On Yom Yerushalayim – Rabbi Shalom Noach Berezovsky zt”l

Rabbi Shalom Noach Berezovsky (1911–2000), known widely as the “Nesivos Shalom,” the title of his immensely popular writings, moved to Palestine as a young man in the early 1930s. In 1941, he opened the Slonimer Yeshiva in Jerusalem with only five students. The Slonim dynasty was almost entirely destroyed in the Holocaust, and the yeshivah soon became the center of its revival in Eretz Yisrael. In 1954, Rabbi Berezovsky’s father-in-law, Rabbi Avraham Weinberg (known as the “Birkas Avraham”), became the Slonimer Rebbe, a position Rabbi Berezovsky would ultimately assume in 1981.

Although it was intended primarily for Slonimer Chassidim, the Nesivos Shalom has become one of the most popular and influential Chassidic works of our generation, studied and cherished by Jews across the religious spectrum. It is notable for its clarity and lack of difficult Kabbalistic terminology, making it accessible to readers without a strong Chassidic background.

Known for his deep love for Eretz Yisrael, Rabbi Berezovsky adamantly refused to leave the Land of Israel for even a short period of time. During the nineteen years between the Independence War and the liberation of the Old City of Jerusalem in 1967, he yearned desperately for the Kotel, insisting that the Slonimer Yeshivah “Beis Avraham” be built as close as possible to the Old City and the Jordanian lines, despite the dangers. After the liberation, he was among the first Rabbinic figures to reach the Kotel.

The following speech, given only a few days after the Six Day War, expresses the Rebbe’s deep appreciation for Eretz Yisrael, Jerusalem and the miracles of our time.

Rabbi Shalom Noach Berezovsky (Photo: Shimshon Weiss / Wikimedia Commons)

“My heart rejoices in Hashem, my horn is exalted in Hashem, my mouth is broadened against my adversaries, for I am happy in Your salvation. There is none who is holy like Hashem, for there is none besides You… Hashem puts to death and brings to life, lowers to She’ol and raises up” (Shmuel I 2:1–6). It is our obligation to be cognizant of the miracles that Hashem has done for us in recent days: manifest miracles and a shining countenance turned by Him to His nation, Israel, the likes of which dozens of generations were not privileged to see. We must not be ungrateful for the good done for us by Hashem, for He now has performed for us a dual miracle.

First, that wicked Haman of our times [Nasser], may his name be blotted out, wanted to annihilate all the Jews, and Hashem performed a miracle, and there was a reversal, for it was the Jews who mastered their enemies and annihilated all the horses of Pharaoh’s chariots and his cavalry in scant hours, and fear of the Jews descended upon them. Israel saw the great hand with which Hashem had stricken Egypt, and they had faith in Hashem, for even those far from faith – and anyone with a brain in his head – acknowledge that there was nothing natural about this victory, which Hashem performed most marvelously. No army has yet achieved such achievements in which mighty forces collapsed before it in mere hours.

(Photo: Amos Zucker/Bamahane Magazine/Defense Ministry’s IDF Archive)

The second miracle was in the revelation of His love for the nation of Israel, although it is unworthy and undeserving, for we have been repossessed of the remnant of our Temple – the Kotel HaMa’aravi, which our Sages said the divine presence never departed, as is stated: “Behold, He stands behind our wall” (Shir HaShirim 2:9) – after nineteen years of being distanced from this holy place. And we have been repossessed of the holy places: the Me’arat HaMachpelah, those resting in Chevron, and Kever Rachel, places where no Jew set foot the past nineteen years – and woe be to children who are exiled from the graves of their fathers and mothers. Now they are under our control, and we stand amazed and shocked by the great revelations that Hashem has revealed to us – “and how could I repay Hashem?” (Tehillim 116:12)

“And I said, ‘I have been driven from before Your eyes,’ yet I shall continue to look toward Your holy sanctuary” (Yonah 2:5). I was mindful of this verse nineteen years ago when the Old City fell to the Arabs and again no Jew could approach the site of our Temple. Some two thousand men gathered in the sanctuary of Yeshivat Me’ah She’arim, and we sat on the ground and cried. I thought then that we had arrived at the height of divine repudiation, for even after the best of the nation and some six million Jews were annihilated and He wrathfully severed the entire horn of Israel, as long as the Kotel HaMa’aravi was in our possession and we had that holy place, where a Jew could pour out his words before his Father in heaven, we still had the strength to endure. Yet how dreadful was this repudiation, for Hashem removed us from His presence as if He no longer wanted us. And woe to children who are exiled from their father’s table, like that prince who can carry on through the suffering even when his father disciplines him with all sorts of severe torment, but when his father, the king, drives him out of the king’s sanctuary, can find neither solace nor strength. At that time, we felt that we were collapsing from pain and anguish, having been driven out from before Your eyes.

