years we could not see the full face of Jerusalem’s beauty.

We were not allowed to see all of it.

But 1967 changed all of that … for the good and for blessing, to be certain.

But 1967 also began to add layers of complexity and dissonance to the faces of Jerusalem ….

And now, at least for some of us, growing concern.

As I was writing these last words of my message (and I do mean actually writing – just ask my assistant, Jill) I glanced over at the email subject headings on my computer screen.

The last one said something like, “Last chance to register! Study with the Hartman Institute this summer!”

I think it was a sign from God.

The Hartman Institute is an incredible educational institution in the heart of Jerusalem.

I have been there for individual sessions, but I have long hoped to study in its annual summer program for rabbis.

Unfortunately, it won’t happen this summer.

But just seeing that subject heading reminded me – That is also one of Jerusalem’s 70 faces – the face of unique Jewish learning, of spiritual uplift and of hope.

Join with me, then, in praying for the peace and well-being of Jerusalem, especially in these challenging times.

I can think of no better way to do so than to conclude with the final verses of Psalm 122 ….

“Pray for the well – being of Jerusalem: May those who love you be at peace. May there be well – being within your ramparts, peace in your citadels. For the sake of my kin and friends, I pray for your well – being; for the sake of the house of Lord our God, I seek your good.

Shabbat Shalom.