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A Tale of Two Mountains

"By the sons of Korach: A Psalm of song whose foundation is in the holy mountains" (Psalm 87:1) - The Midrash Schocher Tov explains that the spiritual song of our people is founded on two sacred mountains: Mount Sinai in the wilderness and Mount Moriah in Jerusalem. On Mount Sinai, the unifying Divine Teaching was transmitted, and within the Temple on Mount Moriah, it was preserved. In fact, within the Temple were the Tablets of the Covenant and the Torah scroll; moreover, the High Court of Justice with its seventy Torah sages was also on the Temple Mount. We therefore make the pilgrimage to the Temple in order to rededicate ourselves to the unifying vision of the Torah. As we shall explore in this letter, the other peoples of the earth will also make the pilgrimage to the Temple in order to discover this unifying vision:

Dear Friends,

As we began to discuss in the opening letter of this series, the journey of the Twelve Tribes of Israel to Mount Sinai is a journey to unity. And the unity that our diverse tribes experienced at Mount Sinai is to eventually lead to the unity of all the diverse "tribes" of humankind - the peoples of the earth. We experienced a vision of our unity at Mount Sinai, and the peoples of the earth will experience a vision of human unity on Mount Moriah, when they will make the pilgrimage to the Holy Temple in the messianic age:
"It will happen in the end of days: The mountain of the Compassionate One's Temple will be firmly established as the head of the mountains, and it will be exalted above the hills, and all the nations will stream to it. Many peoples will go and say, 'Come, let us go up to the Mountain of the Compassionate One, to the Temple of the God of Jacob, and He will teach us of His ways and we will walk in His paths.' For from Zion will go forth Torah, and the word of the Compassionate One from Jerusalem." (Isaiah 2:2,3) 

The Prophet adds that the spiritual enlightenment of the peoples will lead to universal justice and peace: "He (the Messiah) will judge among the nations, and will settle the disputes of many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation will not lift sword against nation, and they will no longer study warfare" (Ibid 2:4). 

Given the growing divisions, hatred, and terrorism in the world, the vision of the unifying pilgrimage to the Mountain of the Compassionate One seems like a distant dream. The greatness of our people, however, is that this vision guides and strengthens us even in the midst of the deepest suffering. The suffering of our people during the Christian Crusades can serve as an example. When the Christian Crusaders attacked Jewish communities in Europe on their way to the Holy Land, they offered us the following choice: "The cross or death!" Tens of thousands of Jewish men, women, and children chose death rather than abandon their belief in the Divine oneness and unity. The spiritual courage of entire Jewish communities in the face of death was especially evident in Germany, where the worst massacres took place. 
The massacres in Germany took place during the seven weeks between Passover and Shavuos, the Festival which commemorates the Giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. The pain and horror of these massacres are described in "piyutim" - poetic prayers - which were composed by Torah sages of that era. 
The following two quotes from these poems express the great anguish of our people:
"Their raging fury wished to devour us alive. They carried children and women to the slaughter. They strangled boys on the street, young men in our narrow lanes. They did not respect the face of teachers, they had no pity for the aged...How much will the sons and daughters in Judah be slaughtered now, and no one rushes here to our aid. There they lie slaughtered and burned at the stake. And the treasure of our culture and joy - our renowned scroll of the Torah - stretched out for tents, spread over stretchers, finally cut apart for stockings and shoes for lepers - concerning this I cry! And a flood of tears pours from my eyes."
"Strangers speak with proud haughtiness to me: 'You are placing your trust in the wind! You remain driven about like a frightened deer! What hope have you, tortured nation?' I say: 'My hope is in the word of truth, in justice which is offended; in the foundation of my faith...Depart from me, you evil doers! I remain with the commandment of my God.' "

