For the week ending 12 May 2018 / 27 Iyyar 5778

If I Forget You, O Jerusalem...

by Rabbi Reuven Lauffer
Reflections on the eternity of Jerusalem and the new location of the US Embassy
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Entering a Jewish home can be an intriguing experience. Almost the first thing that you will see is the very incongruous sight of…nothing. From the simplest to the most luxurious homes there will be a prominently placed piece of unpainted wall. Your first sight inside the home will be an unmissable bare square. Why is it there? It serves as a reminder of the destruction of Jerusalem and the two Holy Temples. In our days we truly have so much to be thankful for. The mere fact that we are able to live in Jerusalem today is something that previous generations, because of economic realities and religious persecution, could only dream about. But that bare patch on the wall reminds us that our joy is incomplete. Despite the unbelievable and dizzying growth of Jerusalem over the last half a century, the innermost, spiritual dimension of Jerusalem is not yet whole. And that is why the walls in Jewish homes for millennia have had a blank space, to characterize our feelings of loss.

So, too, at a Jewish wedding, at the moment of greatest joy and happiness, a glass is broken. The Chatan (groom) recites the immortal words from the Book of Psalms (137), “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget. Let my tongue stick to my palate if I fail to recall you; if I fail to elevate Jerusalem above my greatest joy.” He then, under the chupa, stamps on a glass (that is carefully wrapped so that nothing will happen to him, and so the glass won’t go flying off all over the place!). It is true that there is an age-old adage that the reason why the Chatan stamps on the glass is because, now that he is married, it is the last time that he will “put his foot down.” (Yes, I know that it is not very funny…). But, of course, that is not really the reason. The real reason is that in our greatest and most sublime moments — and what could be more sublime than that very first instant when a new Jewish home is established? — we deflect some of our joy by remembering that Jerusalem is not yet whole.

What is it about Jerusalem that makes it so incredibly central to our lives? We do not only remember Jerusalem when we look at the bare patch on our wall and not just when we attend weddings. Rather, we remind ourselves of Jerusalem throughout the day, when we pray and when we eat. It as if there is some kind of inherent Jewish phobia that we might forget the Holy City of Jerusalem, and we therefore need to keep mentioning it and using visual reminders over and over again in order that it remain uppermost in our minds.

So, let’s put one canard to rest. Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish Nation. It is not something new that came into being with the State of Israel seventy years ago, as some are trying their best to suggest. More than three thousand years ago King David conquered the area that is today Jerusalem. But King David didn’t just rely on a military conquest. He also made sure to buy the mountain that bordered Jerusalem as well. As the Book of Samuel II (24:21-25) describes, King David paid Aravnah the Jebusite to take ownership of the land. The Sages clarify that King David paid with money that he had collected from each of the Twelve Tribes. The Rabbis explain that King David could easily have afforded to pay for the area himself, but he wanted that specific location — the place that was going to become the Temple Mount — to belong equally to the entirety of the Jewish Nation. That small mountain, teach the Rabbis, was Mount Moriah, the site where Abraham had earlier built his altar, and the same site at which Jacob dreamed his dream — events of extraordinary significance for the future of the Jewish People.

The Talmud states (Tractate Yoma 54b), “The world was created from Zion”. When G-d created the world, Zion —which is Jerusalem — was the very epicenter of the Creation. In effect, the whole world is built around Jerusalem. In fact, the whole world is established on Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the spiritual foundation of the world. That is why the Temple was constructed there and that is why we turn towards it (both physically and spiritually) three times a day to pray.

Much has been written and pontificated over recently with the American government’s decision to move their Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. From the very first moment, the general tone set for these “discussions” can only be described as one of hysteria. “How dare the Americans make such a move!” the world cries. The nations of the world imagine that by ignoring over three thousand years of history they can create a moral imperative that will allow them to erase our eternal connection — both theological and historical — to the Holy City of Jerusalem. Not just that, but nearly all nations of the Western World think they can turn a blind eye to their own history. After all, Western civilization is built upon Christian beliefs, which, in turn, are built on Jewish beliefs. And yet they have waged hundreds of years of battles and wars in an attempt to “redeem” Jerusalem. They think that by ignoring their own history they can create a rationale that removes any kind of Jewish ownership or Jewish connection to the Holy City.

Winston Churchill, the legendary prime minister of Great Britain during the Second World War, once said, “The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.”

How true (pun intended) — in the end all that remains is the truth.

Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, in her recent address to AIPAC made a very simple but definitive statement, “I knew that Jerusalem was, is and will always be the capital of Israel.”

Let us but hope that what is so obvious to Nikki Haley and the American government will become obvious to the other leaders of the world. Soon. Very, very soon.

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