Biblical Command to Come to Jerusalem
There are commandments in the bible that are clear and explicit, while there are others that are deduced by the rabbis. For example, “Do not kill” is easily understood, while the commandment to not eat dairy and meat together was derived by the rabbis from different parts of the bible.
The commandment for Jews to go to Jerusalem three times a year is a combination of both clear and deduced commandments.
“1Observe the month of Aviv and celebrate the Passover of the Lord your God, because in the month of Aviv he brought you out of Egypt by night. 2 Sacrifice as the Passover to the Lord your God an animal from your flock or herd at the place the Lord will choose as a dwelling for his Name. 3 Do not eat it with bread made with yeast, but for seven days eat unleavened bread, the bread of affliction, because you left Egypt in haste—so that all the days of your life you may remember the time of your departure from Egypt. 4 Let no yeast be found in your possession in all your land for seven days. Do not let any of the meat you sacrifice on the evening of the first day remain until morning.
5 You must not sacrifice the Passover in any town the Lord your God gives you 6 except in the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name. There you must sacrifice the Passover in the evening, when the sun goes down, on the anniversary of your departure from Egypt. 7 Roast it and eat it at the place the Lord your God will choose. Then in the morning return to your tents. 8 For six days eat unleavened bread and on the seventh day hold an assembly to the Lord your God and do no work.”
Passover in Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 16:1-8)
9 Count off seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing grain. 10 Then celebrate the Festival of Weeks to the Lord your God by giving a freewill offering in proportion to the blessings the Lord your God has given you. 11 And rejoice before the Lord your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, the Levites in your towns, and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows living among you. 12 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt, and follow carefully these decrees.
Shavuot in Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 16:9-12)
13 Celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles for seven days after you have gathered the produce of your threshing floor and your winepress. 14 Be joyful at your festival—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites, the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns. 15 For seven days celebrate the festival to the Lord your God at the place the Lord will choose. For the Lord your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete.
Sukkot in Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 16:13-15)
16 Three times a year all your men must appear before the Lord your God at the place he will choose: at the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the Festival of Weeks and the Festival of Tabernacles. No one should appear before the Lord empty-handed: 17 Each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the Lord your God has blessed you.
Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot in Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 16:16-17)
There is no question that God commanded Jews to make a pilgrimage three times a year to “the place He will choose.” However, that place was not clearly specified by God and changed over time.
When Jews emerged from Egypt and came back to the holy land roughly 3300 years ago, they first set up the holy Tabernacle in the town of Shiloh in Samaria. It remained there for 369 years.
“The whole assembly of the Israelites gathered at Shiloh and set up the tent of meeting there. The country was brought under their control,”
The Jews set up the “tent of meeting” in Shiloh and made their pilgrimages to Shiloh as directed in the bible. The Israelites themselves chose this location, which is not exactly what the text in the bible prescribed stating that God will choose the location. Presumably, the Jews chose Shiloh with divine inspiration and blessing.
After Shiloh was destroyed, the Tabernacle had temporary homes for fiftyseven years in Nob and Gibeon. When King David took over the leadership from King Saul around 1000BCE, he sought to unify the various tribes and establish a new capital. David seized the Jebusite city of Jerusalem which sat in the center of the kingdom. After David died, his son King Solomon built the First Jewish Temple there in 950BCE. From that time until the present day, it has been the center of Jewish worship.
The Temple Mount in Jerusalem,
with thousands of Jews at the Kotel plaza on chol hamoed Pesach
The Incomplete Jerusalem
Whether the Jews were self-governing, or living under Assyrians, Greeks or Romans, Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem was the focus of annual pilgrimages. That began to break down in 70CE.
The Romans destroyed the Second Jewish Temple in 70CE and then banned all Jews from the city in 135CE after the Bar Kochba Revolt. While Jews continued to live in the holy land, they could not visit Jerusalem.
Eventually Jews were allowed back to their holiest city, and they resumed pilgrimages even though there was no longer a Temple. But during the Christian Crusades in the 1200s, the Jews were evicted from Jerusalem again, and only able to reestablish themselves in the city in the middle of the 13th century. By the 1860s, Jews were the largest religious group in Jerusalem, exceeding both the number of Muslims and Christians, even while the city was under Ottoman rule.
That changed in 1949.
In 1948, five Arab armies invaded Israel after it declared its independence. At war’s end, the Jordanians went about an ethnic cleansing of the Jews in Jerusalem.
- They evicted all of the Jews from the eastern half of the city, including the entire Old City
- They destroyed over 100 synagogues in the Old City, including the Hurva Synagogue
- They annexed the eastern half of the city in a move not recognized by most of the world
- They established a land law which made it a capital offense for any Arab to sell land to a Jew
- They gave Jordanian citizenship to all Arabs in the lands they annexed, and specifically excluded Jews from gaining citizenship
- They refused to allow Jews to visit the Old City of Jerusalem, including the Kotel and Temple Mount, even on holidays
From 1949 to 1967, anti-Semites ruled in Jerusalem, and the holiest place in the world for Jews was out-of-reach.
But that changed 50 years ago.
Jubilee is for Redemption
In June 1967 the Jordanians attacked Israel after Israel pre-emptively attacked Egypt and Syria in the Six Day War. The Jordanians lost all of the land that they had illegally annexed, including Judea and Samaria and the eastern half of Jerusalem.
Jews once again moved into their holy reunited city.
The bible notes that 50 years is a jubilee, a time of redemption.
“8 Count off seven Sabbath years—seven times seven years—so that the seven Sabbath years amount to a period of forty-nine years. Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land. 10 Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each of you is to return to your family property and to your own clan. 11 The fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; do not sow and do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the untended vines. 12 For it is a jubilee and is to be holy for you; eat only what is taken directly from the fields.
13‘In this Year of Jubilee everyone is to return to their own property.”
50 years is freedom (Leviticus 25:8-13)
Fifty years ago Jews were able to walk their streets again, to rebuild their synagogues and live in their homes. The anti-Semitic Arab laws were nullified as the Jewish State proclaimed liberty in their holiest city.
Celebrations in Jerusalem’s Old City
Just one week ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved a new town in Samaria near Shiloh, the first new development in decades. The new town is adjacent to the ancient Jewish holy site. A return and redemption of sorts, thousands of years later.
Passover starts next week around the world. The seder ends with a song “HaShana HaBa B’Yerushalyim,” “Next year in Jerusalem. Next year in the rebuilt Jerusalem.” While there are still more obstacles to overcome in Jerusalem (such as the ban on Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount), the city has been revitalized and home to thousands of Jews.
Passover 2017 marks anniversaries of both the redemption of the Jews from being slaves, and the redemption of Jerusalem from being Judenrein. Celebrating Passover in Jerusalem is performing a mitzvah, a positive deed, which combines a clearly delineated action with those divinely inspired. God saved us, and blessed us when we took actions to celebrate His gifts.
Happy Passover from Jerusalem.
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