The Greatest Thing You’ll Ever Learn (Behar-Bechukotai 05/12/18)
The Greatest Thing You’ll Ever Learn
This Sunday was Mothers’ Day as well as Yom Yerushalayim, the day we regained sovereignty over all of Jerusalem through victory in the Six Day War.
On Mothers’ day we show our appreciation and dedication to the devoted mothers in our lives. On Yom Yerushalayim, Jews all over the world express gratitude for having the treasured city of Jerusalem back in our hands.
Sometimes random events occur together and it just seems coincidental. I, however, see a common thread.
There is a wonderful story told about Chaim Weitzman, who was later to become the first President of the State of Israel. In the early 40’s while imploring the British to allow the Jews to return to what was then Palestine, a British gentleman said to him: “Dr. Weitzman, why do you need to start a Jewish country in that God-forsaken corner of the Middle East? Why don’t you take your Jews – who evidently need some refuge from persecution – and take them to Argentina or Uganda or the Canary Islands or someplace else? What do you need Palestine for?” And Weitzman said to the man: “You may be right, but before I answer you, let me ask you a question. I understand that every year on Mother’s Day and on a good many other occasions during the year, you drive all the way across the city of London in order to visit your mother at the nursing home where she lives. There are lots of other old ladies in London. Why don’t you visit some other woman who lives closer instead of visiting your mother?”
The obvious answer is that our mothers have done an infinite number of things for us, and we have a special relationship them.
Likewise, we have a special relationship with Jerusalem. We Jews only became known as Jews since the eighth century BCE. Living and thriving in the land of Judah, our capitol, our home town was Jerusalem. There we developed our faith and ethnicity. In this huge world, there was one city that was uniquely ours. As the English adore London and the French revere Paris, so did we cherish Jerusalem.
Our teachings tell us that 10 miracles occurred daily in Temple times. Two of them were:
משנה מסכת אבות פרק ה
וְלֹא הִזִּיק נָחָשׁ וְעַקְרָב בִּירוּשָׁלַיִם מֵעוֹלָם, וְלֹא אָמַר אָדָם לַחֲבֵרוֹ צַר לִי הַמָּקוֹם שֶׁאָלִין בִּירוּשָׁלַיִם
No person was ever attacked by a scorpion or snake in Jerusalem, and no person ever said, “It’s too cramped, there’s no room for me in Jerusalem.”
Perhaps Jerusalem protected its citizens from snakes and scorpions, but the fact that no one ever said, “I don’t feel comfortable, or there’s not a place for me here,” shows the comfort with the city. Like a mother embracing her children, so was Jerusalem to its people.
And when we were exiled from her, we swore we’d return:
Psalm 137 (translation by Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi)
אִם אֶשְׁכָּחֵךְ יְרוּשָׁלָםִ תִּשְׁכַּח יְמִינִי
תִּדְבַּק לְשׁוֹנִי לְחִכִּי אִם לֹא אֶזְכְּרֵכִי אִם לֹא אַעֲלֶה אֶת יְרוּשָׁלִַם עַל רֹאשׁ שִׂמְחָתִ
We sat by the rivers of Babylon; we remembered Zion and wept from grief. Our captors asked of us, “Sing for us of the songs of Zion. We like to hear the words of your song; accompany them with your instruments.” But we hid our harps among the willows— How can we sing the song of God, in a foreign land? Forgetting you, Jerusalem, is like losing the use of my hands; I’d rather lose my voice and speech than forget Jerusalem. O Jerusalem, I promise to celebrate no joy without thinking of you.
Along those lines, every wedding mentions the barrenness of Jerusalem, with the hopes that this union will lead to it being rebuilt and re-inhabited.
שׂוֹשׂ תָּשִׂישׂ וְתָגֵל הָעֲקָרָה. בְּקִבּוּץ בָּנֶיהָ לְתוֹכָהּ בְּשִׂמְחָה. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְדֹוָד מְשַׂמֵּחַ צִיּוֹן בְּבָנֶיהָ
“May Jerusalem rejoice and be happy at the gathering of her children to her midst in joy. Blessed are you Lord, who gladdens Zion with her children.”
Our daily prayers contain petitions for the rebuilding of Jerusalem, “And to Jerusalem, may You return in mercy…” On Shabbat, the famed Lecha Dodi prayer has many stanzas giving hope and encouragement to Jerusalem to arise from its dust.
For 1900 years, we preserved the love of Jerusalem and now she has returned to us and she is blossoming. It used to be a barren and poor city; now its real estate makes it one of the most expensive cities in the world. It’s modern and bursting at the seams with development. What used to be only dry and golden from the ever-present Yerushalmi bricks is now also a verdant green with grass and ivy and shady trees thanks to the new abundance of water in Israel.
The city that was the haven of the “Old Yishuv-the old guard,” the very devout, religious Jews, has now become cosmopolitan. She has opened her gates and welcomed all. All Jews, religious and secular now share Jerusalem’s beauty. It’s a diverse and vibrant population.
Mothers too have changed over time. When I do eulogies for the mothers of boomers, I find that nearly all of them stopped working when their first child was born and didn’t return to work until the kids were done with school. They had dinner on the table for their kids and their husbands, and their roles were mainly supportive. Many of these women had college degrees but sublimated their ambitions for the sake of their husbands and families.
Nowadays in Plainview, I’d bet the 90% of the mothers work full-time. While still nurturing and probably still preparing dinner, they’re not just in supportive roles. They are leaders with their husbands; directing their families, congregations and communities into the future.
One of the most profound statements I ever heard in a movie is the wise declaration in Moulin Rouge, “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.” It’s this “thing” that kept mothers and the city of Jerusalem going.
Jerusalem never stopped feeling the love of the Jewish people, now we’ve returned to her. The city is blossoming and its residents are thriving.
Moms, even though they’re working away from the home more than ever, are still as devoted as ever. The love for their husbands and children has not diminished with their changed roles and increased workloads.
The love of mothers and wives, and even of our homeland, continues and strengthens from the most powerful concept, “the greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.”