By Rabbi Shlomo Einhorn of Yeshivat Yavneh.
There’s a minor debate over which line came first: what does that have to do with the “price of tea in China” or “price of eggs”. The oldest known usage of a similar line is the one made famous by Rashi when he quotes “mah inyan shemitah eztel Har Sinai” – effectually “why is Shemitah placed next to Har Sinai?” Let us redirect this question and ask “mah inyan Yom Yerushalayim ezel Har Sinai (Shavuos)” – “why is Yom Yerushalayim right before Shavuos?” We may see their link as historical serendipity or we can choose to see beyond the surface. Let us explore a possible understanding that can help to underscore the significance of the transition from Yom Yerushalayaim to Shavuos.
There is no doubt that the central focus of Shavuos in its current iteration is Limmud Torah – Torah study. Beyond the specific reading of the Decalogue on the 1st Day, and the Halachickly loyal sentiments of Sefer Rus, many have a custom to spend the entire night studying Torah. This all-night marathon is a potential waste of time if we don’t appreciate the profound gift that we were given with the Torah.
To understand a fraction of its significance let us pose a question. According to the mystical sources the world begins with an Ohr Ayn Sof – a primordial infinite light. The entire world emanates from this initial Ohr Ayn Sof. Likewise, when humanity has completed its journey, the mystics teach us that the world will go back to a state of Ohr Ayn Sof. If the world starts in Ohr Ayn Sof and ends in Ohr Ayn Sof, what use can be of this lowly world in between? What’s the point of this earthly existence if eventually everything going to return to the state that it begin in?
The great contemporary Kabbalist and Sage – Rav Itcha Meir Morgenstern comments that this world allows for the emergence of Torah. When Torah manifests in the world it allows the Ohr Ayn Sof, which will return at the end of time, to blaze with an even brighter and stronger power than it did before it came into the word. Torah brings a certain unique energy into the world this is totally impacting and changing.
Moreover, the singular impact of Torah is unique in that it affects each of us differently. According to the first Lubavitch Rebbe – the Tanya (Ch. 51 Likutei Amarim) he writes: “For the higher worlds receive this vitality and light in a somewhat more revealed form than do the lower; and all creatures therein receive the revealed aspect of vitality, albeit each according to its capacity and nature.” Each of our natures are distinct. We vary at different levels as to the intensity by which we can receive a Divine vitality. Allow your nature to be open to the most radiant light.
This is just a glimpse of the tremendous power of Torah. It is so powerful that it alters the nature of the untouchable Ohr Ayn Sof at the end of time. And on the other hand, it is so strangely malleable allowing each of us to relate to its energy at different levels.
But what is it about the Torah that can at one time be so potent, granting greater vibrancy to the Ohr Ayn Sof, and at the time so diverse that it can be grasped on so many levels?
I believe Yom Yerushalayim has the key to answer that question.
After Tisha B’av we read 7 haftorah’s called the Shiva D’nechemta – the 7 of consolation. According to the Chozeh of Lublin each one of the שבעה דנחמתא relate numerically to the lower 7 Kabbalistic Sefiros. Therefore the haftorah of the first week is Chessed. The haftorah of the second week is Gevura. The haftorah of the third week is Tiferet – Splendor, beauty, symmetry.
In that third haftorah we read the 54th chapter of Isaiah. There is one verse in particular that is quite challenging to translate. The prophet is talking about what Jerusalem will be like in the future: “ושמתי כדכד שמשותיך” –“I will make your windows of precious stones” (I.E. the walls of Jerusalem).”ושעריך לאבני אקדח וכל גבולך לאבני חפץ” – “and your gates will be precious stones and your borders desirous.”
What does this mean? The Talmud in Bava Basra (75) asks “what’s ‘kadchod’? Listen to the Talmud’s explanation: there’s an argument between two angels in heaven over what stone is this verse referring to. This debate is waged in the celestial world between Michael and Gavriel and in the present world between two brother Chizkiya and Rav Yehudah. One angel is of the opinion that the stone is the – shoham (translucent quartz)– and the other angel says yashpeh (jasper, reddish brown). Hashem says that let us resolve כדין וכדין – like him and like him. That’s כדכד.
In this very esoteric exchange, G-d says that Jerusalem’s reality will make way for both stones. Both identities and colors will have a space in the character of Jerusalem.
The breastplate of the High Priest had 12 stones. Each stone was connected to a different tribe. Rabbeinu Bachayei says that shoham was Yosef. The yashpeh was for Benyamin. Shoham spells Hashem. G-d was always with Yosef. It’s also known that he was spectacularly beautiful. Red, in the yashpeh represents gevura – power, restraint. Yashpeh stands for Yesh Peh, there is a mouth. All the years Yosef was missing Benyamin knew what happened. He knew it was the will of G-d not to say anything so he restrained his thought. Gevura is the ability to hold back. Yosef is from the side of Chesed. Binyamin is from the side of redness – power. The two angels arguing in heaven were Michael who is water and Gavriel who is fire. Yosef and Benyamin. Michael comes to tell Avraham he’s having a child. Gavriel comes to destroy Sedom. Gavriel corresponds to Chizkya – from Chazak – strong. Their opinion is that Jerusalem will be marked by power, yirah, fear. Michael and Rav Yehudah say that Jerusalem will be marked by beauty and grandeur.
In the end, Jerusalem is both. It is like Yaakov, the attribute of tifferet – synthesis, harmony. Jerusaelm or Yerushalayim comprises both qualities in its name Yeru is yira and shalayim is peace, equanimity.
Jerusalem is a representation of the very magnificence of Torah. On one hand, it is gevurah, so powerful that it can even bolster the Ohr Ayn Sof. And on the other hand, it is so pleasant, so beautiful that it can make itself meaningful and relevant to each one of us on our own levels.
The power of the Torah is that it exposed to us the possibility of Kedusha in a bifurcated world. The perfect Torah was given to a complex people who will turn their hearts and their attention to a complex city. Jerusalem is a city of contradictions and dichotomy. The Torah teaches the Ohr Ayn Sof how to live in a different world than the one it once knew.
So this is Yom Yerushalayim’s connection to Shavuos. On Yom Yerushalayim we celebrate the city of two stones – two perspectives – two worlds. Dichotomary, fracture, machlokes, that is all part of the splendor of the Torah. The Torah is received on Shavuos. And from then on – the Ohr Ayn Sof is changed… utterly.
I close with the words of Eliezer Whartman, an Israeli journalist writing to the New York Times in 1969:
For the first time since the year 70 there is now complete religious freedom for all in Jerusalem. For the first time since the Romans put the torch to the Temple everyone has equal rights. (You preferred to have some more equal than others). We loathe the sword -–but it was you who forced us to take it up. We crave peace – but we are not going back to the peace of 1967 as you would like us to.
We are home. It has a lovely sound for a nation you have willed to wander over the face of the globe. We are not are not leaving. We have redeemed the pledge made by our forefathers. Jerusalem is being rebuilt. “Next year” – and the year after, and after, and after, until the end of time – “in Jerusalem!”