The Jews of Ethiopia, or Beta Israel, as they call themselves, have tried in every generation to return to the eternal city of Jerusalem. Love for Jerusalem ran in our veins. Even the children used to shout at the storks, “Shimela, shimela, agerachin yerusalem dena” (Stork, stork, ask about the welfare of Jerusalem). I heard many stories about Jerusalem, and they led me to imagine it as a city made entirely of gold, where milk poured from the faucets. This is why when the order was given to go there, we all got up and left, without hesitation. We suffered many difficult moments during the journey, but we never hesitated, despite old age and exhaustion, nor did we show any sign of despair. As I write these lines I shiver at the indelible images in my brain.
What, then, is the special quality of this city? What did King David intend when he wrote of “Jerusalem, the constructed city that is joined together” (Psalms 122)? Rabbi Joshua ben Levi interpreted this as meaning “the city that makes all of Israel comrades” (Jerusalem Talmud, Chagigah 2:6). The thread that connects us is very thin: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Rabbi Akiva called this “a fundamental principle of the Torah.” I would add that this is the fundamental principle, and that the rest of the Torah is a footnote to this basic rule. The word kamocha, “as yourself,” does not mean that you should be able to love others who are similar to you, but rather, that you should have the ability to look through the eyes of others who are different from you.
The State of Israel is an amazing thing: Jews, the most dispersed of all nations for thousands of years, today living in all corners of the world, have reunited and become one body – but in no way are Israelis of one mind. We thus face a great challenge of accepting each other. The Midrash tells us that lovers say: “When our love was strong, we could lie down together on the point of a sword and feel no pain, but now that our love has weakened, an enormous palace is not enough for us.”
Once there were two brothers who each inherited a piece of land. One brother was married with children, while the other was a bachelor. At harvest time, the bachelor thought, “My brother is married with children. He definitely needs more sheaves of wheat than me.” He got up in the middle of the night and moved ten sheaves to his brother’s pile. That same night, the married brother woke up in concern. “My brother will need money to pay for a wedding and a house,” he thought. He got up and quietly moved ten sheaves from his pile onto his brother’s. The next morning, each brother was surprised to find no sheaves missing from his pile. They repeated this scene the next night. At midnight on the third night, the brothers met in the middle, each carrying the sheaves he had planned to give. At the place where they met, the city of Jerusalem was founded.
Rabbi Dr. Sharon Shalom is rabbi of Congregation Kedoshei Yisrael of Kiryat Gat, a faculty member at Ono Academic College, and a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University.
This story is one of four excerpts from the recently published book of essays, My Jerusalem, compiled by Ilan Greenfield of Gefen Publishing.
Click here for the other excerpts the appeared in the Jerusalem Post Magazine
WE'RE BACK by BLU GREENBERG
GUTS BUT NO COMMON SENSE by DEBORAH LIPSTADT
MY FIRST ENCOUNTER WITH THE KOTEL by YULI YOEL EDELSTEIN