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The Story of Jerusalem

May 9, 2009 | by Yaffa Ganz

The cherished history of Jerusalem, based on ancient Jewish sources.

May 2004 ― Israel is presently involved in a bitter war. A strange war, an undeclared war, a war with no name. A confusing war in which we constantly explain our position and consistently contradict ourselves. A war in which even the Israeli government finds it difficult to speak with a clear voice. Why? Because it is impolitic to say that we are fighting a religious war, or that the Land of Israel belongs to the People of Israel. And so we fight bereft of our voice. Kol Yaakov ― the Voice of Jacob ― our greatest strength and most potent ammunition, is silenced by external world pressure and by our own internal confusion.

The Middle East, being what it is, is volatile. In the two weeks between writing these lines and the time they are read, the written words may very well become obsolete. Nonetheless, there are certain eternal truths and entities which endure. Torah is one; the Jewish people are another; Jerusalem and the Land of Israel are a third. Together, they form a divine mandate, an irrevocable, indestructible, eternal unit.

The Arabs have chosen to call the present war "Intifada Al Aksa" (Al Aksa is one of two mosques which were built on the Temple Mount). Although the name supposedly resulted from Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount, it inadvertently expresses the true essence of the present war. It is indeed a war for "Al Aksa" ― for the Temple Mount and for Jerusalem, and by extension, for all the Land of Israel. For Jerusalem is the heart and soul of the Land of Israel.

Here, then, is the story of Jerusalem, based on ancient Jewish sources and cherised through four thousand years of Jewish history.

The Story Retold

In the beginning of time, long ago, before the earth and the heavens existed, before there was anything at all, God set about creating a world. He chose a point in the nothingness of space and began.

God made light and darkness, heaven and earth, suns, moons, stars, oceans, rivers, lakes. He formed mountains, plains, deserts and jungles with flowers and trees, grasses and grains; tiny, crawling creatures, birds, fish and animals in all sizes, colors and shapes. Creatures beyond number and imagination. And finally he created the two most important entities in the entire universe ― Adam and Eve.

God looked at His world and proclaimed that it was a good world, even though He knew that that there would be problems and people would not always do the right thing. After all, didn't God Himself give people the right to choose between good and evil? If they chose well and tried to do God's Will, they could continue to build and create a good and loving world and they would be rewarded. If they chose to ignore or disobey, the world would suffer and they would be punished. It was up to them.

God gave Adam and Eve the tools they needed to do their work ― minds to think and understand, and laws to teach them the difference between good and evil. He divided the world into seventy nations, each with a land of its own, and He gave them the Seven Noahide Commandments so they would know how to live. But it was hard for the people to keep even seven commandments, so God chose one nation ― the Children of Israel ― to keep the light of holiness alive in the world. He gave them His Torah with its 613 commandments, and He gave them the Land of Israel as an eternal inheritance.

Israel was God's own, special, holy Land. As long as the Jews kept God's Torah, God would watch the Land and protect the people forever. If ever they needed help, God promised that He would always be there, always watching, always ready to come to their aid.

He commanded the people to build him a Beit Hamikdash ― a House of God. Even though God does not live in a house, His Divine Spirit would always be in this one particular place. His house was to be built on the very spot where the Creation of the world had begun. It was the center of the world ― the Land of Israel. It was in the center of Israel, in the Holy City of Jerusalem. And it was in the very center of Jerusalem, on Har Habayit ― the Temple Mount. Of course there's no way we can measure the universe to see where the exact center is, but the Torah tells us that in some mystical way that our physical senses are unable to fathom, Har Habayit is the very heart of the world, the point where God first began the work of Creation.

In olden times, people knew this was not just another mountain top. They knew it was a holy place, connected to other dimensions, fused with the Spirit of God. Adam, the first man, brought an offering to God on this mountain. After the Great Flood, Noah brought a thanksgiving offering to the same spot. And it was here that Abraham brought his son Isaac as an offering, believing this was God's will. These things all happened long before the city of Jerusalem and the Temple were built, but they happened here, on Har Hamoriya, Mount Moriah, on Har Habayit, the Temple Mount.

From the moment King David built the city, Jerusalem was recognized as a place of worldwide importance. David made the arrangements and preparations to build the Temple, but it was his son Solomon who did the actual work. Cedar trees and olive wood, costly stones, brass and gold and silver were brought from countries far and near to build God's House.

All of God's blessings flow through this spot where Creation had begun.

When the work was finally finished, Solomon made a huge celebration. Multitudes of people came to Jerusalem to dedicate the Temple with prayers and sacrifices. The Aron HaKodesh ― the Holy Ark ― was placed in the Beit Hamikdash. This was the very same Ark which held the two stone Tablets, carved with the Ten Commandments. For forty years, the Jewish people had carried the Ark with them throughout their travels in the desert; when they entered the Land it was kept in various temporary places. Now, finally, it was placed in the Beit Hamikdash.

"Behold," said Solomon, "if all the heavens and earth cannot contain the Glory of God, how can this house contain Thee?" But the Clouds of Glory filled the Temple as a sign that the Shechina, the Spirit of God, was indeed there.

The Beit Hamikdkash was like a window or a door to Heaven, a gateway where prayers would ascend directly to God. Not only would the prayers of the Jewish people be heard, but all people could come to the Temple to pray and all of God's blessings to the world would somehow flow from the Heavens above to the Earth below through this one, blessed spot where Creation had begun. From every country, people came to the Beit Hamikdash and Jerusalem became a Holy City for the entire world.

Solomon's Beit Hamikdash stood for 410 years. It was destroyed by the Babylonians in 423 BCE, 2425 years ago. Seventy years later, the Jews rebuilt the Temple. The Second Temple stood for 420 years; it was destroyed by the Romans in the year 68 CE. For the past 1934 years, Jews continued to live in Jerusalem, but always under foreign rule. Since then, we have directed our prayers to the Western Wall ― the Kotel Hamaaravi ― the one remaining wall which stood around the Temple Mount.

Thirty five years ago, on the 28th day of the month of Iyar, in the year 5727 (June 5, 1967), on the third day of the Six Day War, the ancient city of Jerusalem ― the walled Old City, the Temple Mount and the Western Wall ― returned to Jewish hands. For the first time since the Destruction of the Second Temple, Jerusalem was under Jewish sovereignty.

The ancient city of Jerusalem grew around the Temple. The modern city of Jerusalem continues to grow and expand far beyond the old walls, full of children and playgrounds, humming with traffic, brimming with synagogues, schools, stores, industrial centers, museums, offices, and government buildings. It is still surrounded by round hills, clothed in bright white morning light or rosy, golden afternoon rays. It still sits like a crown atop the Judean Mountains, calling to the Children of Israel... "Bo'ee Kallah, Come my Bride, back home to your Land, your Holy City, the House of God."

The Third Temple has not yet been built, but when it is, the rabbis say it will never be destroyed. Meanwhile, Jerusalem is still the Gateway to Heaven, the place to stand before God, open your heart and offer up your prayers, even today.

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