My wife  and  I  joined thousands  of visitors  from around the  world in  the  World Mizrachi Mega  Mission held  in Jerusalem, May 21-May  24th 2017. It was a  once  in a lifetime event  for those  who attended  and  I wanted  to share my   experiences  with those who  could not attend . I gave the  Drasha  on the  first day of  Shavous  on my return  from Jerusalem  to our shul  Kehilat Yavneh in Hancock Park, California  and was  asked  by  many in the  audience to put  my  words  into print.


One of the feelings I had in Jerusalem, over the week I was there, was akin to what  our  ancestors  may have felt  when making the  three  times  a  year Aliya  Leregel,  visiting the Temple  on the three national holidays  when  Jews  from  all over  the  Diaspora  would join their  countrymen  in the land of  Israel in celebration. On this   mega  mission celebrating the  50th  anniversary of  the  re-unification    of  Yerushalayim under  Jewish control  after nearly  2000 years of  foreign rule,  delegations  with their  rabbis   took  time off  from  their  work  schedules and  came  from  the USA, South Africa, England , Canada , Australia, Mexico   and France all for one purpose – to give  thanksgiving   to Hashem  for the miracles  of the  6  Day War and  to  participate  with hundreds  of thousands  of  Israeli   citizens in their  celebration of  this special  Yom Yerushalayim .


The  Mizrachi program  would only   begin Monday night. My wife  and  I arrived before  Shabbos to  experience  what is  known  as  Shabbat Yerushalayim . Davening Kabbalat Shabbat at the Kotel was   truly magical. The  plaza in front  of the Kotel was  completely filled, unusual  for  a  regular Friday night. Sitting down in chairs  in the  middle of the plaza   were  hundreds  of  white shirted, kippot  srugot wearing Yeshivot Hesder students who davened  a Carlebach  nusach without a chazzan, all singing  in unison. To the sides  of them  were  Shtreimel  wearing Chassidic  Jews davening their  nusach.  Behind  them  was  a group of  Litvish  yeshivish students  with their  rebbe . By far  the  dominant  group on this  Shabbos  were  the  religious   Zionist  contingent  in terms  of  numbers . At the  end  of  Lecha  Dodi  when  they came  to the verse   Boi  Beshalom  a  large  circle was  formed  with  dancing as  is  typical  for  a Carlebach Kabbalat Shabbat. Each group  formed  their  own circle. At one point  I  thought to myself, wouldn’t it be a great Kiddush  Hashem  for  all the  groups  to join  in one  circle  and  demonstrate  achdus? But then in a  flash, I remembered the  Midrash of Krias  Yam  Suf, the splitting of the Red  Sea  when  the  sea  split into 12  rows, one  for  each  tribe, demonstrating  that  for  Klal Yisrael, we  can have  different  modes  of dress, different customs, different  niggunim, but as  long as  we  are devoting our  thoughts  to Avodas  Hashem,  the service  of G-d, all  groups  are  considered  equally pleasing  in the  eyes  of Hashem.


