Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The 28th of Iyar - Yom Yerushalyim (excerpt from Emanations)

The 28th of Iyyar

Rabbi Ari Kahn

In recent years the 28th day of Iyyar has gained significance as the day when the city of Jerusalem was liberated. Some Jews respond to this Divine gift liturgically, others more internally[1], yet almost all agree that the day that Jerusalem became accessible to Jews once again is a watershed in Jewish history, a day when the Creator using a special dose of compassion remembered His children and His city.

In Judaism days can have a personality; a special aura. Sad days seem to possess a negative beating of the same drum year after year, to produce tragic events[2]. Holidays have a holiness which can be felt and experienced by the spiritually sensitive, they don’t merely commemorate events which took place long ago and far away.

Does the 28th of Iyyar have a history to it or is it just another day? As we shall see through history a number of events took place on this day which have contributed to give it a special charisma.

The Fast

The Shulchan Uruch in section 580 reports that on the 28th day of the month of Iyyar a fast day is observed due to the anniversary of the death of Shmuel Hanavi (Samuel the Prophet)[3]. Because this is considered a so-called “minor fast” many Jews are unaware of the significance of this commemoration. However, as we shall see in antiquity this day was celebrated.


In a responsa[4] of Rabbi David ben Solomon ibn Avi Zimra (known as the Radbaz) we learn that in the Middle Ages the tomb of Shmuel Hanavi was a destination of pilgrimage. People would take their young sons and travel to the burial place of Shmuel and cut the child’s hair for the first time. The specific question posed to the Radbaz, was asked by a father, who had made such a vow. When the time to fulfill the vow arrived the father found that he was unable to ascend to the tomb because the burial place had become off limits to Jews. (The Rabbis then forbade the Jews from going there at all – from the context, it is unclear if the rabbinic attitude was due to the danger involved, or because it became a non-Jewish place of worship.) 

This responsa is particularly interesting in terms of the history of Jewish customs, we learn that in the same period of time people began to travel to Meron on the 18th of Iyyar (better known as Lag Ba’Omer), there they would cut the child’s hair (for the first time). It is possible that this custom was transported from the outskirts of Jerusalem on the 28th of Iyyar to the outskirts of Zefat on the 18th of Iyyar, once the tomb of Shmuel became off limits for Jews.[5] Shmuel who was a nazir, (his hair was never cut) which would make his tomb an excellent locale for a child to have his hair cut for the first time. Furthermore, the 28th day of the Omer is far less problematic halachicly[6], to have one’s hair cut which supports the theory of the custom being transported.

History of halacha and minhag aside, this would mean that Jews from all over the middle East would travel to Jerusalem yearly and make a pilgrimage specifically on the 28th of Iyyar - the anniversary of the demise of Shumel! It is interesting that specifically on that day of all the days in the calendar Jerusalem was the destination of their trip. One ventures to say that the power of those prayers uttered years ago on this day, and arduous journey which they undertook contributed to Jerusalem’s liberation on the very same day – causing it once again to be a day when people venture up to Jerusalem.

Why Shmuel?

The connection between Shmuel and Jerusalem is twofold and intertwined. Shmuel was the Prophet who anointed David, the founder of Jerusalem. Moreover, David together with Shmuel surveyed the region looking for the proper place to build the Temple.

Raba lectured: What is meant by the verse, [And he asked and said: ‘Where are Shmuel and David?’] And one said: ‘Behold, they are at Naioth (name of place literally it means beautiful or glorious) in Ramah (name of a place literally means "high”) ’: What connection then has Naioth with Ramah? It means, however, that they sat at Ramah and were engaged with the glory [beauty] of the world. Said they, It is written, Then shalt thou arise, and ascend unto the place [which the Lord thy God shall choose](Devarim 17:8) this teaches that the Temple was higher than the whole of Eretz Israel, while Eretz Israel is higher than all other countries. They did not know where that place was. Thereupon they brought the Book of Yehoshua.[7] In the case of all [tribal territories] it is written, ‘And the border went down’ ‘and the border went up’ ‘and the border passed along’, whereas in reference to the tribe of Benjamin ‘and it went up’ is written, but not ‘and it went down’. Said they: This proves that this is its site.
Talmud -  Zevachim 54b

Jerusalem represents the holiness of the Temple and the seat of the Davidic dynasty; Shumel was involved in the establishment of both.

