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Jerusalem: The Focus of Eternity

Jerusalem occupies a place in the life of the Jewish people that is so utterly unique that it defies description. In a way, describing Jerusalem is like describing a sunset—it can’t be done. All that one can do is hope to convey something of the drama and the awe stirred by the sunset and then stand back and hope that somehow one heart has touched another. So too Jerusalem. You don’t describe it, you emote it …

Jerusalem is a prayer and a dream and a child’s home. Her late-night echoes are the melodies of a hundred generations; of yesterday and eternity. Its stone-hard walls are a soft and aged embrace. Its beauty melts the soldier’s battle-hardened heart: By the thousands. Jerusalem isn’t a place at all—it’s she, it’s us, it’s simplicity. It’s a vessel, a corridor, a light. It is everything. A holy whisper and an unfathomable aching for peace. It’s God’s dew-covered garden path, and it’s something to never be forgotten.

Of course, this begs a question. What is it about Jerusalem that makes it what it is to the Jewish heart and soul, to Judaism, and to the Jewish people?

To get a sense of what it is that has propelled Jerusalem to the forefront of Jewish consciousness, let’s take a look at the place Jerusalem occupies in Jewish life.

Spiritual Compass
Almost every synagogue in the world is built to face Jerusalem, and when Jews have prayed, no matter where they were on the face of the earth, they turned and prayed toward Jerusalem.

Daily Prayers and Blessings
The following words are a part of the Jews’ daily prayers: “And to Jerusalem Your city, return in mercy, and dwell in it as You have proclaimed. And build it, soon, in our days—an eternal building.” And, in the blessings at the conclusion of a meal are the words, “Blessed are You God, for the land, and for the sustenance … And build Jerusalem, the holy city, soon in our days.

Passover Seder
For millennia, no matter where Jews happened to be eating their matzah, the seder Passover concludes with the words, “Next Year in Jerusalem.”

Under the Chuppah-Wedding Canopy
The blessings recited at a Jewish wedding include the words: “There will yet again be heard in the cities of Judah, and in the courtyards of Jerusalem; the voice of celebration, and joy—the voice of the groom and the bride.

A widespread Sephardic custom at the circumcision ceremony (brit mila)  calls for the father of the baby to lead all the guests in reciting the verse, “If I forget thee Jerusalem, may my right hand lose its strength …”

A New Home
When Jews build or acquire a new home, there is a custom to leave a portion of the interior unpainted. Why? So that even in the comfort of ones home, we never forget that no Jewish home is complete while Jerusalem is in ruins.

Yom Kippur
For century upon century, every synagogue’s Yom Kippur service has concluded with the same words as the Passover seder, “Next Year in Jerusalem.”

Transcendent Inspiration

It’s been thousands of years since the Jewish people were sovereign in Israel and since Jerusalem was our capital. And somehow, some way, not only did the Jewish people never forget Jerusalem, and not only did they long for “Next Year in Jerusalem,” but it became a reality.

Consider this:
Anatoly Sharansky had been arrested by the police in the former Soviet Union for the crime of studying about Judaism and wanting to emigrate to Israel. On July 14, 1978, Sharansky stood before a Soviet court about to sentence him to fifteen years in prison and said,

“For 2,000 years the Jewish people, my people, have been dispersed all over the world and seemingly deprived of any hope of returning. But still, each year Jews have stubbornly, and apparently without reason, said to each other, ‘L’shana ha’bah b’Yirusholayim, Next Year in Jerusalem.’ And today, when I am further than ever from my dream, from my people, and from my [wife] Avital, and when many difficult years of prison and camps lie ahead of me, I say to my wife and to my people, L’shana ha’baah b’Yirusholayim—Next Year in Jerusalem.”

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Posted in: Israel
by   Shimon Apisdorf

Comments icon May 22, 2009


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