Shabbos before  Yom Yerushalayim is designated  Shabbat  Yerushalayim. At the  Beit Knesset  Hagadol, the  Great  Synagogue, in the  heart of  Jerusalem, in honor  of this  auspicious  Shabbos, the two  Chief   Rabbis  of  Jerusalem  are sitting  on the  dais  with  the  Chazzan  and the  choir.    It feels like  a  Yom Tov.    Every  seat  is  filled. Ashkenazi Chief  Rabbi  Aryeh  Stern speaks  before  Krias  Hatorah. He  asks,  why is Mount Sinai,  after the giving of the Torah never  given  any  prominence-we  don’t  even  know  where  it is. On the  other hand,  we  say  Ki Mitzion Tezeh Torah  Udvar Hashem  Miyerushalayim –from Zion shall  go  forth Torah  and  the  word  of G-d  from Jerusalem.  He  answered  that Torah  must  have  mesirus  nefesh, self  sacrifice,  connected  with it, for  it to  be  spread. He pointed  out  that  Akedas  Yitzchak,  the  binding of Isaac,  the ultimate  example  of  mesirus nefesh occurs  on Mount Moriah, the site of the future temple.  In  1967, 175  paratroopers  gave  their  lives  to   liberate  the  Kotel .Chazal say that the  ultimate  way  to gain  Torah  knowledge is to  study “Pas  Bamelach Tochal”- “eating  bread  with  salt”- a  euphemism  for studying  in deprivation and  want  with  great  self  sacrifice. Tzahal, the Israel Defense  Forces,  protects  all  the  people of the State  of Israel to allow  them  to study  Torah in peace with  great  mesirut  nefesh. Thus  indeed  does  Torah  disseminate  throughout  the world  due  to the  mesirut  nefesh  that  emanates  from  it. Rabbi Stern noted  that the  Omer  period has traditionally been  associated  with  mourning  for the  24,000  students   of  Rabbi Akiva  who died  during this period.  In our own  generation,  we  have seen the beginnings  of  comfort  to Klal  Yisrael during this very  same  period. At the beginning of the Omer, close in time  to Pesach,  when  we  were  born as  a   nation,  comes  Yom Haatazmaut when Klal  Yisrael once  again is reborn  as  a nation on its  own sovereign soil .  At the end of  the Omer  period,   close  to Shavuos  when  we  received the Torah,  comes  Yom  Yerushalayim   when spirituality  was  re-infused  into  a  modern secular  State  of  Israel. The Jewish people return to the  Kotel, Kever  Rachel,  Maarat   Hamachpela,  Judea  and Samaria  and an  overall refocus  on Torah,  Yeshivot,  and  Ba’al  Tshuvah  movements.


Rabbi Shlomo Amar Sephardic  Chief  Rabbi  of  Jerusalem  spoke  before  Mussaf.  He  quoted from the  Parsha  of that week  Parsha  Bechokosai  when   after  recounting  the  calamities  of the Tochecha  the Torah   speaks  in comforting tones-Vezacharti  Es  Brisi  Yakov-and I will remember  my  covenant  with Jacob.   Here  Yakov is spelled   with a superfluos  Vav .  Only five times  in Tanach is Yakov spelled in this  full format. Says   the   Midrash, Elijah  the  Prophet   is spelled  five  times  without a vav  as  in  the  verse   of  Malachi 3:25,   “Hineh Anochi Sholech  Lachem es  Elia   Hanavih – Behold  I  shall send  you  the  prophet  Elijah” –  there  the    Eliahu  is spelled  without a vav-Elia.  Yakov  is  homiletically holding  Eliyahu’s  letter   vav  hostage   until he  comes  and  announces  the  coming of the  Messiah.  Asks  Rav  Amar  -why the letter  vav and  not another  letter?   Answers Rav  Amar  quoting Rabenu Bechaya- In  Shmos  8:19   “Vesamti Pedus Beyni Uven Amecha  I Shall make  a  Distinction  Between  you  and the  Egyptians”      There  the  word   pedus  is   spelled  without a  vav. The redemption from   Egypt is destined  to be   incomplete. The  Children of Israel  wander  in the desert    for  40 years  with all of the  Yotzai  Mitzrayim dying  before  entering the  land. We, Klal Yisrael  wander  in exile  for  2000  years. This is not full redemption.  The  pedus the  term  for  ultimate  redemption   is  Chaser –lacking .  Yakov   holds  Eliyahu’s  vav  hostage  and  says  I am not  making  your  name  whole  unless  you  return and  announce  the   true full redemption with Mashaich  Tzidkenu.  Why The vav? The vav is  the letter  of  chibur , of  connection. The name  Yerushalayim comes  form a  combination of  what  Avraham  called  Jerusalem  Yireh and  what Malkitzedek called  it Shalem;   but the heh  of Yireh is replaced  by a vav –  Yer  – U  – Shalayim. Jerusalem  is  the Ir Shechubra  La  Yachdav,   the  city that  King David  says  brings  all the  tribes  of  Israel together  as  one.  The  Vav  is  the  ultimate  connector , the  unifier and  we  know without  unity of the Jewish  people  we  will never  merit  full redemption .  Jerusalem  helps us  in this  unification process.


