I rejoiced when they said to me,
“Let us go into the house of the LORD.”
I will never forget the excitement of entering Jerusalem for the first time. It was as the sun rose. We rounded the bends of where the yet-to-be-built suburb of Ramot is and there, in front of us, was the Holy City. My first thoughts were, “How privileged I am to do what generations before me could only dream about.”
I heard the call and it was real. Jerusalem was waiting for me.
That I could decide, at age 18, to travel to Jerusalem, safely and freely, is not to be taken for granted.
Our feet have been standing
Within your gates, O Jerusalem!
And now I live here. Every day I walk the streets. I move from West Jerusalem into the walled city as I wish. I enter through the Jaffa Gate or the Zion Gate or the Damascus gate as my destination determines or as my fancy takes me.
And I use my feet to do good – rather than standing, which I used to do, I now walk. It is not enough to stand in awe of the beauty, sanctity and power of this city. I have to walk the city and move forward in activity, not passivity.
The physical gates have names. So, too, do the other gates through which I walk: a gateway to understanding, a gateway to peace, a gateway to kindness, a gateway to love and respect. I walk within these gates.
Jerusalem is built
As a city that is compact together,
Here, the Psalm moves from describing our emotional response to Jerusalem to describing the city herself.
Jerusalem consists of parts that are so diverse it is miraculous that they co-exist, all in one city. Walk from the affluent, clean and green Talbiyeh, where you will hear Hebrew, English and French spoken in quiet and polite conversation, just a kilometre or two and you experience the bustle of the city centre with tooting traffic and shouting tradesmen and customers, to Mea Shearim, where the streets are intensely crowded and littered and Yiddish is more likely to be heard than Hebrew. Turn towards the East and you begin to hear Arabic, and if you continue North-East, even the signs are only in Arabic – Hebrew disappears. Inside the Old City, four quarters are identified and named but within each one there are clusters of people, trades, faiths and languages, each different from the adjoining.
It is indeed compact. It is not yet “together”. The dream is of a unified Jerusalem, where each of these parts exists in peace and harmony with the others. Since I have known Jerusalem, its parts have become less connected to each other, while increasingly impinging on each other.
Jerusalem is described in the Torah as “the place that I will show you”. It has been designated by the Creator as the site for the greatest manifestation of physical holiness. It is “built” so that all types of people will come together in Jerusalem. There, they will encounter each other, forced to deal with each other, tested in their ability to stand together and to walk together.
Where the tribes go up,
The tribes of the LORD,
To the Testimony of Israel,
To give thanks to the name of the LORD.
From the time it was identified as a Holy City, Jerusalem did not belong to one tribe. It is for us all. That is historical fact and part of the description of the city. Once, our pilgrimage to Jerusalem was to offer sacrifices, many of which were thanksgiving. What does this mean today?
When we come to Jerusalem our tribal identities should melt away. Instead of looking backward to the places we left, or sideways to see how we differ from others or even forward, to a physical destination, we should look upwards. Look upwards, with gratitude.
Our name “Israel” means we have struggled with the Lord. Our testimony is that our struggles have brought us to an understanding of how dependent we are on Divine providence. This Providence has brought us back to Jerusalem as fulfilment of our covenant. We are acutely aware that the gift of access to this City is dependent on our fulfilling our side of the covenant.
For thrones are set there for judgment,
The thrones of the house of David.
Jerusalem is the City of David. It represents atonement, forgiveness and eternal hope. The thrones of his house are thrones of judgement. Although we have a promise that this house will not be eliminated entirely, it can be exiled and punished and brought to the edge of destruction. For what is it judged? For its failures to acknowledge the Divine – idolatry – for injustice and ignoring the needs of the powerless, and for baseless hatred.
The House of David judged the people and may judge them again in the future but the House of David is itself subject to judgement.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May they prosper who love you.
Peace be within your walls,
Prosperity within your palaces.”
This is no longer a description but a prescription. Prayers express a connection to the Divine; they can also create a connection to the Divine. Through praying, we strengthen any connection that exists but we can also discover that saying prayers awakens in us an awareness of the Divine presence of which we were not aware. Praying for Jerusalem may come from the sense that she is unlike any other place or it may arouse in us the awareness that she is unlike anywhere else.
When we pray for Jerusalem, we address her. She is transformed from a physical city to a living, feeling entity. And Jerusalem wants peace.
If peace is to come to Jerusalem it requires our prayers. A prayer for the peace of Jerusalem is a prayer for prosperity for all who live here, for all who work here, for all who worship here. Prayers must be authentic and intentional. Only those who walk the city with this prayer in mind, reflected in their actions and interactions, will be able to utter the words with the required sincerity to have our prayers answered.
For the sake of my brethren and companions,
I will now say, “Peace be within you.”
Ultimately, Jerusalem does not take from us or need us; she gives to us and we need her. If Jerusalem is at peace, we will all be at peace. It is for the sake of the people who are on a spiritual journey with us, whether they be close family or distant acquaintances, from whatever tribe or nation, that we pray for Jerusalem.