More than 50 years ago, Rose Macaulay wrote a book about the delight we take in looking at archeological and antiquarian sites. In “Pleasure of Ruins,” she catalogues the various reasons human beings like to look at the remains of other civilizations, from wonder at what they have accomplished to delight at having outlived them.
Visiting the home of the Oracle of Delphi when on sabbatical, I felt the strange thrill of being in a place so sacred to the ancient Greeks, where Socrates learned that he was the wisest man for acknowledging his own ignorance, where generations came to discover their fate. Yet now it was a curiosity, with guides and photos and regular buses bringing people from around the world.
How different are the ruins of Jerusalem. Here we go not as tourists but as pilgrims. People are drawn to the remains of the ancient Temple less from curiosity than from reverence. Voices continue to whisper through the ruins. The same prayers are recited there that were recited when the Temple stood. The spirit that created them endures. For the Jewish people, unique among the ancient nations of the world, ruin was a prelude to renewal.