Some years ago I visited Jerusalem’s Temple Mount for the first and only time. Reverence for the Holy of Holies keeps most traditional Jews from treading upon the plaza’s sacred stones. Yet such deferential distance can be misunderstood. An Arab guide observed, “You see all of the Jews are down there (pointing to the Western Wall). Up here there are no Jews so this place must not be important.”
I have often thought about the guide’s logic, not as a reason to increase the volume of Jewish visitation to the Temple plaza, but as a reflection upon the ways we demonstrate love for what matters most deeply. As we celebrate this weekend the 49th anniversary of Jerusalem’s restoration in June of 1967, how do we reveal our deepest attachments? When our care for something is sincere, relinquishing it should be painful. Ceding intimacy with precious venues should feel as sorrowful as ceding intimacy with precious values. Disengaging from a place that matters should feel as mournful as disengaging from peaceful aspirations.
When the Psalmist (137:6) urges “elevate Jerusalem to the pinnacle of my happiness” (rosh simchati), the Bible asserts the primacy of Jerusalem as our emotional energy source. When Jews awaken to daily prayer from Paris to Miami to Madrid to London to Los Angeles to Buenos Aires to Toronto to New York, their energy originates in Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is personified in sacred texts, often depicted as a widow and as a daughter. The most humanized aspects of the city touch upon the emotions it evokes. Joy. Weeping. Yearning. By far the most prevalent emotion associated with Jerusalem is compassion.
The opposite of compassion is captured in the Hebrew word keri which depicts the Torah’s most scornful emotional state. It trifles with relationships that matter most. It harvests toxic emotional energy that produce trepidation, anger, and hostility. Compassionate return to Jerusalem is the reliable elixir for the homeless desperation depicted in this week’s Torah admonition (Lev. 26).
In our day those who triumphantly disfigure the multi-faith glory of Jerusalem are as accountable as those who trivialize her treasure. This is because each detaches from Jerusalem’s compassion. May a new light glow in Zion and may we soon prove worthy of channeling its blessings.