Starting at sundown on Saturday and continuing all day Sunday, Israel will celebrate Jerusalem Day, remembering the reunification of the Holy City in 1967. Writing at The Jerusalem Post, Shlomo Riskin tells of the biblical history of Jerusalem, the city of peace and “Israel’s heart”:
What is so special about Jerusalem? The fact is that Jerusalem – unique among the cities of Israel – is completely identified with our Jewish national mission, expressing by its very name “City of Peace” our prophetic vision for the world.
When the Almighty initially elected Abraham, he gave him a mandate: “Through you shall be blessed all of the nations of the earth” (Genesis 12:3). It was for this universal purpose that Abram’s name was changed from Av Ram (exalted father of one nation, Israel) to Avraham; father and teacher of a multitude of nations.
Abraham’s descendants will eventually erect a Temple to which all the nations will flock in order to learn and accept the Torah of peace: “To beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, so that nation will not lift up sword against nation and humanity will not learn war anymore” (Isaiah 2:4).
Jeru means “city” in ancient Semitic languages and Shalem means “peace” (wholeness)…
Let us fast-forward 4,000 years. In 1978, at the end of the Camp David peace talks between US president Jimmy Carter, Egyptian head of state Anwar Sadat and prime minister Menachem Begin, Carter pressed Begin to sign a letter in which he would “merely” agree to place the final status of Jerusalem on the negotiating table. Begin refused. With great emotion he explained that in the Middle Ages there lived a beloved, wise rabbi: Rav Amnon of Mayence, who was pressed by the bishop at least to consider converting to Christianity.
After a lengthy argument, the rabbi agreed to ponder the issue for three days.
As soon as he returned home, the rabbi was smitten by deep despair; at the end of the three days, he returned to the bishop. “Punish me, O bishop,” he cried. “I should never have agreed to think about such an egregious act against my faith. The tongue which said I would ponder, the hand that shook yours in acquiescence, the leg that came to do your bidding – remove them from my body.” The bishop gladly did as the rabbi requested. The next day was Rosh Hashana, and racked with pain, Rav Amnon was brought to the synagogue, where he cried out before the congregation the U’Netaneh Tokef prayer he had composed the day before.
Begin told the American president, “I understand that we may sacrifice a limb to save an entire body. But Jerusalem is Israel’s heart, the focus of our mission.
Our Psalmist declared, ‘If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand be removed from my body, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I remember thee not’ (Psalms 137:5-6).