In the tweets and the blogs that flood the internet these days, in the news columns and various other forms of modern-day media, in the songs and the poems and the writings by able artists and scholars, the name “Jerusalem” is arguably mentioned more frequently and more passionately, and surrounded by more emotion, than the name of any other city known to us, since the beginning of time.
“Jerusalem was once regarded as the centre of the world and today that is more true than ever: the city is the focus of the struggle between the Abrahamic religions, the shrine for increasingly popular Christian, Jewish and Islamic fundamentalism, the strategic battlefield of clashing civilizations, the front line between atheism and faith …” This is how Simon Sebag Montefiore starts off his book “Jerusalem: The Biography”, published in January 2011. Montefiore paints a picture of Jerusalem that is both beautiful and shocking: “This is a place of such delicacy that it is described in Jewish sacred literature in the feminine – always a sensual, living woman, always a beauty, but sometimes a shameless harlot, sometimes a wounded princess whose lovers have forsaken her. Jerusalem is the house of the one (Elohim), the capital of two peoples, the temple of three religions and she is the only city to exist twice – in heaven and on earth: the peerless grace of the terrestrial is as nothing (compared) to the glories of the celestial.”
The Babylonian Talmud (compiled approximately 1500 years ago) does not appear to have enough accolades and exalted attributes to ascribe to the city of Jerusalem: “He who has not seen Jerusalem in its beauty, has not seen a beautiful great city in his whole life; and who has not seen the building of the Second Temple, has not seen a handsome building in his life”, it says in Tractate Sukkah, chapter 5. But the beauty of Jerusalem is of a very different kind than the mere beauty of a flower or any ordinary “handsome building”. Many people are left with an extreme case of mixed feelings, and even confusion, once they have put in an effort to learn more about, or even pay a visit to, this great city. Someone once said, “I would never call Jerusalem beautiful or comfortable or consoling. But there’s something about it that you can’t turn away from.”
As for myself, having been to Jerusalem more than once before and looking forward to go there again, I can absolutely go along with: “There is something about Jerusalem that you can’t turn away from.” Somehow, for some reason that I cannot fully explain, the event of coming into a closer (than usual) contact with the city of Jerusalem, has a way of revealing things to a person – even things about yourself – that you have never known before. I cannot explain it any better than José Saramango, well known Portuguese writer, in his “Collected Novels” (2010): “That night there was no conversation, no prayers or stories around the fire, as if the proximity of Jerusalem demanded respectful silence, each man searching his heart and asking, Who is this person who resembles me yet whom I fail to recognize?” This process of heart-and-soul-searching and coming to grips with some of the most hidden aspects of one’s innermost being, has been the subject of many written works and poems and songs about Jerusalem, and will be confirmed by many who have had the privilege of paying a visit to the City of Gold.
Throughout the centuries Jerusalem has been the perpetual boiling pot among the nations of the world and the focal point of many struggles, disputes, disruptions, prolonged periods of suffering and the shedding of the blood of thousands of innocent people. Once the risk is taken to pay more than a superficial visit to Jerusalem, it is almost impossible not to be affected by these darker dimensions of the history of the city. This, I believe, is what Theodor Herzl meant when he said: “When I remember you in days to come, O Jerusalem, it won’t be with delight. The musty deposits of 2,000 years of inhumanity, intolerance, and foulness lie in your reeking alleys.” So also Robert Mezey, in his poem “Jerusalem”: “Pity and tenderness burst in me, remembering thy former glories, thy temple now broken stones. I wish I could fly to thee on the wings of an eagle and mingle my tears with thy dust.”
