Chapter 62 in the Book of Deuteronomy (Dvarim), Parshat Nitzavim opens with powerful words.
“For Zion’s sake I will not be silent and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not keep still”
Zion and Jerusalem are one and the same places and are interchangeable. According to the Targum Yonatan it is God who is speaking these words although most commentators believe it is the prophet Isaiah. That is the more acceptable thinking of the Sages.
The name Jerusalem appears 669 times in the Hebrew Bible but not once in the Pentateuch (Chumash), the first five books of the Torah. Maimonides answered the question why Jerusalem’s name is omitted. His reply was that the city was not known by that name at that time. It was called Jebus.
Looking further into the Talmud, Jerusalem is mentioned thousands of times. The rabbis considered it to be the center in the heart of the Jewish people. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur were celebrated in the Temple in Jerusalem. The three pilgrimage festivals, Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot were held only in Jerusalem and Jews were required to bring sacrificial offerings to the priests and Levites. Jewish worship could be only in Jerusalem. The city had powerful emotions on the Jews and even attracted many to come for the festivals from such far-away places as Alexandria.
When the Babylonians, led by their king Nebuchadnezzar, invaded Jerusalem and destroyed the holy Temple in the year 586 BCE, the Jewish exiles who were taken into captivity in Babylon were faced with a serious problem. Where could they worship God? Worship had been permitted only in the Jerusalem Temple. Now, in Babylon, how could they worship?
It was the prophet of the exile, Ezekiel, who found a remedy to the problem. Without the holy Temple and the priests, he created a place of gathering, called in Greek “synagogus” and the priests were replaced by wise teachers who were skilled in the Law, now called rabbis.
But worship in the Jerusalem Temple involved the bringing of sacrifices. Ezekiel substituted personal prayer in place of sacrifices.
In this way, Judaism survived and continued to flourish. But even with the new arrangements, the Jews in Babylonian exile continued to weep for their lost Jerusalem. As the psalmist has described it in passionate words, the longing for Jerusalem enflamed the emotions of the Jews.
“By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion….. our captors asked us to sing songs of Zion. But how can we sing God’s praises on alien soil? If I forget thee, o Jerusalem, let me forget my right hand; may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember thee, if I do not raise Jerusalem up above my chiefest joy….”
To this very day those words are put into a physical demonstration of our sorrow at the destruction of our holy Temple in Jerusalem. At his wedding, every groom smashes with his foot a glass which symbolically commemorates the smashing of the Jerusalem temple.
Never once mentioned in the Quran of Islam, the Muslims revere Jerusalem as strongly as the Jews and that is the primary reason for the tragic riots and killings and other acts of terror committed by Muslims against the Jews.
We, the Jewish people and the Jewish nation have the obligation to remember Jerusalem and to protect her from all who protest and prohibit us from ascending to the Temple Mount and there to offer our prayers to our God. Our tears will replace sacrifices.
But it is incumbent upon every Jew to protect Jerusalem, to recall her past glories and to honor her present achievements. “For out of Zion shall go the law and the word of our God from Jerusalem”. This refers to our Supreme Court and to rabbinical leaders. Law and God are entwined forever.
We must defend Jerusalem from other nations and bodies which despise us. We must declare loud and clear in all the languages which civilized men and women will understand:
Our priests served God in His holy Temple in Jerusalem when the other peoples of the earth were barbarians and idol worshippers who offered sacrifices of human flesh to please their false gods.
Jerusalem was ours. Jerusalem is ours. Jerusalem will always be ours.
“For Zion’s sake, I will not be silent and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be still”.
People of Israel, do not forsake Jerusalem. And on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur pray for the peace of Jerusalem.
“Yiboneh Bet HaMikdash bimhaira u’v’yomainu”…. May the Temple be rebuilt speedily and in our days.