The above two excerpts are cited in an essay on the Crusades which appears in "The Collected Writings of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch" (Vol. 1, Iyar 2). In this essay, Rabbi Hirsch also discusses the mitzvah - Divine mandate - to count the 49 days, as well as the seven weeks, between Passover and Shavuos. This counting reminds us to prepare ourselves once again for the unifying and liberating vision that we experienced at the Mountain. Rabbi Hirsch reminds us that the brutal Christian Crusades took place during these 49 days; moreover, he points out that during this period of great suffering, the Torah sages of Europe instituted the custom of saying the following psalm each evening of the 49 days, when we count each day of our journey to the Mountain:
"To the One Who grants victory through the power of music: A Psalm, a Song. May the Just One favor us and bless us; may He illuminate His countenance among us, Selah. To make known Your way on earth, Your salvation among all the nations. The peoples will acknowledge You, O Just One; the peoples will acknowledge you - all of them! Regimes will be glad and sing for joy, because You will judge the peoples fairly and guide with fairness the regimes on earth, Selah. The peoples will acknowledge You, O Just One; the peoples will acknowledge You - all of them! The earth will then have yielded its produce, and the Just One, our God, shall bless us. May the Just One bless us, and may all the ends of the earth revere Him. (Psalm 67)

This psalm proclaims a universal vision of enlightenment, justice, and prosperity for all peoples. When we chant this psalm during the 49 days of our journey to Mount Sinai, we are reminded that our journey will eventually inspire the nations to journey to Mount Moriah, where they will all acknowledge the equity and fairness of the Just One. Regarding the decision of the sages to choose this psalm for the counting of the 49 days, Rabbi Hirsch writes: "They saw the nations everywhere goaded by a spirit of madness, brutality, bloodthirstiness, and greed. Enslaved by this spirit, the nations degenerated, and everywhere the Jewish people found themselves bleeding as the first victim. Still they found solace in the certainty that this mania would eventually vanish. They knew that in spite of bloodthirstiness and greed, brute force and injustice, the good, the humane, and the Godly in the human breast would work their way through."

Given the horror of the crusades which took place during these seven weeks, the sages could have chosen a different psalm to be said when we count the days of our journey to the Mountain. For example, they could have chosen Psalm 3, which is one of the psalms which express our pain and protest when evil nations and kingdoms try to destroy us. Yet instead of choosing a psalm which expresses the pain of our journey, they chose a psalm which reminds us of the unifying and ultimate goal of our journey. 

Shalom, and may we all meet at the great pilgrimage to "the Mountain of the Compassionate One, the Temple of the God of Jacob"!

Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen  (See below)

Related Teachings and Comments:
1. There is a mitzvah to count the days and weeks between Passover and Shavuos, as it is written, "You shall count for yourselves from the morrow of the rest day, from the day when you bring the Omer offering, seven weeks..." (Leviticus 23:15). The Omer offering was roasted, ground barley which was taken from the new crop, and it was offered in the Temple on the second day of Passover. There is a classical work on the Torah's mitzvos known as "Sefer Ha-Chinuch," and it offers the following explanation of this mitzvah: "We are commanded to count the days from the morrow of the first day of Passover until the day when the Torah was given, to demonstrate our great desire towards this exalted day for which our hearts yearn" (Mitzvah 306).
2. Although the mitzvah of counting is upon the individual, it is customary for each congregation to recite the nightly counting together, aloud. For when we arrived at the Mountain, we became a united people, "like one man with one heart"; thus, we wish to strengthen our unity by chanting the blessings together. In this way, we once again become ready to receive and to understand the unifying vision of the Torah. In fact, there is a tradition that when we first discovered our unity upon arriving at the Mountain, the Compassionate One said, "Since Israel has rejected strife and embraces harmony - dwelling as one - the time is ripe for Me to give them the Torah" (Derech Eretz Zuta 11). We first had to experience our own unity before we could fully appreciate the unifying vision of the Torah. These insights were inspired by teachings in the book, "Shavuos - Insights and Stories" by Rabbi Shimon Finkelman: www.artscroll.com .
3. The mitzvah of counting the days of our journey to the Mountain is known as "Sefiras Ha-Omer" - the Counting of the Omer. For further study of this mitzvah and its deeper significance, visit: www.torah.org/learning/yomtov/omer/ . At this site you can also register for a daily e-mail reminder on the counting of the Omer which also provides a transliteration and translation of the traditional Hebrew blessing and recitation. (If you forgot to count any of the days, you can count the rest of the days, but without the preliminary blessing.) Another site to visit is www.aish.com (the Omer section), and I especially recommend the article by Rebbitzen Tzipporah Heller.

Hazon - Our Universal Vision: www.shemayisrael.co.il/publicat/hazon/