Yuval Cherlow

Jerusalem: A city of both paradox and unity

There are two primary psukim that illustrate the bond between King David and Jerusalem.  The first is “Lemaan Achai V’Rei Adarba Shalom Bach” — For the sake of by brothers and friends, I will now say ‘Peace be with you.”  The second is ‘Lemaan Beit Hashem Alokeinu Avaksha Tov Lach” — For the sake of the house of Hashem our God, I will seek out good for you.”

These two phrases reflect two different paths that relate to our connection to Jerusalem. At times these two approaches can conflict with one another and on other occasions they can co-exist in harmony and even support one another.  Indeed, the idea of Jerusalem provides us direction and inspiration that can be to our lasting benefit in many walks of daily life.

The first pasuk teaches that Jerusalem should be a source for national unity.  We speak of the city as a means to connect with fellow Jews and even while we all come from different walks of life and often from very different viewpoints in key issues, the centrality of Jerusalem in our lives deserves to be viewed as a consensus issue.  It is from here that the kingdoms of ancient Israel emanated and in modern times it remains the physical seat of power for our national government.  Beyond just political power, the city is reflective of cultural, religious, historical and natural influence that draws our people to it from all over the globe.  It is a place of unique aesthetics, architecture and construction, all of which is closely linked to the city’s past and character.

But certainly, this is a city which is not only special in its geography or appearance but primarily for its inherent sanctity and holiness. It is the place that the Jewish world turns to three times a day.  The city demands a respect where we behave in a manner that appreciates this holiness.  There are multitudes of halachot and practices that relate to the city’s sanctity and of course it was here where ancient and modern pilgrims travelled to gain a closer connection to God.  Indeed, it is a city of Godliness.

Many presume that these two ideals of unity and sanctity might be conflictive of one another in a world with so many different approaches to observance and even belief.  And certainly this is a city of paradoxes.

Alongside the holy sites and neighborhoods which are almost exclusive to the so called “ultra-Orthodox” communities, the city welcomes people of all backgrounds to allow Jerusalem to be a place where people can live in harmony one alongside the other.

Based on the two different visions shared by King David, and this “dual” nature of the city, we can learn an important lesson of how sometimes competing concepts and perspectives can exist together.

Firstly, it is imperative to search out common ground when it comes to creating communities. Those who seek to focus more heavily on the sanctity of the city must always take into account those who think, act and even behave differently.  And that even those who believe that the holiness of the city always needs to be defended, they still need to seek out paths that avoid extremism and understand that there are multiple avenues to protect that identity of Jerusalem.

On the occasion of Yom Yerushalayim, it is worthy to remember that Jerusalem remains a city of possibilities where unity can not only exist but even thrive.

About the Author
Rabbi Yuval Cherlow is the Director of the Tzohar Center for Jewish Ethics and a Founder of the Tzohar Rabbinical Organization in Israel.
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