Nir  Barkat, the  Mayor of  Jerusalem,  spoke in shul after  Musaf as well.  A  secular  Jew  who  nevertheless spoke  about  Isaiah  the  prophet  roaming the  streets  of  Yerushalyim shows  how  the  term “secular’  is a misnomer. It seems that all Jews who live  in Medinat Yisrael whether  they  are  shomer Torah  Umitzvot or not have  a connection to the land and to  our  ancient past that is  unbreakable  and part of their  daily lives  and  rituals. He pointed   out that  Jerusalem  today  is one of the  top five high tech  cities  in the  world. Mobileye, a company that was bought by Intel for  15  billion dollars, is  pioneering the  technology that  drives  driverless  automobiles.  The  same  technology  is being used  to develop “Ohr Kam ”  a  company attempting   to  develop  sight  in the blind. He  noted  that  2/3  of  all students  in Jerusalem elementary  school  today  are Chareidi.  He  told us  that Machon Lev, a  religious science  college, has a program to train Chareidi students  who have  had  no elementary  or high school  education  and  in 15  months  prepares  them  to  start college, studying for an engineering  degree. This year the  school received  900 applications  from Chareidi  applicants  for  the  available  40  spots. If  “Torah” is taken  broadly  to mean “Torah Ohr”    wisdom of all types, then indeed  Ki Mitzion Teze  Torah- wisdom is  emanating  from Jerusalem to the  whole world  to better  humanity.


Sunday  night was  the official State  Of  Israel’s  celebration of  50  years of  Jerusalem’s   reunification . Hundreds  of  thousands  of  Jews of  all types gathered at Jaffa  gate  outside  the walls  of the Old City, sitting  in the  streets  with  their  children and  grandparents. The massive crowd included   secular  and  Chareidis  but  the  majority being of the religious  Zionist  persuasion.  In attendance  were  Prime  Minister  Benjamin Netanyahu and President    Reuven Rivlin,  both  who addressed  the  throngs  of  humanity with  stirring  and  inspirational words.  Projected  on the walls  of the  Old  City were  images of Akedas  Yitzchak  and  of  Yakov’s ladder  along  with  more  modern  images  of  the  tanks  of  1967  breaking through  to the  Kotel.  One  heard  the  voice  of  Colonel Motta  Gur announcing  Har  Habayit Beyadenu,  Rabbi Shlomo  Goren blowing the  shofar  at the liberated  Kotel,  images  of the  crying paratroopers  as they  hugged  and  kissed the ancient holy  stones.  As I watched  the spectacular  fireworks  and glorious  light show  projected  on the walls  and over  the walls  as  we  sat  in the streets  I could not help  but  remember   the evocative  phrases of  the prophet  Zecharia -od  yeshvu zekenim uzkenot birchovot  yerushalyim –once  again will sit elderly men and  women in the  streets  of  Jerusalem! The words  of  King David-Al  chomotaich yerushalayim hifkadeti  shomrim –on the  walls  of  Jerusalem we have appointed  watchmen.

Od  yeshama   beharei  yehuda  uvechuzhot  yerushalyim –once  again will be  heard   joyous song in the hills  of Judah and  the courtyards  of  Jerusalem. We  saw  all of this  with our  own  eyes  in our  own time!


On Monday night was  the  opening  event of the  World Mizrachi Mega  Mission.   Close  to  three  thousand   people  thronged  the  Binayanei Hauma to  take part  in  what could  only be termed an  extravaganza. The three  iconic  paratroopers  whose  image  was seen in all of the  newspapers  in 1967  gazing  up at the  Kotel were  there  50 years  later. People  clamored  to have their  picture taken  with them at a makeshift Kotel, trying to recapture  the magic  of  that  time  so long ago. Governor  Mike  Huckabee  among many  notable  speakers stood  proudly  with the  Jewish  people in requesting  the  move  of the  U.S.  Embassy  to  Jerusalem. A concert   given by  Yakov Shwecky delighted  hundreds  of  seminary girls  and  yeshiva  students  from  all around  Israel  who  were in attendance among the  audience.  The  ruach  of  joy  and celebration  for the miracles  of  1967  was  palpable in the  crowd.


