The mass rally of the chareidi community in Yerushalayim on Sunday was an event of multiple dimensions. For many who were there, it was not a political but a spiritual event, unique in history and charged with powerful emotions.
These emotions surpass words. They can really be conveyed only in tears — like those of the man who burst into tears when the tremendous crowd roared Yehei Shmei Rabbah in Kaddish. Or those of a close friend of ours who stood transfixed during the recitation of the 13 Attributes of Mercy, and then began weeping.
As one participant told us after arriving home on Sunday evening: “We’re just in the door and trying to catch our breath and put our kids to sleep. However many words you will print, it will still not be able to describe what this was.”
Nevertheless, our daunting task here is to put into perspective, in words, the meaning of this ineffable experience.
Like all large, historically significant events, the size was hard to gauge. Estimates vary, but reliable observers put it at well over 700,000. At the conclusion, the tremendous throng joined in reciting the blessing over seeing a gathering of over 600,000 Jews together.
What is even more difficult to ascertain is the significance of the event.
Of course, the official purpose of the gathering was clearly expressed by the Gedolei Yisrael — to cry out to Hashem in the holy city of Yerushalayim to save us from the scheming and incitement of those who would destroy the Torah world, chas v’shalom.
They made clear, too, that it was not only about the recent Knesset committee vote for criminal sanctions on yeshivah students who refuse to leave their beis medrash to go into the army. That was only the most recent outrage which prompted the rally. Rather, it comes after over a year of government actions aimed at curbing the growth of the Torah world via anti-religious laws, slashing the budgets and interference in the curricula of religious schools, cutting child allowances, lowering the standards for religious conversion, and much more.
Never before have we witnessed a government in Israel so determined to uproot the lomdei Torah from the beis medrash, by any means, whether by economic strangulation or threat of imprisonment. This is something clearly stated by senior ministers, with a government plan calling for “emptying of the pools,” referring to the yeshivos needing to be dried out financially so their students will leave.
Never before have we confronted the likes of these so-called Israeli leaders — smirking demagogues without a trace of respect for the holy traditions of the Jewish people.
At the time Binyamin Netanyahu formed this government over a year ago, its first act was to deliberately exclude chareidi parties from the coalition, so as not to have a “stumbling block” in their campaign of secularization. The message it conveyed was an ominous one.
There were promises of moderation, but they were broken. The promise in the coalition agreement signed onto by Yesh Atid and Jewish Home not to impose criminal sanctions on Yeshivah students who do not enlist has been broken. Similarly, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s promise only two weeks ago not to allow such a law has also been broken, as he instructed his coalition members to vote for this odious legislation. At the same time, he claims to be committed to avoiding further division in Israeli society, and his allies address us as their brothers, who pretend to know better than the Sages of the Torah what is best for us.
We encounter duplicity and perfidy on all sides. But the promise we have made — not to forsake the Torah, come what may — has not been, and will not be, broken. That is the meaning of the great event on Sunday.
Beyond that, we cannot really grasp the significance of it — certainly not in the Eyes of Hashem.
We really cannot describe what this was. We can only say which Tehillim were recited, acknowledge that all of Eretz Yisrael’s Gedolim were present, and guess at the awesome number of Yidden who were there.
Perhaps the most eloquent expression of this experience was contained in the brief and rare blessing that thundered through the crowd: “Baruch atah Hashem … Chacham Harazim. Blessed be You … the Knower of secrets.”
What is the connection between the gathering of 600,000 of the Jewish people and knowing secrets?
Rashi (Brachos 58a) says that Chacham Harazim refers to the One who knows what is in the hearts of all these people. The braisa goes on to say that their opinions are not identical, just as their faces are not identical, yet He knows them all.
The Jews in exile are often, as the Megillah says, a separate and scattered people. When we come together in great numbers, united to give honor to Hashem, the world takes note. Even our enemies know that now they face something of historic importance, that the dimensions of the struggle have changed.
The number 600,000 recalls, of course, the number at Mattan Torah. It symbolizes a turning point.
How much of a turning point? Will this bring about a change of heart, or at least of strategy, on the part of our antagonists? Will they vote down the draft bill in the Knesset plenum later this month? Will they relent in their campaign against the Torah?
We don’t know.
Only the One Who knows what is in the hearts of all who were there can know the depth of sincerity, the purity of faith and the joy of serving Hashem felt by so many. Only He can measure such things and decide what impact it will have in the days and months to come.