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On Nationalism and Sanctity


Rabbi Yossef Carmel

Shvat 1 5780
In Parashat Bo we find the commandment to take the Korban Pesach, slaughter it, and eat it. This process was done first in Egypt, and it served as a declaration of liberation and independence in many ways. The bringing of the Korban Pesach throughout the generations also turned into one of the most important national symbols. The name Pesach has turned into the name of the seven-day holiday (which the Torah calls the Festival of Matzot), which begins with the Seder night, and of which eating the Korban Pesach meat is supposed to be the highlight.

In our generation, Pesach is the first among a chain of commemorations during the spring season in which we celebrate national events. At the center, of course, are those that are from the Torah – Pesach and Shavuot. But there are also a wide variety of special days that run the gamut of Jewish experience, from the Mimuna, celebrating aliya and unity, to Yom Hashoah, commemorating the horrible Sho’ah, and connecting it to the foundation of the State of Israel. We have Yom Hazikaron, recognizing the sacrifices of the many who gave their lives making the State possible and helping to keep it going safely. Yom Ha’atzmaut, of course, declares the liberation of the nation from a political and spiritual perspective. Lag Ba’omer reminds us that the dream of reestablishing independence, with the efforts of Bar Kochva and his soldiers, prominently including students of Rabbi Akiva, was not an empty dream. (The great kabbalists, who are students of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, preserved secrets about the future liberation.) Yom Yerushlayim, celebrating the liberation of Jerusalem, our nation’s eternal capital, from a national and spiritual basis, is finally followed by Shavuot, the holiday of the giving of the Torah, as the seven weeks of the sefira conclude.

Some in the nation commemorate these days only from a national perspective; others commemorate only some of these days and only from a religious perspective. There are those of us who try to connect the two important focuses. In the next few weeks, we will try to clarify an episode in Sefer Shmuel that is closely related to these matters.

In the last perek of Shmuel, we read about the terrible plague that ravaged Israel after David carried out a national census in an improper way. The plague ended when David erected an altar in the silo of Aravna the Yevusi, which turned into the site of the Beit Hamikdash on Har Habayit (Shmuel II, 24:1-16; ibid. 17-25). These events teach us two things:

1. Har Habayit is the "place that Hashem chose" for the Beit Hamikdash (see Divrei Hayamim I, 22:1).

2. There are hints in this perek that this place was also the place of akeidat Yitzchak (Divrei Hayamim II, 3:1 says explicitly that Arvana’s silo was on Mt. Moriah).

Many great people have tried to figure out how David came to the mistake about the census, ostensibly ignoring the p’sukim in the beginning of Parashat Ki Tisa. The question is also asked why David’s sin could cause 70,000 people to be killed. It is also not obvious why the altar was able to end the plague. These will be among the topics discussed in the coming weeks. May we see Jerusalem in its full glory, rebuilt as the full spiritual and national center of Israel and as the capital of world peace.
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