Recently someone approached me with a question straight out of Fiddler on the Roof. “Rabbi, is there a blessing one would make on the United States moving its embassy to Jerusalem?”
The question is actually a good one, and I don’t believe Shehechiyanu is fully appropriate. Our view on the status of Jerusalem has never changed, as our hearts and prayers have been consistently directed towards Jerusalem for 3,000 years. Every US president since Bill Clinton has pledged to move the embassy, and each one of them has signed a waiver pushing off the Jerusalem Embassy Act that Congress passed in 1995. Instead of offering a blessing, we should probably have stood by the gates of Jerusalem when the US delegation arrived and said, “What took you so long?”
But I’d like to propose that there is an appropriate blessing that we all should have said on that day, and it has become even more relevant given the unfair condemnation of Israel defending herself against Hamas Terrorists at the Gaza border.
The blessing comes from our daily liturgy in one of the morning blessings.
Blessed are you, Lord our G-d, King of the Universe, “Zokef Kefufim,” who straightens the bent.
In Parshat Bechukotai, we are presented with the blessings that the Jewish nation will be granted if they follow the path of the righteous and the faithful. In the final words of the blessing it says, “I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you go upright.” (Leviticus 26:13) Rashi adds the comment “Erect with stature.”
For nearly 2,000 years, since the destruction of our Temple, we have been deprived of that blessing of standing erect with stature, especially regarding our Nation’s Capital.
In the year 135 CE after Hadrian constructed a pagan temple to Jupiter at the site of the Temple in Jerusalem, he built Aelia Capitolina among the ruins of Jerusalem and declared the land to be called Palestine in order to suppress the Jewish connection to the land. In the fourth century, Under Constantine’s rule, the Jews were completely banned from Jerusalem. In the seventh century, under the Pact of Umar, no Jew was allowed to stand taller than any Musilm in the city of Jerusalem. By law, they were required to hunch down when in the presence of a Muslim, and walk on the other side of the street when one passed. In the 11th century, The Crusades come to Jerusalem and killed every Jew, (and Muslim) they could find. They gathered the Jews up into synagogue and burned them alive. In the 13th century, the Mamaluks captured Jerusalem, dismantled the city walls, and murdered Jews as sport. In 1920 Arab riots in Jerusalem kills scores of Jews and injured hundreds of others while the British soldiers turned their backs. In 1948, the victory of the War of Independence left the Jews without it’s capital. As the Israeli poet Elhanan Leib Lewinsky wrote, “Without Jerusalem, the land of Israel is like a body without a soul.”
In 1949, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion put words to the genuine hole that remained in the heart of the country. “We regard it as our duty to declare that Jewish Jerusalem is an organic and inseparable part of the State of Israel, as it is an inseparable part of the history of Israel, of the faith of Israel.”
In May of 1967, in honor of Yom Ha’atzmaut, Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek and the Voice of Israel Radio Station asked five Israeli song writers to compose a song about Jerusalem. One of those artists was Naomi Shemer who composed the music and the lyrics to what is now the iconic Yerushalayim Shel Zahav.
Many people fail to appreciate the words of this beautiful song, especially given the context in which it was first composed. The nation was on the brink of war. General Nasser of Egypt had pledged to drive the Jews into the Sea. Tens of thousands of mass graves were being dug in Israel in preparation for the anticipated casualties.
Shemer’s song was much more of dirge than a song, lamenting how the cisterns have dried up and how the marketplaces are empty. Shemer intertwined references from Lamentations, Psalms, Isaiah, Kings and Samuel, all describing a longing for a city which was once ablaze with Gold and which now sits in solitude.
For two millennium, the Jewish people had been bent over their destroyed capital of Jerusalem. They had been unable to stand up straight, defend themselves, or stake their claim in the most beloved city of their existence.
So much of that changed when Motti Gur uttered those three iconic words in June of 1967. “Har Habayit Beyadeinu.” The Temple Mount is in our hands. Jerusalem would finally be under Jewish sovereignty, and the bent will finally be blessed to stand up straight.
But despite the incredible rebuilding of Jerusalem these last 51 years, no other country had formally recognized it as Israel’s capital. Jews are forbidden by law to pray on the Temple Mount. The WAQF regularly attempts to destroy any artifacts that support Jewish Historical connection to Jerusalem.
So, on Monday, I made the blessing of Zokef Kefufim, blessing G-d for straightening the bent; for finally allowing us to stand erect with stature received by the nations of the world. We can stand with full pride knowing that the United States and others recognize something that we have known all along. Jerusalem has always been the capital of the Jewish homeland, and it always will be.