Ah, Jerusalem, city of gold, city of David, city of peace.
The city that sits on high, its burnished stones glistening in the sunlight, its maze of cobbled byways beckoning its seekers, its sturdy turrets grounding it in this world as they reach towards the next, its heavenly canopy a sacred cover. It resides in our memory, the Zion of old, the holy of holies on its mount, the ancient priests in its temple, the revered rabbenum traversing its streets.
Yet it is a city too often riven by rancor, a city that has been devastated by its enemies, its inhabitants displaced, its holy places despoiled. It is not a city without suffering, without sadness, without sorrow. It has sat alone, dejected, downcast, a city brought low. And so history has wrought its price, as Jerusalem endures, precariously perched between its spiritual legacy and its material reality. So it goes in the holy land, especially today.
A city revered by three religious traditions, its bounds disputed, its sacred places sites of conflict, its security threatened, its people under risk of deadly attack. And we who love Israel, we who yearn to bask in its glorious splendor, we who look toward the East for divine succor and salvation, are in despair. Yet its fraught history belies desperation, its abiding power to shine as a beacon of hope with G-d’s blessing, shores us up like its seemingly impregnable walls.
Its very duality, a utopian ideal infused with holiness and a quotidian quagmire mired in the contest of competing peoples and conflicting stories, is what imbues the city with both its vexing volatility and resurgent vitality, is what sustains it, and us, even in times of trouble. It calls to mind the cycles of exile and return from our ancestral homeland that inform the Jewish people, the destruction of the temple of old, the dispersion as a handful of seeds tossed to the winds, the rites and rituals of the kohanim carried with us and turned and turned again, the ancient teachings reimagined over and over wresting meanings reflective of a new time, a new place. So have our people persisted, so has divine providence protected and kept us. So have we survived.
And so it is that between the celestial Zion and its earthly moorings, that we must work to create a sacred space that draws on the ethical teachings of our tradition to create a new reality that will bring safety, security and stability to all those living within its limits. So this evening, I’ll bless the Shabbos candles, adding an extra one, and pray that the light will shine forth to dispel darkness, to obliterate hate, that the flickering tapers will illumine the way to salve the holy city and its people.
And pray for the peace of Jerusalem.