The Battle

There is however an earlier source which makes an oblique reference to the 28th of Iyyar.
סדר עולם רבה (ליינר) פרק ה
שנאמר ויסעו מאילם ויבאו כל עדת בני ישראל אל מדבר סין (שמות טז א) (והוא אלוש) בחמשה עשר יום לחדש השני לצאתם מארץ מצרים (שם /שמות ט"ז, א/), ואחד בשבת היה, הא למדנו שראש חדש אייר באחד בשבת היה, ועוד למדנו שהיו ישראל אוכלין מעוגה שהוציאו בידם ממצרים כל שלשים יום, ובו ביום כלתה, ולערב אכלו את השליו ולמשכים לקטו את המן, ובאלוש נתנה להם השבת, ושם עשו שבת ראשונה, שנאמר וישבתו העם ביום השבעי (שם /שמות/ טז ל), באחד בשבת בכ"ג באייר נסעו מאלוש ובאו להם לרפידים, ושם נתנה להם הבאר ונלחמו עם עמלק ושם עשו שבת שניה, נסעו מרפידים ובאו להן למדבר סיני ומצאו עליו ענני כבוד. כל חמשת הימים היה משה עולה לראש ההר ויורד ומגיד לעם את דברי המקום, ומשיב דבריהם לפני המקום, בשלישי בששה לחדש נתנו להם עשרת הדברות, ויום השבת היה.
The Seder Olam reports biblical chronology, it tells us of the precise dates of ancient events. When details of the sojourn which followed the exodus from Egypt is reported, we are told that in that year Rosh Chodesh Iyyar was on a Sunday,[8] the first Shabbat observed was on the 22nd of Iyyar. The following day they traveled to Rifidim which is where the battle with Amalek took place, and where the second Shabbat was observed.

 Understanding the battle with Amalek will reveal the relationship with Jerusalem. In describing the battle the Torah states:

But Moshe’s hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat on it; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.
Shmot 17:12

Rashi informs us that the reference to the sun is that Moshe made the Sun stand still.[9]
There is a more famous occurrence of the sun standing still, when the battle of Givon raged Yehoshua caused the sun to remain in its place. The rabbis[10] explain the need for this miracle as follows. The enemies of the Jews knowing that Shabbat was coming waited for Shabbat to defeat the Israelite army. Therefore the sun was made to stand still to avoid the onset of Shabbat.

Moshe too made the sun stand still – for the same reason – Shabbat was coming.[11] The very second Shabbat which was to be celebrated by the Jews was coming, and Amalek who despised all that was sacred[12] was going to use the Shabbat to destroy the people. But while Yehoshua led the troops below Moshe stood on a mountain and caused the sun to stand still and “hold off” the onset of Shabbat.[13]

A house of Prayer

From this we see that the battle with Amalek indeed took place on Erev Shabbat and the precise date was the 28th of Iyyar. This association allows us a deeper appreciation of the date and its significance. The battle with Amalek is a struggle between holiness and depravity. This is the essence of the 28th of Iyyar. The victory was attained when the prayers of Moshe and the people were answered.

One day a house of prayer would be constructed on a holy mountain – the foundation of this temple was the prayers uttered on that hill in the desert.[14]

God’s Throne

In the aftermath of that battle, we are told that until Amalek is defeated something is missing in this world and the celestial spheres.

And the Lord said to Moshe, Write this for a memorial in a book, and recite it in the ears of Joshua; for I will completely put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven. And Moses built an altar, and called its name Adonai-Nissi;  For he said, Because the Lord has sworn by His throne (kes) that the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation. 17:14-16

Rashi explains that the word kes is used instead of Kiseh for as long as Amalek is around, spewing his venom, the throne of God is incomplete and God’s name is incomplete (as it were). As long as God’s holiness is not completely manifest, evil reigns. The symbol of destruction of evil is the epic battle with Amalek.

While Amalek represents the attack on the throne, Jerusalem represents God’s throne on this planet:

At that time they shall call Jerusalem the throne of the Lord; and all the nations shall be gathered to it, to the name of the Lord, to Jerusalem; nor shall they walk any more after the stubbornness of their evil heart.
Yirmiyahu 3:17

Presently the throne of God is incomplete; forces of evil thrive. The struggle for Jerusalem is not an easy one. It is a battle that began long ago and far away in the desert.

Perhaps now we can better appreciate King David and Shmuel the prophet looking with prophetic vision for the throne of God, the sought the place that would symbolize the complete destruction of evil. They sought the place for the Temple. They sought Jerusalem.

