Michal Kohane

Thoughts for Yom Yerushalayim

Yom Yerushalayim, coming up on Wednesday this week, “coincidentally” falls on the 28th of the Hebrew month of Iyar. We could say that this is due to historical reasons: During the Six Day War this was the day that Jerusalem was conquered. Over the years, it has sadly become a more “fringe” day, especially easily avoided by those of living elsewhere: ah, it’s only for “Jerusalemites”; ah, it’s only for “dosim” (religious people). We see the challenges in it and may wonder, really, what’s in it for me?

Let’s start with the fact that 28th of Iyar also “happens to be” the first day of the last week of the Count of the Omer, the seven weeks between Pesach and Shavuot. The Kabbalist explain that each week ushers a different “sefira,” a different Kabbalistic level, and within that week, each day qualifies itself with a specific energy. Yom Yerushalayim, being the first day in the seventh week, is a day of Chesed (kindness) in Malchut (kingship). We’re told that this was the day Rav Kook made aliya, and that earlier sages already noticed this to be a powerful day in our national history.

I remember my first visit to Jerusalem, only “yesterday,” Sukkot 1967: My parents reserve a “special” – a taxi for the day, just for the four of us, and wake us up while still dark outside. But no matter, we are excited to get into the car (cars were not so much of a thing back then!), heading south, then east, so by mid-morning we enter Jerusalem. What’s the big deal, it’s just another a city – with traffic and markets and people and shops and construction and yet… OMG, it’s Jerusalem! “Our feet stand in your gates, Oh Jerusalem” (Psalms 122:2)!

We travel through the busy city, climbing up to Har Hatzofim (Mt. Scopus) with its university buildings punctured by bullets and shells’ holes, and my mom tells of the Hadassa Convoy Massacre in a sad voice. We picnic in a city park near the municipality, and for the first time, I see sefardi sukkot, with embroidered walls, colorful rugs and big, cushy pillows. Then we make our way to the Kotel, holding hands tightly, not to be lost in the crowds to reach a giant wall rising up all the way to the sky, with plants and birds in and above it.
As the city gets ready for bedtime, we bid farewell to the pinkish, golden, dusty hills. We sleep most of the way back amidst hushed adult conversations. The next day, “Jerusalem of Gold” seems almost like a dream.

For centuries, travelers dreamed and journeyed, from all over the world, excited to reach this one and only, magical, holy city. Especially this week, when we commemorate Yom Yerushalayim, we are invited to pause from our daily turmoil and contemplate this place. What is it about her?

Rav Uri Sharki offers an interesting perspective. Accordingly, each one of us is subjected to three big limitations in life: We can be only in one place (here, wherever that is); at one time (now); and within only one self (me). Our tradition offers unique and perhaps surprising remedies by which we can overcome these limitations:

How can we overcome the limitation of Time?
True, usually, we can’t, but there is one day a year, Yom Kippur, when one can “time-travel” back and forth. We can go back to the past, atone – as if, changing the past, correcting what we’ve done through the process of teshuva for a better present and future.

How can we overcome the limitation of Space?
The Land of Israel, which Scripture and later the Talmud call ‘Eretz Hatzvi” – the Land of the Deer (Daniel 11:41; Tractate Ktubot 111:a), refers to an elastic place, like a deer’s skin, widening and shrinking as needed.

We’re told that “No one ever said, there is no place for me to stay overnight in Jerusalem” (Pirkei Avot 5:5), meaning, everyone always had room, and this phenomenon is recorded in travelers’ journals of later days as well, as the place “stretches” for more and more people.

How can we overcome the limitation of Self?

On Yom Kippur, the High Priest would atone for all the transgressions of all the people of Israel. We might be too used to this “story” but it’s truly a strange idea. After all, we can’t ask someone to fall in love for us, or feel longing or joy or anything for us! And yet, the High Priest is instructed to atone for the whole people, namely, to hold all others “on his heart” (Exodus 28:36); and when he does that, something changes within us too, as if our Self is expanded and contained within another!

All these things, transcending time, place and selfhood, happen only in the one and only Jerusalem; only in the city of Awe (yir’a) and Peace (shalem). For many of us this is not a daily encounter; we may not live in Jerusalem, nor do we get to visit that often, if ever. And yet, maybe we can take this one day a year, to lift up our eyes from the news and daily “challenges,” remember and celebrate her magic.

About the Author
Currently a "toshevet chozeret" in Israel, Rabbanit Michal Kohane, trained chaplain and educator, is a graduate of Yeshivat Maharat and teacher of Torah and Talmud in Israel and abroad, and soon, official tour guide in the Land of Israel. She holds several degrees in Jewish / Israel studies as well as a PsyD in organizational psychology, and has been a leader and educator for decades. Michal’s first novel, Hachug ("Extracurricular") was published in Israel by Steimatzky, and her weekly, mostly Torah, blog can be found at