Tuesday  brought  a  full day  Mizrachi  conference held  at the  Ramada  Renaissance  Hotel. Rabbi  Lord  Jonathan Sachs, former  Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth opened  the sessions.  He told how  he  used  to study Torah  with  Prime  Minister  Tony  Blair. On one occasion, Prime Minister  Blair  asked  him  why   did  the Creator devote only 34  verses to the creation of the  universe but  devoted  over 600 verses to the building of the Mishkan?  Rabbi Sachs  answered  evocatively- it  is  easy  for the Creator to build  a  home  for  human beings   in the  universe   but  very hard  for human beings  to build a  home  for the Creator  here on Earth. I thought  of the Midrash where  on  arriving  in  heaven to receive the Torah, the angels  confront  Moshe Rabenu and  ask Hashem   what is  a human being  doing here  in Shamayim? Hashem charges  Moshe  to give the  angels  an answer. He  asks  them –  do  you work  six  days  that  you  need  a Shabbos?  Do   you have  a  Yetzer  Hara that  you  can be given a  command  of  do not  commit  adultery? Rabbi Sachs reminded us  that 2017  is also the  100th  anniversary of the  Balfour  Declaration.  He asked   the  audience  to whom was  the declaration sent  to?  Of  course  to Lord  Rothschild, he  responded   casually remarking that the Knesset  building which houses   Israel’s  Parliament  was  donated  by the Rothschild family (among the   other  countless projects in Israel  they sponsored such as  the  magnificent  Supreme  Court  building  and  the  planned  National Library).


Rabbi  Sachs invoked   the Nazir, the prized student of  Rav Kook. In English, the metaphor  for  thoughts  and  ideas  is sight –one has foresight or  insight.  One  makes  a keen observation . In Judaism the metaphor  is  hearing- Shma  Yisrael –Hear O Israel  To  Shma   of the Talmud  – come and learn. The  exception in Judaism  is  when discussing Jerusalem Irya  Hayefeffia -the  beautiful city-   Mesos  Kol haaretz.   We  say mareh  Kohen on Yom Kippur  how beautiful is the sight of the Kohen   Gadol as  he  emerges from  the Kodesh Kadososhim. The aesthetic in Judaism is  linked  inextricably with Jerusalem  and the Beit Hamikdash.  On one of the  afternoons,  my  wife  and I  wandered  into the new  Museum  of  Hebrew  musical  instruments . At the end  of the tour  you put on a virtual reality headset  and  you  are suddenly transported  into the second  temple.  The  beauty  is  overwhelming. You look  right and left  and  you  are  with the Kohanim and  Leviim . As you  approach the Mizbeach  you  feel warm(your  brain  palying tricks)  You smell the incense.  You are   taken  up  by a lift that was  used  by the priests  to  clean the  Kodesh  Kadoshim and  you  enter  the inner  sanctum – the Holy of  Holies- on the  way  up you see  the  city of Jerusalem  as it  stood  2000 thousand  years  ago. You  are  connected  in a  powerful way  to our  ancient  and  glorious past  but  using  21st  century  technology in modern day Jerusalem.


One final thought from  Rabbi Sachs   resonated  with me. He   told a group of 700  seminary  girls  later  in the afternoon  the  value of  spiritual  goods  over  material goods.  If you  start  with  one thousand  dollars  and  give  one  hundred  away  you  are  left  with less.  If you give  love  and  add  friendship to  your  life   you end  up with more,  and not less .


