Shaarei Shamayim

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In Jewish tradition numbers have special meaning. On the 70th anniversary of the birth of the modern State of Israel, Rabbi Benjamin Blech ( paraphrasing the Haggadah of Pesach asks: “Who knows 70?” What is its deeper meaning?

You see, 70 isn’t merely a nice round number. In the Haggadah, Rabbi Eliezer ben Azarya admits that he never knew the Biblical source for the commandment to remember the Exodus from Egypt at night until Ben Zoma explained it. Strangely, he introduces his joy in his newfound wisdom with the words “Behold I am like a man of 70 years.” The commentators are perplexed because we know Rabbi Eliezer was in fact only 18 at the time. Many fanciful explanations are given, but the fact remains that in order to express the wisdom of old age, he used the number 70.

And why was that? Well the Book of Psalms (90:10) teaches: “The days of our lives are threescore and ten.” 70 is the proverbial Biblical lifespan—the years we are normally granted to achieve our mission on earth. Rabbi Eliezer, although he was only 18, feared he would live out his days without knowing this fundamental truth of Torah. His great happiness with his newfound knowledge was the feeling that he was now like someone with the wisdom of 70 years of age—the age at which we are to measure our achievements, reflect on our accomplishments, and take stock of our life’s journey and purpose.

It’s true for our lives and it’s true for our land. 70 is the number which demands reflection. It’s the number which defines a generation. It’s intimately linked with judgment—so much so that in Jewish law the Supreme Court, the Sanhedrin, was composed of—you guessed it—70 members, just as there were 70 elders in the days of Moses.

More, 70as the key to the creation of the Jewish people. As the Torah (Ex. 1:5) tells us concerning our ancestors who came into Egypt where we emerged from a family to a people: “And it was that all those who were direct descendants of Jacob [that came down to Egypt] were 70 souls.” The problem is that the actual count of Jacob’s family from the text gives us only 69. Of the various answers given, the one which resonates for me most on this year’s 70th anniversary celebration is that Gd included himself in the number! Gd was number 70 because Gd could not exclude himself from His people.

That is why our ancestors who went into Egypt were able to survive all the years of oppression and slavery. That is why we survived the past 2,000 of exile despite the persecutions, pogroms, expulsions and Holocaust. And that is why the modern State of Israel, surrounded by enemies who threatened its destruction and attacked it numerous times, nonetheless survived—more than survived, Israel has prospered. It was Gd who was part of the original 70 in Egypt. It is Gd who remains the only explanation for the 70-year miracle of modern-day Israel.

More and more we are seeing in the modern State of Israel the fulfillment of Gd’s promise to Abraham (Gen. 12:3): V’niv-r’chu v’cha kol mishpachot haadama (And through you shall all the families of the earth be blessed). Israel is only about 1/10th of 1% of the world’s population. And yet tiny Israel has enriched the world with unimagined achievements. Israel is a world innovator in science and technology. Little Israel is 2nd in the world—only behind the USA—in the number of high-tech start-ups represented on the NASDAQ. You wouldn’t believe how many things we take for granted—like cell phones, Ipads, medical equipment, robotic surgery, and on and on—stem from Israeli innovation.

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal included a magazine called The Future of Everything. It’s a guide to how technology is changing our world. Right in the beginning is this add [show add] that simply blew me away. It reads: Over 300 of the world’s leading multinationals are already deeply engaged with Israel’s booming technology innovation ecosystem. ARE YOU? Start-Up Nation Central designs highly customized engagements for business leaders, governments, NGOs, and academic institutions worldwide, connecting them to Israeli problem-solving innovations that address their critical needs. Learn more at www.

Israel has become the “Start-Up Nation Central” whose innovations solve problems and address critical needs. Just 70 years ago the State of Israel was just a dream—a dream that many thought could not possibly succeed with ½ million Jews standing up to 200 million hostile Arabs hell bent on her destruction. Now, Israel is truly a blessing to the world.

Tonight begins a special day on the Jewish calendar: Yom Yerushalayim—the day 51 years ago when Jerusalem was restored to Jewish hands in the 6-Day War. And on Monday, May 14th, the 70th anniversary of the State of Israel on the secular calendar, the United States will formally move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Guatemala, Honduras, Paraguay, Romania and the Czech Republic have followed suit with several others in the process.

I can’t tell you how grateful Israel and the Jewish people are to America and its president, Donald Trump. Whatever you think about him, you have to give him a lot of credit for his courage in doing this. Although the move will be to temporary quarters—the site of the current Jerusalem consulate—the permanent site already has a street sign that reads in Hebrew: “America is the strongest democracy in the word and Israel’s greatest friend.” And it is being touted in Israel that in the center of the word “Jerusalem” are the letters “USA”—JerUSAlem.

What is happening? It all seems messianic in scope. So is it pertinent to ask when Messiah will come? While we can’t really say when, our Sages left us a clue to alert us to his imminent arrival. The Midrash (T’hilim, Shocher Tov: 20:4) compares this to a fascinating parable: A son asks his father, “How will I know when we get close to the city?” [Much like our children asking again and again on a trip, “Are we there yet?”]

The father responds, “I will give you this sign, when you see a cemetery, you will know that the city is near.”

The Sages of the Midrash—after the destruction of the 2nd Temple—understood from the prophets and other sources that a pre‑condition for the return of the Jews to Israel would be a cemetery. It was not specified how many people would be in that cemetery, but there would be an event that would cause the death of countless Jews. Do 6 million Jewish graves in the Holocaust qualify? Could it be that the coming of the Messiah is imminent?

The Holocaust came to an end in 1945. Just 3 short years later, when many thought that the genocide of 6 million meant the end of the Jewish story, we reemerged onto the world scene like a phoenix rising from the ashes. We literally rose from the ashes of the 6 million to now fulfill the prophetic promise of being a blessing to the world. And perhaps this is why it just so happens that Yom HaShoah, the commemoration of the Holocaust on the anniversary of the fall of the Warsaw Ghetto, is only a few days before Yom HaAtzmaut, the anniversary of the State of Israel.

Yes we are living, if not in messianic times, then in times of what the Sages called, Chevley Mashiach (the Birth-pangs of the Messiah). This week Iran attacked northern Israel in the Golan Heights, but its attack was pathetic and easily rebuffed. Let Iran and all the Arabs and Palestinians who won’t live in peace with Israel or appreciate how much Israel blesses even their lives remember, as someone once put it:

That people smarter, more efficient, better equipped and more dedicated than they failed to destroy the Jewish people. And if the Germans couldn’t do it, then the Palestinians or Iranians are never going to be able to do it. Let them see where the Jews were 7 short decades ago and think about where we are today. Let it sink into their heads—and into the head of every other Palestinian and Arab and Ayatollah and Hamas leader and neo-Nazi. They ripped the gold from our teeth and yet we’ve built a world leading high-tech country. They say we went like lambs to the slaughter, but now we have a country of our own that is a nuclear superpower. If Auschwitz couldn’t destroy us, they never will. And the sooner they, and others, realize it the better off the whole world will be.

Happy 70th anniversary to Israel and happy Yom Yerushalayim with the moving of America’s embassy to Israel’s real capitol. May Hashem be with Israel and Jerusalem in the next 70 years as He was in the last. Amen!

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