Happy are we! How good is our lot at this great time, when Hashem again has shone upon us with shining countenance and revelations that no other generation has merited, and the site of our Temple, a place that the divine presence never has departed, has been restored to us! The greatest elation and pleasure that a Jew feels in this world is when he feels the closeness of His divinity, as is stated: “Yet for me, the closeness of G-d is good for me” (Tehillim 73:28). The best-suited place for this is the Kotel HaMa’aravi, where a Jew feels that he stands before the presence of Hashem and pours out his heart like water before Him, and when he says there “Blessed are You…”, he feels a deeper sense of His presence, for although the entire earth is full of His glory, that is the only place in the world that the divine presence has never departed from. If our mouths were full of song like the sea, we could not sufficiently [express gratitude]. From Hashem did this emanate! It is wondrous in our eyes. 

(Photo: Micha Bar-Am/Defense Ministry’s IDF Archive)

We must hear the voice of Hashem that emerges from the events of these great days, calling us, as our master the rebbe said regarding the verse: “He called to Moses, and the L-rd spoke to him…” (Vayikra 1:1), explaining why it opaquely states “He called,” instead of stating Who calls: for from all the events that happen to a person, a call comes forth from Hashem. Sometimes it is from joyful events that uplift him, and through this he hears the word of Hashem calling to him, and sometimes it is from anguish and pain that crush his spirit, from which he must also hear the word of Hashem calling to him. All of life and all the events experienced by a person are a great call from his Father in heaven.

If this is so in the life of the individual, then all the more so with this immense event, the miracles and wonders that Hashem has done for us, which are a great call from our Father in heaven. The great revelation from the shining of His countenance is that Hashem has remembered His nation, and we must arouse bountiful [divine] compassion [through prayer], for You, Hashem, have begun to show Your servants Your greatness and Your mighty hand, for what god is there in heaven or earth who performs the like of Your deeds and feats? “Please let me pass and see this good mountain and Lebanon” (Devarim 3:25). That is to say: may He rebuild the Temple for us speedily and in our days, for the divine presence remains in exile, and we have not yet merited even the beginning of the redemption, for what is the nature of redemption? That all of creation, which is immersed in materialism, merits redemption, “and the land is filled with knowledge of Hashem, and we see Him with our own eyes upon His return to His abode, and the glory of Hashem is revealed and all flesh see together [that the mouth of Hashem has spoken]” (Yishayahu 11:9, 52:8).

(Photo: Bamahane Magazine/Defense Ministry’s IDF Archive)

Yet we also must look correctly at the immense events that we just experienced, and everything that we experienced in the past generation, beginning with the dreadful annihilation, and all the unusual events that we experienced of late, the whole of which demands contemplation and thought, for we are progressing toward redemption, as our holy rabbis interpreted the diction of our Sages, may their memory be blessed, in the phrase “let him anticipate the feet of the messiah” – for the term “the feet of the messiah” at first glance has no meaning. Yet hinted here is that just as it is known that in a normal birth, [the baby] begins emerging with its head, but when it happens to start emerging with its feet, that is a dangerous birth, yet this too might result in a birth. The same is true of the coming of the messiah. In the absence of merits, everything proceeds the wrong way, as when the feet emerge first, but it may be that all this is the footsteps of the messiah, to which we must look forward. We must shout to high heaven: “Our Father, our King, reveal the glory of Your kingship upon us, and appear and be exalted over us before the eyes of all who live.”

The events of these days and our role in this hour should be seen as intimated in the verse: “You saw what I did to Egypt; I bore you upon the wings of eagles and brought you to Me, and now, if you listen to My voice…” (Shemot 19:4). We have merited to see the first miracle that Hashem visited upon Egypt in front of our eyes, and we have merited to see the revelation and the shining of the divine countenance that brought us closer, for we can go to the place of the divine presence as described by the words “I brought you to Me,” and all this greatly obliges us. All this is a great call from Hashem – “you shall be a treasure to Me” (ibid.) – for we shall come closer to Him with all our heart and all our soul.

Indeed, there is the well-known statement that appears following the receiving of the Torah: “All the nation were perceiving the thunder, the flames, and the sound of the horn… and all the nation was fearful, moved away, and stood at a distance” (Shemot 20:14). That is to say: when all seven firmaments were opened on that exalted occasion and they saw that there was none but Him and heard the voice of Hashem speaking from within the fire, the simple folk – “all the nation” – did not contemplate the essence, but noted only the thunder, the flames, and so on. Thus the nation moved away and afterward was left again standing “at a distance”. Therefore, this is the crux of our duty in these days: to feel the essence and to contemplate what Hashem, our G-d, demands of you in this great hour, to arise and ascend in His Torah and His worship, and at the same time to ask with powerful prayer that He fully redeem us with the rebuilding of the Temple. Cast, L-rd, the light of Your countenance upon us, as stated by the holy rabbi, the Maggid of Mezeritch by way of a parable: When a person arrives at the king’s palace and requests permission to enter, the officials there tell him that whatever he wants, they too can fulfill his request, and there is no need to enter. However, if he claims, “I do not want anything but to see the face of the king,” then they are compelled to grant him permission to enter. We must not succumb to the temptation to make do with all that we have, thank G-d, achieved. Instead we pray that “it is our wish to see our King,” and request: “Compassionate King, have compassion upon us… Rebuild Your house as in former times, and set Your Temple upon its foundation… and there we shall go up and be seen.” May Hashem help us, speedily and in our days, Amen!

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