A prayer for Jerusalem – the only place where fear and peace can exist in harmony

The Western Wall Plaza is a physical reflection of this dichotomy.

Hoshana Raba, the seventh day of Succot, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Hoshana Raba, the seventh day of Succot, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem
The very nature of Jerusalem as a city immersed in both wonder and tension can be traced back through the ages and even to its very name. “Yerushalayim” combines two Hebrew concepts – “yirah,” meaning awe, and “shalom,” peace.
The awe in this instance is not fear of the violence or warfare that has sadly plagued the city through most of its existence.
Rather it is the Jewish concept of “fear of the Heavens” that motivates our connection to God, and thus defines the city as a place where Jewish spirituality is inherent in every aspect of its being. It is literally the meeting place between man and God where in every corner, every alley and every meeting place there is some aspect of holiness.
On the other hand, shalom is intended to define a very different aspect of the city’s existence, wherein it is intended to be a place of unity. A place where every Jew regardless of his or her origin, political or personal perspective should be able to find a common ground.
In Halacha, Jewish law, it is known that Jerusalem was not assigned to any one tribe and does not “belong” to one Jewish group or another. This identity as a Jewish city for all its people is a catalyst for making the city what it is today – a place of culture, art and events that attracts all schools of thought and Jewish expression, alongside its well-known designation as a city of holiness.
The Western Wall Plaza is a physical reflection of this dichotomy.
It is here that the Divine Presence can almost be seen – but can certainly be appreciated. Each and every day people pour out their hearts in prayer and hope. By bringing together this unity and spirituality, we have created a space unlike any other on the planet.
King David expressed this remarkable duality when he prayed for the city, saying, “Because of my brothers and friends, please let me ask for peace to you.” As if to say that peace in Jerusalem is for the very essence of our national unity. He continues: “For the sake of the House of God, I am asking for good to be put upon you.” Here is the spiritual side of the city, that the bond between our people and our God links directly to this “fear” which is at the heart of Jerusalem’s identity.
These dual characterizations serve to demand that we as Jews act in a certain manner toward the city – and on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary if its reunification we should see it as a call to action.
We, as a people who all too often define ourselves based on our divisions and differing perspectives, can look to Jerusalem to inspire our unity.
As acknowledged, this is a city of unparalleled holiness and all its places deserve to be treated with sanctity and respect, with the full acknowledgment that God’s presence can be directly felt here.
Yet we would be making a serious error if we were ever to say that the city is only for one type of Jew, or reserved for one type of observance. Because the reality is that such a statement would only distance Jews from Jerusalem’s majesty and deprive them of the ability to find their place within it.
As we mark 50 years since that remarkable moment when the city found its unification, my prayer is that we can use this occasion to bring together these two ideals.
We can pray that the true celebration will be in acceptance of the city as a place of remarkable spirituality but also one where every Jew can find peace and his or her spiritual home in a way that promotes true national harmony and communal unity.
The author is a rabbi and leading ethicist and co-founder of the Tzohar Rabbinical Organization.