Rabbi Hershel Shechter, Rosh Yeshiva  of  Yeshiva University, gave  a shiur  on Har  Habayit  to  over  700  yeshiva  students  in the morning. Michael  Oren,   the former  ambassador  of  Israel to the U.S.  and  author of  The   6 Day War, recounted  the  military  miracles  of the war. He noted that  the day after  the successful prosecution of  the  war,  the United  States  who had  not  provided  even one bullet to the State  of  Israel   pre  1967, now  switched  its  strategic alliances  and  became a staunch ally.   This   was  reflected  that very  day  by  the  sight of  President Trump  landing Air Force One  in Tel Aviv   that very day directly from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.  .   He  was  asked  by someone in the crowd  why, if  Israel  has the  truth  behind  it, it  often  loses  the propaganda  wars .  He  gave  the following  brilliant  metaphor.  Knowing the  truth is  not  enough. He noted  that  a modern  warplane in the air  is  a powerful tool  of  war, capable of  immense  destructive power.  However, if  destroyed  on the  ground(as  450 Egyptian and Syrian planes  were  in the first hour  of the  6 Day  war  which  ultimately  was the cause of the great  victory) it  is  a  worthless  piece of machinery.  So  too , if  we  keep   the  truth about Israel and its  rightful place in the Middle  East  to ourselves  and don’t share  it  with the outside  world  and  “keep it on the  ground as opposed   to  in the air  ” it  will also  not  be  the powerful tool  it could be.  It spoke to the need   for  all of  us  to be  vocal  ambassadors  of  that truth to  all with whom  we  come into contact .


Tuesday  night, the  start  of Yom Yerushalyim was  observed   at the  Great  Synagogue  with  a packed  house  and  the Chazan and choir davening  a Tefila  Chaggigit  with Hallel(no bracha) and  a major address  by Chief Rabbi of the British Isles  Ephraim Mirvis  and  executive  director  of the  Major Conference Presidents   Malcom Honlein.  The  following  morning we  joined  thousands of our  fellow  Jews  at the Kotel  for  Shachris  at  730 AM.   There was one  minyan  with one  chazzan leading the immense  crowd  that filled  the Kotel Plaza. When  we  reached the Amidah ,  a  hushed intense   silence  fell over the Plaza  . The  Hallel  was  recited  with a Bracha enunciated  by  thousands  with great  Kavana. It  honestly  felt  like  Yom Kippur  with  the intensity of  feeling,  recognizing that we were standing  and  giving  thanks   to  Hashem at the very site  that was  liberated  by those  brave  paratroopers.  Rav Chaim Drukman   said  the Tefila  Lishlom Hamedina   and Chief Rabbi Lau  recited  the  Achenu  Kol Beit Yisrael  with tears .


After davening ,we  went on a walking tour , recreating the  very steps  of the paratroopers  who liberated  the Kotel  walking all the way  to the Lions gate We  could see  Har  Habayit  through many  doors  that opened  to it  from the  Arab   quarter.  We  were told that almost  one thousand  Jews  went to the Mikveh and    physically  ascended    up to the Har Habayi, the Temple Mount itself  that  morning.   The  previous day,  a seminar  was held  between Rabbi  Glick  and  Rabbi Tarragon  debating what are the halachic  disputes  that  govern whether  we  should or  should not  ascend  to the  holy  site. It was just  thrilling and  emotionally  uplifting  to  just be in proximity to our  holy temple  site  of  distant past.  On the  march  to the  Lions  gate  we  asked  ,why  didn,t  the  soldiers stop  at the har  habayit itself?  Why did   they  run   only to the Kotel , the retainng wall that  surrounds  har  habayit ?  They  understtod  that the  Kotel  represented  2000 years  of  Jewish  yearning to return once  again to Jerusalem ,  Leshana   Haba  Biyurushalyim


Later  that  afternoon, we  gathered at The  Beit Knesset Hagadol  to hear Chief  Rabbi  of  South Africa  Warren Goldstein recount some of the miracles  of the  6 day  war.  He  noted that  between    7  and  8 AM, when the  Israel Air  Force  were destroying the  Egyptian planes on the  ground, the  Egyptian  commander  of the base had been  sent  entertainers  the night before  and  had  overslept  because  of  it.  The  Jordanians had  radar  that actually  detected  the  Israeli  armada in the  air  and attempted  to alert the Egyptians  but the radio code had  been  changed  the previous night and the Jordanian   messages had  not gotten through.    Zeh hayom asa  hash em nagila  venismaechah bo   This  day Hashem  has  made   – rejoice in it ,  sang   King David .The    open  miracles seen  during the  6  day  war were  indeed  wondrous.


