Parashat Vayeshev – Jerusalem
Jerusalem – A Source of Light for the World
And Jacob dwelled (Genesis 37:1)
In his famous comment on Portion Va’yeshev, Rashi (on 37:1) notes the language “and Jacob dwelled.” This phrase connotes a sense of settlement and permanence. Rashi quotes the Midrash, which remarks that while “Jacob sought to dwell in tranquility” in the “the land of his father’s sojourning, in the land of Canaan” (Genesis 37:1), he was not destined to realize that hope. Instead, he suffered the loss of his beloved son Joseph and ultimately the exile of his family to Egypt. Since Jacob’s time, the people of Israel have identified with Jacob’s desire for the Jewish people to live peacefully in the land of Israel.
This connection to the land of our forbearers will be noted next week. This coming Tuesday evening, Jews around the world will celebrate the holiday of Chanukah by lighting the first candle in their homes. Through these tiny lights we celebrate the victory of the ancient Maccabees over their Greek-Syrian oppressors, who persecuted the Jews, preventing them from practicing their faith according to their beliefs and traditional practices. As we all know, the Maccabees, led first by Mattathias and then later by his son Judah, repelled the Greek armies, then conquered and rededicated the Temple for a period of eight days—why we kindle the Chanukah lights for eight days. Although the Jewish rebellion began in Modiin, an ancient but recently rebuilt city in Israel, the Maccabees inherently recognized that they could not declare or celebrate victory until Jewish sovereignty over Jerusalem had been restored.
Indeed, since King David made Jerusalem the capital of Israel some 3,000 years ago, the city has served as the spiritual capital of the Jewish people. Yet for the past 70 years, the world has refused to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. That began to change this week.
For the first time, the United States formally recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city. President Trump also instructed the State Department to begin the process of moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. The decision is more than an important benchmark—it is a milestone that corrects a historical wrong. Until the announcement, Jerusalem was the only capital city in the world that the United States neither recognized nor declared as the location of its embassy. And critically, the announcement reaffirmed America’s commitment to the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. The decision to officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in no way precludes future negotiations over the city’s final status, borders, or the goal of two states for two peoples.
Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is consistent with bipartisan U.S. policy established by the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, which states in law that as a matter of U.S. policy, America should recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and our embassy should be located there. This legislation was overwhelmingly supported by both the U.S. Senate (93–5) and the House of Representatives (374–37). The Democratic and Republican party platforms have also consistently, and explicitly, acknowledged Jerusalem as Israel’s capital for the past several decades—including most recently in 2016.
As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated, “The President’s decision is an important step towards peace, for there is no peace that doesn’t include Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel. I share President Trump’s commitment to advancing peace between Israel and all of our neighbors, including the Palestinians. And we will continue to work with the President and his team to make that dream of peace come true. I call on all countries that seek peace to join the United States in recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to move their embassies here.”
Similarly, Knesset Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog stated, “President Trump has made an act of historic justice, due for 70 years, by recognizing what every Israeli knows—that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. For this he is due our grateful thanks. Now he should move with the same determination to realize the vision of two states, addressing all the core issues, for the sake of the security and peace of both peoples.”
A century ago, in 1918, Mordechai Roisman wrote his famous song “Chanukah, O’ Chanukah in Yiddish. The catchy tune was translated into English and Hebrew versions, and in the second stanza of the Hebrew version (yes, there is a second stanza) we sing: “The Maccabean victory we will tell, we will sing / Over the Greeks then did their hands overpower / Jerusalem returned to life / The nation of Israel made its salvation.” Throughout the centuries of exile, as Jews lit Chanukah candles each year, we collectively experienced the hope of freedom from persecution and anti-Semitism that would allow the people of the book to worship freely and openly without fear. We also lit the candles as a symbol of our national yearning to return to Jerusalem in order to rededicate Judaism’s holy ancient city and help spread its light throughout the world.
By officially acknowledging Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel, the United States has accepted not only the current reality, but the historic truth as well—that Jerusalem is the historic capital of the Jewish people. One day—hopefully soon—Israel’s neighbors will accept this reality as well, and join Israel in direct negotiations resulting in a Jewish state living side-by-side in peace with a Palestinian state. Shabbat Shalom & Joyous Chanukah.