Jerusalem, however, is more than just a subject of poetry and a city of contrasts. Much, much more. It is, above all, a city that is called “home” by thousands of human beings – a place where people have to make a living, take care for their families, feel safe around their houses and make plans for the future. What does all of this have to do with us? Don’t we have our own problems? Our own homes? Our own families? Our own future? Yes, we do. But there is a sense in which Jerusalem is also ours. There is a sense in which our own future is interwoven and interconnected with Jerusalem’s future. There is the principle in Scriptures that nothing can be worse than forgetting Jerusalem – the one city that should be exalted above one’s chief joy in life (Ps 137:5-6). There is an age-old perception that the proper place to pay one’s vows to Yahweh, is in the presence of all his people, in the courts of the house of Yahweh, in the midst of Yerushalayim (Ps 116:18-19). There are clear prophesies in Scriptures, among others, by the prophet YeshaYahu (Isaiah), that in the latter days words like these will be spoken by many people from all the nations of the world: “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of Yahweh, to the House of the Elohim of Yaácov, and let Him teach us His ways, and let us walk in his paths, for out of Tsiyon comes forth the Torah, and the Word of Yahweh from Yerushalayim” (Isa 2:3; Isa 25:6; Isa 27:13; Isa 60:3-4; Jer 31:12; Jer 50:5; Mic 4:1-2; Zec 2:11; Zec 8:22-23; Zec 14:8,9 &16; etc).
So, instead of romanticizing this remarkable city, I would suggest, let us try to find an answer to the question: How am I linked to this city? Instead of jumping on the political band-wagon and openly taking sides with those who are fervently for, or against, Israel, let us resolve to take sides with those who are suffering, those who are scared, those who are shell-shocked, those who are victimized and stigmatized in Israel, and Jerusalem in particular. There are scores of Israeli’s and Arabs and Palestinians in Jerusalem, and elsewhere in Israel, who live and work and play together peacefully – simply because they are there and because they’ve had enough of all the fighting and the strife. The individuality of these human beings has, to a very large extent, been sidelined and obscured by the bias, fundamentalism and indoctrination that are essentially built into people’s view of the city where these ordinary people reside. Surely, there must be days when many of these occupants of Jerusalem – irrespective of where they come from ethnically – must want to cry out: “Is there anyone out there who is even aware of my existence?” The Israeli writer, Yehuda Amichai, in his “Poems of Jerusalem” (1987) tried to put this kind of frustration into words: “Once I sat on the steps by a gate at David’s Tower. I placed my two heavy baskets at my side. A group of tourists was standing around their guide and I became their target marker. ‘You see that man with the baskets? Just right of his head there’s an arch from the Roman period. Just right of his head.’ ‘But your target marker is moving, he’s alive!’ I said to myself: ‘redemption will come only if their guide tells them, You see that arch from the Roman period? It’s not important: but next to it, left down and a bit, there sits a man who’s bought fruit and vegetables for his family.’”
Now then, against this background, how are we supposed to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, as Ps 122:6 requires of us? We can do no better than to simply echo the prayers and the supplications of Scriptures, regarding this city which may, spiritually and prophetically, still be regarded as the centre of the entire world. Prayers like: May the house of Yaácov walk in the light of Yahweh (Isa 2:5). May Yerushalayim come to acknowledge that it needs to wash its own heart from evil and all kinds of wicked thoughts (Jer 4:14). May the children of Yerushalayim return from their backsliding lifestyle – may they return back to the One whom they have forgotten (Jer 3:21-22). May Yerushalayim realize its potential and become the perfection of loveliness, from whence Elohim shines forth (Ps 50:2). May Yahweh break the arrows of the bow, the shield and the sword and the battle-axe and return to his dwelling-place in Tsiyon (Ps 76:2-3). May those who fear Yahweh be blessed and see the good of Yerushalayim all the days of their lives (Ps 128:4-5). May Yahweh set up a lamp for his Anointed One in Yerushalayim by (once again) showing us his true rest, his great provision and his joyful deliverance (Ps 132:13-17). May Yahweh again build up Yerushalayim by healing the broken-hearted, binding up their wounds and bringing peace within her borders (Ps 147:2-14). May Yahweh fulfill his promise to the remnant of his people in Yerushalayim of a Day that is coming when the Branch of Yahweh will be splendid and esteemed and the fruit of the earth will be excellent and comely and the redeemed ones themselves will be purified and protected (Isa 4:2-6). May the Day soon come when those who are perishing in the land of Asshur and those who are outcasts in the land of Mitzrayim, leave their places of bondage and worship Yahweh on the set-apart mountain in Yerushalayim (Isa 27:12-13). May Yahweh re-establish his precious Foundation Stone in Yerushalayim, restoring his unchanging righteousness, sweeping away the refuge of lies and the falsehood and the hiding places of those who have put their trust in their own shaky, man-made foundations (Isa 28:15-17).