Rabbi David Walk
There's a famous map of the world drawn in 1580 which shows the Eastern Hemisphere as three lobes (Europe, Asia and Africa) connected at Jerusalem. There's a lot of truth to that depiction. The march of humanity passed through Jerusalem. Humankind first trekked out of Africa through Israel. No great conqueror ignored Jerusalem in their designs for world conquest. Sennacherib, Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon, with various levels of success, all had designs on Jerusalem, and only Montgomery's stand at El Alamein prevented Hitler from entering the Holy Land. So, our annual Tisha B'Av stroll through Jewish History, must maintain this viewpoint that Jerusalem is the true crossroads for human history as well. And the perspective may have even greater dimensions than that. This week I'll try to analyze the significance of Jerusalem based upon three verses from the book of Psalms, and the first of them discusses the connective power of Jerusalem.
Psalm 122 is a joyous paean to our eternal capital. It begins with the blissful anticipation of a pilgrimage to the Holy City, and ends with a departing promise to always remember Jerusalem and to pray for its peace. But it contains the following tribute: Jerusalem, that is built as a city that is firmly joined together (Psalms 122:3). Now, this phrase 'firmly joined together' in Hebrew is she'chubra lo yachdav. This expression is understood in many ways. Its literal meaning is that Jerusalem is constructed in a pleasant way, which appeals to our aesthetic sense, because of its cohesive style. For me, however, this verse refers to the Six Day War when Jerusalem was reunited with its other half. Many say that it means that Jerusalem causes us to join with each other as friends. But, in our context, this joining aspect of Jerusalem signifies that this is the place where Heaven and earth interface. That's why the name Jerusalem in Hebrew (Yerushalayim) sounds like a plural, and, even more importantly, that's why we face Jerusalem when we pray. Our prayers go to heaven via Jerusalem.
The next verse that I'd like to parse is perhaps the most famous text about Jerusalem. In Psalm 137, we say: If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill! Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy (Psalms 137:5-6). The most famous idea derived from this verse is the custom of breaking a glass at weddings, because we must remember Jerusalem at the occasion of our highest joy. But the verse is really pushing another agenda. If, God forbid, I lose my focus on Jerusalem, I lose all sense of direction and purpose. Forgetting Jerusalem is tantamount to forgetting basic life skills. Just like I can't forget how to write or shake hands, so, too, I can't forget Jerusalem. And, if I don't recall Jerusalem, then I also would lose all my cognitive skills like speaking or expressing myself. The poet (and, indeed, Jewish tradition) demands that Jerusalem is inextricably bound up with who I am. Inability to call to mind Jerusalem is like a form of amnesia or Alzheimer's. It conjures the sad image of a person who can't remember a spouse or one's address, even their name.
And the third reference is in Psalm 82: You will arise and have compassion on Zion, for it is time to show favor to her; the appointed time has come (82:14). This verse is famous because of its prominent place in our selichot prayers, and because Reb Shlomo Carlebach wrote a great tune to it. But for me this verse conjures up the third necessary component in our relationship with Jerusalem. It's a demand for God to stand up for Jerusalem, again. It's time to return Jerusalem to her proper place. Because, God, You have made many promises concerning Jerusalem and its proper place in the world, and it's past time to pay up on that promissory note. The two references to 'time' appear to teach an important idea. Jerusalem will definitely be redeemed. The question is: Will its redemption come because the Jews, her lovers, have earned it or at some distant date, only being saved because of the promise, not because of any national merit. That first idea is uplifting and inspiring; the second is depressing.
So, I contend, that these three quotes tell the whole story of how Jerusalem must enter our consciousness. The first image of Jerusalem as the destination for pilgrimage, conjures up an image of great joy. Like the memory of some family trip taken in our childhood, it is like some recollection with a rosy glow surrounding it, periodically and persistently entering our minds' eye. It connects us to everything warm and positive in our collective past. The next, and most famous, image is of a desolate place that nags at our conscience, like a destitute friend or relative that we know, for a certainty, that we can do more to help. We feel a certain guilt at our good fortune or success whenever we recall their plight. And our tradition demands that we keep that image in focus. Then we have reference number three: There will be a glorious future for this national treasure, because God has ordained it. However, we also firmly believe that every Jew can have a role in bringing that destiny a bit closer.
There's a famous Talmud statement that every generation which doesn't rebuild the Temple it's as if they themselves destroyed it. The Sfat Emet explains that assertion to mean that every generation has a role in the rebuilding process. It's like the quote from Pirkei Avot: You don't have to complete the job, but you can't ignore the task either. We are so blessed to live in a generation when Jerusalem is beautiful again, and we are free to visit her. But a quick look at the Temple Mount and every mornings' headlines must remind us that the job isn't done, and we must contribute to the effort of the final rebuilding. Complacency could become our greatest enemy. May we make a significant contribution to the final redemption!