“Jerusalem was destroyed because of baseless hatred. It will be rebuilt as a result of boundless love.”
More than 50 years have passed since the re-unification of Jerusalem, and here comes Tisha B’av again and we find ourselves commemorating the destruction of the city 2000 years ago? Jerusalem has always been the heart of the Jewish people, and in spite of that, or maybe because of that, we don’t all have the same thoughts or feelings about Jerusalem. What does Jerusalem mean to us? Why are we still commemorating her destruction? What is our vision for Jerusalem?
The month of Av invites us to look more closely at the internal life of the Jewish people, to the heart of the country, Jerusalem. To mourn what was destroyed, to do some introspection, and to dream of a better future.
Why Jerusalem Why Me / Yehuda Amichai
Why Jerusalem, why me?
Why not a different city, why not a different person?
Once, I stood at the Western Wall
And suddenly, a flock of birds rose up high cries
And the rush of wings, like folded prayers
That were released from between the huge and heavy stones
And flew upwards
A Tel Aviv Prayer / Eli Mohar
My God – here we have no Wall, just the sea
But You are already everywhere
Surely also here.
Therefore, when I come walk here along the beach
I know that you are with me and that makes me feel good.
And when I suddenly see a tourist, tanned and beautiful,
Lying provocatively on the sand
I give her a glance, maybe even stare
And I hope You’ll not only forgive me
But also enjoy it.
I only look for myself,
But a little bit for You
Because I know You are within me
Just as I am within You.
And maybe I was created
So You could see from within me
The world You created
With new eyes.
Questions to consider:
- What’s the difference between Tel Aviv Prayer and Jerusalem Prayer according to these two poems?
- Where do you feel more comfortable praying? In Tel Aviv or at the Kotel?
All Israel turn their hearts to one place
One who was standing in prayer in the Diaspora, should focus his heart toward Eretz Yisrael, as it is stated: “And they shall pray to You by way of their land which You have given to their fathers” (I Kings 8:48).
One who was standing in Eretz Yisrael, should focus his heart toward Jerusalem, as it is stated: “And they shall pray to the Lord by way of the city that You have chosen” (I Kings 8:44).
One who was standing in Jerusalem, should focus his heart toward the Temple, as it is stated: “And they shall pray toward this house” (II Chronicles 6:32).
One who was standing in the Temple, should focus his heart toward the Holy of Holies, as it is stated: “And they shall pray toward this place” (I Kings 8:35).
One who was standing in the Holy of Holies, should focus his heart toward the seat of the ark-cover [kapporet], atop the ark, the dwelling place of God’s glory.
One who was standing behind the seat of the ark-cover, should visualize himself as if standing before the ark-cover and turn toward it.
Consequently, one standing in prayer in the East turns to face west, and one standing in the West, turns to face east. One standing in the South, turns to face north, and one standing in the North, turns to face south; all of the people of Israel find themselves focusing their hearts toward one place, the Holy of Holies in the Temple.
- Talmud Berakhot 30a (Koren-Steinsaltz as found on Sefaria.org)
The Land of Israel is the center of the world
Another interpretation (of Eccl. 2:5), “and in them I planted every kind of fruit tree.” Just as a navel is set in the middle of a person, so the Land of Israel is the navel of the world. Thus it is stated (in Ezek. 38:12), “who dwell on the navel of the earth.” And the foundation of the world comes out of it, as stated (Ps. 50:1), “A psalm of Asaph. God, the Lord God spoke and summoned the world from East to West.” How is this known? (Ps. 50:2), “Out of Zion God has shined forth as the perfection of beauty.” The Land of Israel sits at the center of the world; Jerusalem is in the center of the Land of Israel; the sanctuary is in the center of Jerusalem; the Temple building is in the center of the sanctuary; the ark is in the center of the Temple building; and the foundation stone, out of which the world was founded, is before the Temple building.
(Midrash Tanchuma Kedoshim)
Questions for consideration
- What is the meaning of “Jerusalem is the center of the world”?
- Is this still the case in our time?
- Do all Israel still turn their hearts to one place?
- Do we want that one place to be Jerusalem?
As a result of the historic catastrophe in which Titus of Rome destroyed Jerusalem and Israel was exiled from its land, I was born in one of the cities of the Exile. But always I regarded myself as one who was born in Jerusalem. In a dream, in a vision of the night, I saw myself standing with my brother-Levites in the Holy Temple, singing with them the songs of David, King of Israel, melodies such as no ear has heard since the day our city was destroyed and its people went into exile. I suspect that the angels in charge of the Shrine of Music, fearful lest I sing in wakefulness what I had sung in dream, made me forget by day what I had sung at night; for if my brethren, the sons of my people, were to hear, they would be unable to bear their grief over the happiness they have lost. To console me for having prevented me from singing with my mouth, they enable me to compose songs in writing.
- From S.I. Agnon’s Nobel Prize in Literature acceptance speech, 1966 (from the Nobel Prize website)
* Translated into English by Rabbi Simcha Daniel Burstyn