The prophets command that the Jewish people constantly seek Jerusalem. “This is Zion, whose welfare is sought by none,” laments Jeremiah (30:17). “From here we learn the obligation of derisha, of seeking the welfare of Jerusalem,” teaches the Talmud.
Even today, as fortunate guardians of the restored capital of the Jewish people under Israeli sovereignty, there is a great deal of derisha, seeking, to be done.
Firstly, Israelis and Jews everywhere must pay more attention to Jerusalem. To be more involved, to care, to build and develop, never to take for granted. To visit. An astonishingly sad 50% of young Israelis visit the national capital for their first time only when drafted into the IDF.
Outside of the primary schools and the Bnei Akiva Religious-Zionist youth movement not too many Israelis take note of Jerusalem Day (which is today), missing an opportunity to step forward and rediscover Israel’s historic national lodestone.
It is time to make Jerusalem Day a formal civic holiday, like Independence Day.
Derisha also means imposition of a moral obligation, the requirement to live up to a certain heavenly standard that is implicit in the city of peace. “For Zion shall be redeemed in justice, and her returnees in charity – this is what God seeks of you” (Isaiah 1:27).
It must be asked: Are Israelis/Jews sensitive enough in Jerusalem to the plight of the poor, the unemployed, the orphan, the battered woman, the new immigrant, and the minority resident? Is Israel’s justice system sufficiently suffused with knowledge of Jewish values alongside democratic norms?
Seeking Jerusalem also means ruling the city wisely. This involves curbing the activities of radical Islamic and hostile nationalist forces in Jerusalem, investing significantly to generously advance and integrate the eastern (mostly Arab) sectors of the city, expanding the geographical boundaries of the city to build at least 100,000 new homes for young couples, expanding the business base of the city and cleaning-up the city.
Seeking Jerusalem also means the search for God, the quest to uncover existential-metaphysical layers of holiness. Here in Jerusalem the gates to heaven are open, allowing for an encounter with something that is beyond human rationality.
Thus, we are obligated to be doresh Yerushalayim, to spiritually refine ourselves and draw closer to He who truly owns Jerusalem; to long for God’s revealed presence, seeking to encounter Him with the tools at our disposal. Already today, the Divine Presence peeps at us through the cracks of the Temple Mount retaining walls, there to be seen and experienced, if we only seek it.
To my mind, this means among other things, initiating a diplomatic and religious dialogue towards restoration of the Temple Mount as a place of prayer for all faiths.
On Jerusalem Day 5748 , Rabbi Dr. Aharon Lichtenstein, of blessed memory, told his students that “It is important that we know how to appreciate the privilege of walking in the streets of Jerusalem. The dream held dear by generations has come true; the dream of hundreds and thousands of years…
“But we must appreciate Jerusalem not just as a capital which is flourishing economically, esthetically, socially and politically but also as the Divine Presence appearing and disappearing ‘over the mountains of Bater’ (see Song of Songs 2:17). We should see not only the glory that exists, but also long for the glory that was prophesied. A formidable challenge awaits us. We must realize that derisha, that longing, to set matters right.”
To this, I will add that the seeking of Jerusalem in this time – in this generation – also involves the demand of a surety, the demand of title, the staking of a claim. This is Israel’s political, practical demand of the nations of the world: Recognize our birthright, accept our claim, for we will not compromise over Jerusalem. The redivision of Jerusalem is incompatible with our identity.
Ambassador Dr. Yaacov Herzog once told the story of Apollo 10, whose astronaut-captain asked his priest to read in church several Psalms, as he orbited the moon. Some of the Psalms are understandably related to creation, but one related to “Jerusalem which has been reunited” (Psalms 122).
Why is Jerusalem so central?
Why Jerusalem? Because in space astronauts look for an anchor, explained Herzog, something around which to organize their surroundings. And at that moment, trying to pin down his feelings, to define himself, the Apollo captain looked for a place that gave him the anchorage of being linked to some earthly structure while reflecting his feelings of uplift in endless spirit – and he chose Jerusalem.
Nations of the world need to understand that the absolutism inherent in Israel’s claim to Jerusalem is unshakably anchored in Jewish history and identity. From Jerusalem, the Jews made their way to all corners of the earth – and returned. And the Jew can live in contemporary society only if he is touched by the eternity of his destiny.
The writer is a senior fellow at the Misgav Institute for National Security & Zionist Strategy, in Jerusalem. The views expressed here are his own. His diplomatic, defense, political, and Jewish world columns over the past 26 years are archived at davidmweinberg.com.