Next Year in Jerusalem: A Defining Call
Rabbi Benjy Myers
Educational Director, Beren-Amiel and Straus Amiel Emissary Programs
Twice a year we conclude a religious service with the words “Next year in Jerusalem” – “לשנה הבאה בירושלים”. The first time is at the formal ending of the Pesach Seder, and the second is at the conclusion of Yom Kippur.
While the first instance is easier to understand, the second is less so. The Seder finishes with the declaration: “the Pesach Seder has concluded in accordance with all its laws, and just as we merited carrying out this Seder, so may we merit [to celebrate it] again…lead the plantings of the sapling, redeemed, to Zion in joy. Next in in the rebuilt Jerusalem.”
The Seder takes us on a journey from slavery in Egypt through the miraculous redemption and exodus, with the aim of establishing the people of Israel in the Land of Israel, and so, as we conclude the formal part of the evening, we set our eyes firmly on the goal of Jerusalem, the Beit HaMikdash and the service of God in His worldly abode.
Yom Kippur, however, is different. The aim of the day is clearly set out in its name – Day of Atonement. That is the stated goal – we have sinned, repented, and fervently hope and pray that our prayers, thoughts and actions will appease the Almighty and change any evil decree into a positive, happier one. As such, we really should finish with declarations of Shema Yisrael, witnessing God’s unity and uniqueness and the sounding of the Shofar, the one audio/visual element that has accompanied us on our journey of repentance and return from the beginning of the month of Elul.
Why, however, do we add it at the end of Neila?
One answer is in response to a difference of opinion between Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua (Rosh Hashana 11a-11b). Rabbi Yehoshua is of the opinion that in the month of Nissan the Jewish people were redeemed from Egypt, and that the final redemption at the time of the Mashiach will also be in Nissan. Rabbi Eliezer disagrees and contends that the final redemption will be in Tishrei. He learns this from the pesukim that speak of the shofar being sounded in the month of Tishrei (Tehillim 81:4), as well as being the sound which will serve as the harbinger of the redemption (Isaiah 27:13). Seeing as one definitely takes place in Tishrei, so too, says Rabbi Eliezer, will the other. The redemption will be hallmarked by a return to Jerusalem and the Temple, and so, in appreciation of both opinions, the declaration of hope is said both in Nissan and Tishrei.
And yet the question remains – why specifically at the conclusion of Neila, and not at another time during Tishrei, perhaps when the shofar is sounded on Rosh Hashana, or on Hoshana Rabba when the final, final judgement is recorded, or even at the conclusion of Simchat Torah or as part of the final hakafa? What is about Neila that warrants this addition?
The difference between the Pesach Seder and Yom Kippur can be summed up in what happens immediately afterwards. At the conclusion of the Seder, most people will go to sleep. They’ve had a wonderful, uplifting experiential evening that has taken them down the ancient and modern paths of exile, slavery and subjugation all the way to exodus, redemption and freedom. We state clearly “חֲסַל,” “it’s finished!” We’ve done everything that’s expected of us, and so we end with a prayer that God too will now his part, will remember the covenant as mentioned earlier in the haggada during vehi she’amda, and once again redeem us from our modern exile so that next year we may bring the pascal lamb to the rebuilt Jerusalem and Beit HaMikdash. It’s the conclusion, and anything beyond is now a new start.
Yom Kippur, I believe, is different. We spend all day begging for forgiveness and praying to be inscribed in the Book of Life so that we be able to go on and live life to its fullest as proud, faithful Jews. It is incumbent on us to continue, and it is in our hands to do so. This is why the first mitzva after Yom Kippur is to go out and build the sukka. We are looking for ways to build, to continue, to grow. As such, the cry of “next year in Jerusalem” is not so much a hopeful prayer as it is a call to arms. What can we do to add to the building blocks of Jerusalem? How can we use Yom Kippur as a platform for bringing ourselves back to the Holy Land physically and spiritually?
It is these differences that summarise our approach to Judaism and the Almighty. On the one hand, we know that it is His world; He is the Creator, the King and ultimate Judge. Everything is in His hands, and as such, we turn in supplication and cry out to Him to act kindly with us in all things, from the most basic day-to-day needs to the national and universal ideals of a rebuilt Jerusalem, a return to the Temple and peace in the world.
On the other hand, we are partners in creation. It is also up to us to act in a way that perpetuates God’s lovingkindness in the world, and indeed builds on it for the betterment of ourselves, family, community, nation and society at large.
Next year in Jerusalem – a battle cry and a beseeching, a call to arms and a call to prayer. It is the conclusion of past happenings and the beginning of a future, with hopefully better things to come. It is a call that defines us as Jews and defines our relationship with God.
And so, please God and with our help as well, may we celebrate next Pesach and beg for forgiveness next Yom Kippur in a rebuilt Jerusalem.