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Learn Hebrew: Zion

April 14, 2010 | by Shira Cohen-Regev

The Jewish dream of return to our land.

Everyone has dreams: a dream for a better life, for freedom, for self-fulfillment, for prosperity; a dream of living in your dream-home, for having loved ones around you. Dreams!

In some cases, many people share the same dream. They can be scattered around the world and carry that dream for many generations. They may be told that it is impossible, that their dreams are like a fairytale and will never come true. They may even believe this. But somewhere, deep in their heart, they know that this dream must become a reality. They keep it in their prayers, they look back to times in history when their dreams were fulfilled, and draw strength from the past.

This is the dream of the Return to Zion - שִׁיבַת צִיּוֹן.

"Zion" is another name for Jerusalem and Israel. Its origin is found in Jerusalem's name, at the time that "David took the stronghold of Zion, the same is the city of David." (2-Samuel 5:7)

The phrase “Return to Zion” was first coined after the destruction of the Second Temple, and referred to the event in which the Jews returned to the Land of Israel from the Babylonian exile, following Cyrus's Declaration (הַצְהָרַת כֹּרֶשׁ – hatz’harat Koresh) in 370 BCE.

At the conclusion of the Yom Kippur prayers, and at the conclusion of the Passover Seder, Jewish people pray and express their wish to return to Zion, to Jerusalem.

לְשָׁנָה הַבָּאָה בִּירוּשָׁלַיִם
Leshana haba’a biy’rushalayim
Next year in Jerusalem

Song of Ascents

King David wrote Psalm 126, which prophetically describes the Jewish return from the Babylonian exile. The Psalm describes how, when the long-awaited return to Zion finally comes, the recollection of the harsh and bitter exile will seem like just a bad dream – and we will explode with joy at the miraculous turn of events. (The verb tense of the Psalm indicates a vision of the future redemption, when "our mouths will be filled with laughter.")

This Psalm is recited as an introduction to “Grace After Meals” on Shabbat, holidays, and other joyous occasions.

Song of Ascents - שִׁיר הַמַּעֲלוֹת
Psalms 126 - תְּהִלִּים קכ"וֹ

שִׁיר הַמַּעֲלוֹת
בְּשׁוּב יְהוָה אֶת שִׁיבַת צִיּוֹן
A Song of Ascents.
When God will return the captives to Zion, we will be like dreamers
אָז יִמָּלֵא שְׂחוֹק פִּינוּוּלְשׁוֹנֵנוּ רִנָּה. אָז יֹאמְרוּ בַגּוֹיִם הִגְדִּיל יְהוָה לַעֲשׂוֹת עִם-אֵלֶּה. Then was our mouth will be with laughter, and our tongue with singing. They will declare among the nations: “God has done great things with these.”
הִגְדִּיל יְהוָה לַעֲשׂוֹת עִמָּנוּ הָיִינוּ שְׂמֵחִים. God has done great things with us; we rejoiced.
שׁוּבָה יְהוָה אֶת שְׁבִיתֵנוּ כַּאֲפִיקִים בַּנֶּגֶב. Return our captivity, O God, as the streams in the desert.
הַזֹּרְעִים בְּדִמְעָה בְּרִנָּה יִקְצֹרוּ. Those who sow in tears will reap in joy.
הָלוֹךְ יֵלֵךְ וּבָכֹה נֹשֵׂא מֶשֶׁךְ הַזָּרַע: בֹּא יָבֹא בְרִנָּה נֹשֵׂא אֲלֻמֹּתָיו. Though he goes on his way weeping that bears the measure of seed, he shall come home with joy, bearing his sheaves.

Upon the destruction of the first Temple in 586 BCE, the Jews were banished from Zion, thinking they would never return. This did not prevent them from yearning, praying, and hoping for the day when they would finally return. In 538 BCE, their dream came true. King Cyrus allowed these "yearners for Zion" to return to their land, and subsequently gave them permission to rebuild the Holy Temple. Led by the prophets Chagai and Zechariah, the first group of exiled Jews arrived back on the soil of their homeland, ready to begin life anew.

The Psalm was written during a great historical time period, one where the hand of God was readily apparent in certain ways, but hidden in others. The author of the Psalm pleas with God to restore Jerusalem to ALL its glory, to help bring a complete revival of Jewish life.

The message applies equally today: The value of looking forward to the redemption lies in its power to help bring it to fruition. This is not a mystical notion, but a plain historical fact. Without a doubt, the modern return of the Jewish people to their homeland after thousands of years of exile could not have occurred without the continual yearnings and prayers over the centuries.

As the Psalm indicates, even the non-Jews praise the remarkable rebirth.

However, while we praise God for the beginning of redemption, our complete joy will come only with the final salvation.

(sources: ArtScroll Siddur; Virtual Beit Midrash; Chanan Morrison)

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