Mazal Tov, Almost Graduates. Today is an incredibly auspicious day for you and for your families. You have been counting up to this day, I am sure, and—if I can read your expressions correctly—you face it with excitement, joy, relief, and a little bit of trepidation. On the one hand, you are thrilled to be free from the constraints of middle school: homework and uniforms, reviewing and reviewing and meeting; on the other hand, though, you fear leaving the comforts of a place you refer to as home, where you were complimented on Fridays and where you led color war to new heights; where you splattered paint like Jackson Pollack and raced vinegar and baking soda cars like Lightning McQueen; where you danced with Israeli flags and discovered you adore riddles; where many of you read your first words and made your first friendships; where you have learned, grown, made mistakes, and tried again--surrounded by friends and faculty who care deeply about you and who are invested in your every success.
This auspicious day-when you sit here filled with a myriad of emotions--falls during an important time on the Jewish calendar. You aren’t the only ones who have been counting the days to reach a significant milestone. The Jewish People has been counting the days as well, the days between Pesach and Shavuot, during this period called the Omer. The Torah commands that from Pesach, which celebrates the Exodus from Egyptian servitude, to Shavuot, when we rejoice in the giving of the Torah on Har Sinai, we count seven complete weeks. The mitzvah to count the Omer is given in the plural--to each and every individual. Each of us counts as we ready ourselves to accept the guidance and guidelines that the Torah provides. Each of us counts to remember the transformation of a rag-tag group of slaves to a treasured nation. Each of us counts out of anticipation and delight, because of the great joy that Torah brings. And each of us counts, because although physical freedom is wonderful, liberating, life-altering, it is meaningless without a purpose and direction.
Today is also auspicious for yet another reason. 49 years ago on this very day, the 28th of Iyar, June 5, 1967, the 3rd day of the 6 Day War--a brigade of paratroopers took a chance while battling the Jordanians. These young heroes broke through to the Old City in Jerusalem and their commander, Mota Gur, broadcast the electrifying words over army radio that echoed through army bases and bunkers and bomb shelters throughout the land: Har Habayit B’yadeinu, the Temple Mount is in our hands. Jerusalem, severed in two after Israel’s War of Independence, was whole again. After 2000 years under foreign rule, the Old City, with the Kotel at its heart, was under Jewish sovereignty. The Jewish Nation, which had achieved political and physical freedom with the founding of the State of Israel, reconnected with its spiritual core and purpose with the reunification of Yerushalayim.
The Jewish calendar at this time of year clearly mirrors itself, notes Rav Shaul Yisraeli zt”l of Yeshivat Mercaz Harav. Pesach and Yom Ha’atzmaut commemorate our physical freedom and Shavuot and Yom Yerushalayim celebrate our spiritual liberation. Rav Yechezkel Levenstein zt”l, who was the mashgiach ruchani, spiritual advisor of the Ponevitz Yeshiva in Bnei Brak, explained that the proximity of the more modern holidays on the Jewish calendar to Shavuot is no mere coincidence. Experiencing Hashem’s miracles in our lives prepares us for accepting the gift and responsibility of Torah. Just one week before shavuot, Yom Yerushalayim reminds us of Hashem’s vision for a united people with a unified mission that the Torah and the Jewish State with Jerusalem as its capital reflect.
So what does this mean for you, Class of 2016? This time of year is not only a celebration of things past--redemption, revelation, and reunification--but it is also a path to what stands before us--as individuals and as a people. Shavuot and Yom Yerushalayim, like your graduation, are starting points--not end goals. These days serve as reminders of the tremendous adventure and work and excitement and growth and opportunity that lie ahead of you. They are reminders that each of you belongs to something larger than yourself; each of you owns our history and our future. Each of you carries the mantle of Torah and the promise of Yerushalayim with you as you embark on the next part of your individual journeys. My charge to you, dear graduates: Like Sefirat HaOmer, make every day count! How? stay connected to our faith and foundations of Torah; look for miracles in your daily lives to strengthen that connection; strive to illuminate your world, as Jerusalem does; and direct your individual dreams, talents and gifts to the mission of the Jewish People: to improve our world and model Hashem’s vision for kindness, justice and peace.