Holding hands tightly, my daughter and I walked and walked around and through the huge crowds of people. So many Jews, and more and more kept coming. Waves upon waves of people, from every direction. No chaos, no mess, just a swelling of Yidden, as far as the eye could see. Music accompanied us most of the way, through the many loudspeakers that were set up strategically across the city. My daughter and I pressed on, as I wanted to be near the center, not on the periphery. I wanted to completely feel that I am a tangible part of My Nation.
Sunday, Rosh Chodesh Adar II, 5774, was one of the most historic gathering of its kind right here in the Holy City of Jerusalem. Buses came in from all over the country, people parked wherever they could with entire families spilling out of cars and vans, and thousands more came on foot. Public transportation stopped a few hours earlier, schools sent children home early, and people rushed with a sense of purpose, many arriving hours beforehand. As we walked, we could already hear the voices from several kilometers away, urging us forward.
Harav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita, was asked if we should say the brachah of “Chacham Harazim,” the brachah a Jew says upon seeing 600,000 or more Jews together at one time, in one place. Harav Chaim answered that the police, who have overhead helicopters for such large events, are able to gauge how many people there are with relative accuracy. If the police say that the size of the crowd is over 600,000 people, then the brachah should be said with Hashem’s Name.
The Rav at the microphone announced that according to the psak of daas Torah, we were now going to say that brachah, one rarely said in a lifetime.
It was 4:00 p.m. The Atzeres was about to begin and still people were pouring into every street, ever possible space. With wheelchairs, baby carriages, canes, crutches, sports shoes — they came.
The Atzeres began.
“Klal Yisrael!” thundered the Rav at the microphone.
“Fellow Yidden! Look around you and behold — did you ever see anything like this in the history of Eretz Yisrael? Nearly a million people! The next time we gather in such numbers will be for Moshiach!”
That’s all it took for the tears to start. On the spot, “Amen!” was roared from the crowd– “Kein Yehi Ratzon! G-d in Heaven, look down and see! We are gathered here. We are ready for Moshiach.”
Since the time of the Bais Hamikdash, one Rav pointed out, we have never had so many Yidden together at one time in one place, ready to accept Ol Malchus Shamayim. The Bais Hamikdash! The realization that we were so connected to the Bais Hamikdash whispered in the air, so close we could feel it.
There were strange clouds all day, and warmer weather than usual. But as we began to daven, it suddenly became much chillier, the clouds got darker. Together, we begged for rain — for only the Creator of the Universe can give us rain in plenty. “Tain Tal Umatar al p’nei ha’adamah…” It did not yet rain, but a few drops fell on us just as we finished…
From the different streams of Yiddishkeit each had a leader who led parts of davening. We davened Minchah to the melodies of the Chassidim, Tehillim was said the Litvishe way and for the first time ever, a psak was given to say Selichos on Rosh Chodesh… and that honor was given to the Sephardim.
Yud Gimmel Middos – together! Tears flowed. And then we trembled as the shofar was blown, loud and clear.
Elokeinu ShebaShamayim, Aneinu!
To hear so many hundreds of thousands of Yidden of every minhag and every stripe answer Aneinu in the same niggun as the Sephardishe Rav and chazzan…
To hear, and to be able to answer together with so many Yidden saying Amen, Yehei Shemai Rabba!
To hear so very many Yidden be mekabel Ol Malchus Shamayim during the Shema – together! For some, this Shema was their very first.
I turned my head and noticed a small group of soldiers outside the doors of the main building of the Jerusalem Central Bus Station. A young Lubavitcher bachur was there, with his tefillin stand. Patiently, he was wrapping tefillin on soldiers who stood on line.
The emotions rose higher and higher, stronger and stronger. The Sephardishe Rav saying Selichot told us not to answer line by line but to answer “AMEN!” with all our hearts as he said each line. Weeping, he got to the last few words of Selichot. Elokeinu ShebaShamayim — Have mercy on us, on our young ones, on our babies! Elokeinu ShebaShamayim — fight for us! Redeem us! Remember us! Aneinu!
It had been over two hours of intense tefillah, tears, and standing on our feet, completely submerged in the experience of being one with our People, our Nation. But no one wanted to leave. How do you just walk away from such an event? We were waiting to see the Heavens open up. The Rabbanim announced the end of our Atzeres Tefillah, with a call to the Israeli government to hear our concerns, and to respect the Torah.
Then we did what only Yidden know how to do. We sang Ani Maamim. We sang Ana Avedah d’Kudsha Brich Hu. And the men linked arms and danced.
My son, 12, came home from cheder the next day, brimming with excitement. He had been told that before the Geulah comes there will first be a time when there will be a gathering of Jews that will number 600,000.
May we all dance again very soon with the Shechinah in our midst, celebrating the Geulah sheleimah.