Yossi Klein Halevi, the noted  author, spoke next.  He pointed  out  the   ways  in which Jewish   history  changed  because  of the  6  day  war.


It  returned   Judaism  to the  Israeli  narrative.  From 1948  to 1967 the secular narrative had  predominated. Achad Haam’s  quest to build  “a new  Jew” , with a  new  “Israeli”  culture,   strong   and  muscular,  exemplified by the kibbutz movement. Now  after  1967,  there  is  talk of messianism,  a  return  to the  holy places ,  a  resurgence  of Torah  with blossoming  of  new  yeshivot and seminaries  by the hundreds  so that  today there  is  more Torah being learned  in Israel  than in all prior generations.  Jews   from all over the  world  begin to  visit on a regular  basis after  1967 many sending their children  to study  for  a  year  after  high school. Many  make  Aliya  , particularly  to establish new  communities  in the biblical lands  of  Judea and  Samaria.  A massive  worldwide   baal  tsuvah  movement  begins  in earnest, returning  hundreds of thousands  to long lost  customs  and rituals. All of these events  are  triggered  by the victories in 1967.


The  6  day  war   returned  G-d  to many Jews. Many  survivors  of the Shoah, broken  in spirit as well as  body,  had  lost their  faith in the  Almighty. After  the  miracles  of 1967, many  forgave  G-d in seeing    the  mighty  hand of  Hashem and  his  miracles  in saving the  Jewsih  people  from potential destruction  and  returning  the  lost holy places  to our  control.  Why  no forgiveness  after  1948  and the establishment of the  State? Perhaps  it was  too  soon.  Perhaps  because  we  had lost the Old  City  of  Jerusalem .  It was  pointed  out that  perhaps  the Old  City  was  lost in 1948  because  of  lack of  unity  among the   nascent  Jewish  army   then –the  myriad fighting  forces  -the Hagana, the Palmach,  The  Irgun, the Stern  gang.   Perhaps  it was  won in   1967 because  of  unity- shomer  hatzair ( the  left wing  communist thoroughly secular  youth  movement) kibbutzniks side  by side  with their  Bnai Akiva (the  religious Zionist  youth  movement)  compatriots  in fighting their way, inch  by inch ,  to the  Kotel.


Finally, the  6 Day  war  returned  a million Soviet  refugees  eventually to   the  State   of Israel. Many of the early  refuseniks point  to their  hearing of the lightning  victories  by the Israeli  army in 1967 as  the  catalyst  to their return  to Judaism  after   the 70 years  of  bitter Soviet  persecution .


Wednesday  afternoon, 4 PM,  as  Yom Yerushalyim  begins  to  wind  down the  celebration begins in earnest. Hundreds of thousands  of marchers carrying Israeli  flags fill the streets  like  rivers  and  dance  and sing  towards the  Kotel. Streaming through the Damascus  gate , they are  an  unstoppable  force . If one has  not  observed  this  sight in person it is hard  to  describe  I  certainly  have never  seen this  display  of  patriotism  in the  United States or  perhaps  in any  country on Earth. This connection    between the  people  and  their State is visible  and  moving. It  truly  makes  one  feel  that one  who does  not  live here misses out on this aspect  of  our  religion- the nationhood attached to its  land  as Hashem  has  destined  us to be.


I say- next  year is the  70 th anniversary of the founding of the modern  State  of  Israel.  Lets  all make  plans  to be there  to  celebrate!