The first king anointed by Shmuel was supposed to defeat Amalek, history would have been different had Shaul succeeded. However, he failed. Now David would take his place, and see to it that God’s throne is complete.

In David’s lifetime, this mission was not completed. If the spiritual foundation of the Temple dates back to the prayers fervently said during the battle with Amalek, the actual foundation is identified with David and his dynasty.

In the outskirts of Jerusalem past the present neighborhood of Ramot there is a large building which stands majestically on a hill. It is the tomb of Shmuel.[15] Looking north one can see where the sun stood still all those years ago. Today a vibrant neighborhood called Givat Zev stands in the shadows of the biblical Givon. When one looks south the new city of Jerusalem stands in front for almost as far as the eye can see.

In ancient and modern days pilgrims make their way to Jerusalem on the 28th day of Iyyar. In those days they sought holiness they sought completion, they sought God. There were times that Jews were not able to make the journey. Forces prevented them from seeing the holy, aged stones. They mourned for an incomplete Jerusalem. They mourned for God’s throne which was not manifest. For millennia we had to settle with facing Jerusalem three times a day as we prayed. We remembered her pain even when we celebrated our joy. There are still forces which wish to wrest Jerusalem from our hands. We will not relinquish control after all these years. We will fight to reveal the true nature of Jerusalem – the throne of God. We are well aware that the battle is ancient, that it began in the desert many years ago. We see the hand of God in her liberation on the 28th day of Iyyar. We realize that this is just the beginning. We pray that we may merit the completion of the building of Yerushalayim in our days.

At that time they shall call Jerusalem the throne of the Lord; and all the nations shall be gathered to it, to the name of the Lord, to Jerusalem; nor shall they walk any more after the stubbornness of their evil heart.
Yirmiyahu 3:17

[1] See Minchat Yitzchak 10:10
[2] the Mishna in the last chapter of Ta’anit stresses the repetitive aspect of calamities which befell our people on specific dates.
[3] See Rav Eliezer Waldenberg for a discussion on the accuracy of this date.
 שו"ת ציץ אליעזר חלק ט"ו סימן ד

[4] שו"ת רדב"ז חלק ב סימן תרח

[5] I believe that I heard this suggestion from Rabbi Professor Daniel Sperber many years ago when I attended a course that he offered in “the History of Minhagim”, much of the material which we studied was subsequently published in a series of books, by Mosad Harav Kook, see (Minhagei Yisrael 1:101-117) See Avraham Yaari, Masaot Eretz Yisrael and Iggerot Eretz Yisrael, (Tel Aviv, 1943)and Tarbiz 22 (1951) Meir Benayahu הראיה שלש פעמים בשנה במירון, Turay Yeshurin 1971

[6]  See  Shulchan Uruch orech Chaim 493:2
[7] See chapters 15-18
[8] Shabbat 87b                                               
[9]        ילקוט שמעוני חבקוק - פרק ג - רמז תקסד
כתיב והיה כאשר ירים משה ידו. ר' יהושע אומר כשפן גדול היה עמלק, ומה היה עושה היה מעמדי בני אדם ביום גינוסיא שלו לומר (ה) לא במהרה אדם נופל ביום גינוסיא שלו, מה עשה משה, ערבב את המזלות הה"ד שמש ירח עמד זבולה, וכתיב רום ידיהו נשא:
[10] Pirki Drebbi Eliezer chapter 51, Yalkut Shimoni Yehoshua chapter 10 section 22
[11] Many things which Yehoshua accomplished are based on miricales which were performed my Moshe. See Midrash Tanchuma Parshat Tizaveh section 9
[12] See Rashi Dvarim 25:18
[13] See Sichot for Sefer Shmot based on the talks of Rav Avigdor Nebhenzahl Shmot page 432
[14]  See previous source. Jerusalem is hinted at in the biblical text:
 ספר שמות פרק יז
(ט) וַיֹּאמֶר משֶׁה אֶל יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בְּחַר לָנוּ אֲנָשִׁים וְצֵא הִלָּחֵם בַּעֲמָלֵק מָחָר אָנֹכִי נִצָּב עַל רֹאשׁ הַגִּבְעָה וּמַטֵּה הָאֱלֹהִים בְּיָדִי:
ראש הגבעה =586
This is the proper spelling throughout Tanach 349 times
[15] Archaeologists are not at all convinced of the veracity of the association with the biblical burial plot.

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