We have returned to the cisterns,
To the mountain and to the square,
A Shofar calls on Temple Mount,
In the old city.
And in the caves within the stones,
thousands of lights shine bright,
We will return and descend to the Dead Sea,
Along the way of Jericho. - Naomi Shemer, Yerushalayim shel Zahav
We read Parshat Bamidbar on the Shabbat between Shavuot and Yom Yerushalayim every year. What connects these two very different festivals? And what does it have to do with our parsha?
Yom Yerushalayim commemorates an extraordinary day in Jewish history: the day that Jerusalem was reunited and that Jewish people once again gained access to our holy sites. The open way we could approach the Temple and other sacred locations in the wake of 1967 makes a mockery of the limited access we were granted before 1948. The stunning and miraculous victory of the IDF in 1967, coupled with our return to our historic capitol, provides a reason to celebrate far into the future.
However, what makes Jerusalem so unique? Why was it declared the Jewish capital at all? The answer is that Jerusalem is the home to our spiritual heart, the Temple. It is the place our minds, hearts, and lips have always turned to. Jerusalem long lay at the physical centre of the Jewish people, and since the Temple was first built, it has also been our spiritual centre.
Before Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem, the people of Israel had no permanent centre. Instead, we would turn to wherever the Mishkan, or Tabernacle, was that day. The Tabernacle, in turn, continued the revelation at Mount Sinai. Ramban teaches us that the presence of G-d revealed at Mount Sinai moved afterwards to the Tabernacle and, in time, to the Temple in Jerusalem, where it rests today.
This week we read about the beginning of this process. While the Mishkan was already completed in the book of Shemot, it is only placed in its regular location at the centre of the camp (and the People of Israel) this week. Only in the parsha of Bamidbar do we begin centring the divine in our day-to-day lives.
Our next week is a meaningful time of year. It is a time that commemorates the true beginning of the Torah and Hashem as our spiritual centre (Shavuot), the act of building our lives around that core (Bamidbar), and the day when we returned to this reality in modern times (Yom Yerushalayim). May we see the completion of this redemptive process and the restoration of the age of miracles and prophesy, which we daven for every day.