Yearning for Jerusalem
Why Israel, Jerusalem and the Temple matter.
When Leah Rabin was dying, Ariel Sharon called the house to speak with her. Sharon was in the middle of one of the endless series of negotiations with the Palestinians. Dahlia Rabin, Yitzchak and Leah Rabin’s daughter tried to tell him it wasn’t a good time to speak to her mother but Leah overheard and insisted that she pass her the phone.
“Arik” she said. “Would Yitzchak have ever given back Jerusalem?”
“Certainly not,” he responded.
“That’s right,” she said and hung up. She passed away two days later.
The land of Israel and Jerusalem in particular is of deep and lasting importance to the Jewish people. It is inextricably tied up with our relationship with God and the Torah.
In Jerusalem the Almighty is not a theory but a tangible presence.
In Jerusalem the Almighty is not a theory but a tangible presence. His Shechina – His Divine Presence – is felt more intensely there. The connection is more palpable. In our daily prayers, we express our yearning, our great desire to return to Jerusalem.
When we say return, we don’t mean go on a birthright trip or mission, although those are wonderful. We don’t even mean make aliyah – although that is a significant and meaningful act.
We mean return to the Jerusalem of old, the Jerusalem where the Temple stood, where the Almighty’s presence shone brightly. When the Temple stood, this relationship was much more accessible than it is now. It was even more real; you could taste it. We have never had this full experience, this intense revelation.
With the Temple destroyed, some of that spiritual holiness has gone out of the world – and we pray daily for its rebuilding. Everyone knows that when a Jewish couple gets married, the groom breaks a glass at the chuppah. And even though some rabbis make jokes – “it’s the last time he’ll get to put his foot down” (groan) – that’s not the reason. We break the glass because even in the midst of our greatest personal joy, we want to remember our national loss, our national incompleteness. Our joy is not whole while the Temple lies in ruins.
And yet, even without the Temple, Jerusalem still provides the opportunity to enhance our relationship to God in ways not easily available outside the land. The Talmud says that 10 portions of beauty were given to the world and Jerusalem got nine. How could that be? There’s no ocean or lakes or mountains. It’s not Wengen or Paris or Prague or Santorini. And yet, it has more beauty. Because it has material and spiritual beauty combined. There is no beauty like the light at the Kotel, 10 o’clock at night – when the crowds have disappeared and the plaza is quiet. It is a beauty you can almost touch. It’s magical.
Jerusalem is the gateway through which all mankind’s prayers rise to Heaven. The Talmud says that if the Romans would have appreciated the opportunity there for them, they would never have conquered it and destroyed the Temple. There are women living in Jerusalem today who get up every morning before dawn to pray at daybreak at the Kotel. They are there for 90 minutes and then they go back to “begin” their day. It doesn’t matter the season, how cold, how dark, how early – they’ve made that commitment; they want that opportunity.
Jerusalem embodies our hopes and dreams. It gives us a vision of what our lives could be – personally, nationally, universally. “If I forget you O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither…” writes King Solomon in Psalms because if we forget Jerusalem, we forget the whole point of existence, we forget what we’re striving for.
The State of Israel and its people are a marvel. But that’s not why we love the land – and the city. That’s not why we’re connected. It’s not because of start-up nation or draining the swamps or the IDF – as impressive as those all are. We need this land and we particularly need this city so that we can experience the deepest holiness available in this limited physical world of ours. We need it to connect us. We need it to lift us. We need it to focus us.
The Almighty gave us the land of Israel and the city of Jerusalem only because of the spiritual opportunities it provides. So that we can experience the pleasure of closeness to Him. That’s why Jerusalem matters.
Many years ago students of ours were looking to move into our community. I informed them that the duplex next door to us was available. They were very hesitant. “We don’t want you watching our every move,” they said. “I’m a little busy," I tried to reassure them. “I don’t have the time (or frankly the interest) to watch your every move.” But the Almighty isn’t like that. He is always watching us – and nowhere more so than in the land of Israel. “It is a land that God inquires about, the eyes of Hashem your God are always upon her from the beginning of the year to year’s end” (Deut. 11:12).
That’s why it’s an intense place; that’s why it’s a wonderful place; that’s why it’s a holy place; that’s why the land of Israel and the city of Jerusalem matter. That’s why we mourn on Tisha B’Av and pray for a return to a rebuilt Jerusalem.