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Beit Midrash Shabbat and Holidays

The Other Side of the Coin

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Tragedy & Triumph are always connected in the life of the Jewish People. Exactly Why that is, we can only guess; but that it is is an undeniable reality that we live with throughout the generations.

The Romans were brutal, & cruel beyond description in their destruction of Yerushalayim, the Bet HaMikdash & the Jewish state. They murdered more than a million people & enslaved more than 100,000, bringing many of them to Rome to be tortured for public enjoyment. In fact, it is believed that the Coliseum in Rome – a standing monument to Man’s inhumanity to Man – was actually built with spoils taken from conquered Judea.

To emphasize their great victory over the Jews, a special coin was minted by Rome. On one side is the figure of Emperor Vespasian wearing a victory wreath; on the other side a Roman soldier stands over a Jewish woman who is sitting alone under a palm tree. The inscription reads: "Judea Capta" (Judea is a captive). And of all the many Roman victories throughout the world, only that over Israel is commemorated by a standing monument, the infamous Arch of Titus, Vespasian’s son who directed the carnage. The captive Jewish slaves were made to march through that arch in humiliation.

But flash forward 2000 years. The "glory that was Rome" is long gone. The State of Israel has been proclaimed, & on 5 Iyar, 1948, Rome’s chief rabbi leads his community through the Arch, proudly demonstrating that we are alive & prospering, while the Romans are a distant footnote of history. (I myself had the merit to lead several hundred Jews in the singing of Hatikva under that same Arch).

And in 1958, to commemorate her 10th birthday, the State of Israel prints a special gold (& silver) coin. The coin depicts a woman, "Judea", standing erect, next to a blossoming palm with a sheaf of corn (later strikings have a baby) in her arms. At her side, on the other side of the palm tree, a man holds a hoe, about to plant a new tree. The text says: "Israel Liberata" (Israel is now free!)

There is no doubt that we still suffer as a result of the downfall of the two great Jewish commonwealths. The Jewish People are still fragmented, with almost half our nation still dwelling in Exile – with many not even realizing they are in exile! The Bet HaMikdash has not been rebuilt - indeed, we have yet to openly reclaim sovereignty over Har HaBayit. And the sins which caused the destruction – violence, a diluted moral posture & intra-Jewish animosity – are still very much a lingering problem.

Yet, at the same time, even as we mourn & confess our many shortcomings, we must pour out our gratitude to Hashem; He has miraculously returned us to Israel & allowed us to rebuild a magnificent Yerushalayim and country. The best – we pray & have unshakeable faith – is yet to come.
Rabbi Stewart Weiss
Was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, and led congregations in Chicago and Dallas prior to making Aliyah in 1992. He directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, helping to facilitate the spiritual absorption of new olim.
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