This week’s column once again is devoted to our people’s love and deep devotion to the sanctity of Jerusalem and the celebration of Yom Yerushalayim this coming Saturday night and Sunday, the 28th of Iyar. I trust that you will appreciate and value the heartfelt sentiments expressed in this essay by Rabbi Benji Levy excerpted from the Koren Yom Yerushalayim Machzor.
Epilogue: A Reawakening
By Rabbi Benji Levy
Imagine a student, sitting in the front and center seat of a massive lecture theatre, staring wide-eyed at the teacher giving the lesson of a lifetime. Immediately after the class, the student is asked to recount what was taught and responds, “My mind was elsewhere.” Perhaps this is what King David meant when he wrote in the prophetic past, “When the L-rd brought back the exiles of Zion we were like people who dream.”
At the brink of annihilation, the Jewish people experienced a triumph deemed impossible by virtually any reasonable estimation. We witnessed the fulfillment of a two-millennia-old vision: a moment too miraculous to be anything but a dream. And as Yehudim — Jews whose namesake means gratitude — we must call out and respond. Respond with joy, respond with good deeds, and respond with gratitude in prayer and thanksgiving. Crafted from a clear view in the front row of Jewish history, this Maĥzor embodies exactly that – a reawakening.
I believe that it is no coincidence that the famous picture epitomizing the reunification of Jerusalem at the Kotel is that of Rabbi Shlomo Goren blowing the shofar. Yom Yerushalayim heralded a miraculous awakening for the Jewish nation of biblical proportions, alongside other legendary shofar blasts such as the giving of the Torah at Sinai which transformed the moral landscape of civilization forever, or the announcement of the Jubilee year, introducing one of the most decisive statements about freedom ever made. Isaiah saw the shofar as the instrument of reunification, captivating the hearts and minds of those lost in exile, and this was the same sound heard on that fateful day next to the iconic ancient stones of the Western Wall.
Throughout our personal lives and throughout our collective history, G-d provides us with many wake-up calls. Maimonides explains that the call of the shofar serves as a communal alarm clock of sorts, crying out the eternal message: “Awake sleepers from your sleep; rouse yourselves, slumberers from your slumber.” (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Teshuva). While we may daydream throughout the year, the shofar serves as our alarm clock, shocking us from our stupor with a raw sound that penetrates the heart.
This Maĥzor answers the call of the shofar with style, sophistication, and unity at its very core.
Maimonides highlights unity of worship as the reason for fixed prayer, providing common expression to those unable to articulate their praise (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Tefilla). The Talmud highlights the purpose of praying toward Israel and specifically Jerusalem as ensuring that “all Jews are directing their hearts to a single place” (Berakhot). This unity is encapsulated within this Maĥzor, and it goes one step further with the essays and commentaries of great contemporary thinkers to color the pages and add meaning to the prayers.
The creation of this unique work highlights modern miracles in our ancient homeland, Eretz Yisrael, illuminated through Torat Yisrael, and uniting Am Yisrael, like “one person with one heart” (Rashi).
The word maĥzor means “cycle.” Seasons and cycles represent continuity and consistency, rigid in structure but renewed in style. This Maĥzor represents the newest cycle in the oldest relationship between the Jewish people and our ancestral homeland.
While each year the words are the same, we will be different. The traditional text is punctuated with fresh interpretations in light of the unique period in which we find ourselves. This is the secret of our people, finding the youth in our ancient story.
Each time we turn this page and close this book, let us continue to write the next one in the narrative of our nation. May we be inspired through this reawakening to connect to the unity of time, place, and prayer, heed the primal call of our modern shofar, and be guided by the moral compass of our Torah.
And may our eyes witness Your return to Zion in compassion. Blessed are You, Lord, who restores His Presence to Zion.