My Jerusalem of the past and the future

Our Sages expounded on the duty of every Jew to strive for the betterment of Jerusalem.

Smoke rises in east Jerusalem during a battle in the Six Day War (photo credit: REUTERS)
Smoke rises in east Jerusalem during a battle in the Six Day War
(photo credit: REUTERS)
I was born and raised in Jerusalem. My childhood was spent in a divided Jerusalem, with a wall standing between the new and old parts of the city. The wall ran the length of Shmuel Hanavi Street, through the neighborhood of Musrara until reaching Jaffa Street.
I remember those days fondly; riding our bicycles past the wall, going on walks on Shabbat and holidays near the wall, stopping at certain points along the way that looked out over portions of the city controlled by the Jordanians, such as the Police Academy, the Sheikh Jarah neighborhood and other places. Over the intermediate days of Passover we would go to Mount Zion and look out over the ruins of the Temple Mount.
During the Six Day War the city was bombarded and we spent our days in bomb shelters. The war resulted in the liberation of the city and several days after it was over the two halves of the city were united. Several days later, on Shavuot 5727 (1967), the road to the Western Wall (Kotel) was opened and the residents of Jerusalem, together with many visitors who had arrived from around the country, streamed to the Old City to pray at the Kotel.
A year after the Six Day War, I was blessed to be one of the first students to study in Yeshivat Hakotel in the Old City. I studied there for six years and lived opposite the Kotel. The yeshiva was housed in abandoned and decrepit buildings in the Jewish Quarter, which had yet to be restored. The beit midrash, which was in shelters above the road leading to the Kotel, produced the sound of Torah study long into the night. Yeshivat Hakotel was the first yeshiva to return to the Old City and the first to renew the study of Torah inside its ancient walls. Over time, the yeshiva became one of the hallmarks of the renewal of Jewish life in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. The sound of Torah and prayer emanated from its walls and was relished also by those who came to visit the Old City or were on their way to the Kotel.
In the beginning, the yeshiva consisted of a small number of young men led by Rabbi Yesha’ayahu Chaim Hadari. This group felt a deep sense of purpose, which created strong motivation and had a unique influence on the form of the yeshiva. Much of the yeshiva’s success must be attributed to Rabbi Hadari, who guided the yeshiva with his unique personality, promoting camaraderie, friendship and the togetherness that developed over the course of the yeshiva’s early years. The sense of purpose on the one hand, and the intimate atmosphere on the other, when compounded by the study of Torah opposite the Temple Mount and at the foot of the Kotel, came together and created Torah learning infused with a true sense of brotherhood.
One of the calling cards of Yeshivat Hakotel was the traditional walk to the Kotel for Kabbalat Shabbat (the pre-Shabbat prayer service). Every Friday afternoon, as the sun was about to set, the yeshiva’s students could be seen on the road down to the Kotel, dancing together on their way to Shabbat prayers. While singing the words from the prayer “those who keep the Shabbat and call it a delight shall rejoice in your kingship,” the students were joined for Shabbat prayers and dancing by many of the other visitors gathered at the Kotel. On Shavuot night, as well as on the night of Hoshana Rabba, the beit midrash was crowded with visitors who came from far and wide to do their tikkun opposite the Kotel.
In the Book of Psalms, King David writes that “The built-up Jerusalem is like a city that is united together.” This verse was explained in the Jerusalem Talmud, as well as in the Midrash, as meaning “a city that creates fellowship among all Jews.” The Babylonian Talmud, however, explains the verse differently: “I will not enter the heavenly Jerusalem until I can enter the earthly Jerusalem. Is there then a heavenly Jerusalem? Yes; for it is written, The built-up Jerusalem is like a city that is united together.” The earthly Jerusalem parallels the heavenly Jerusalem from the perspective of the city itself, not that of its residents.
The two explanations seemingly differ from one another; however, a deeper understanding of the sources shows that both address the same point. Every capital city in the world connects and unites the citizens of that country. Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish People, is different in that it is the Holy City and the home of the Temple and thus produces a unique internal connection. The earthly Jerusalem parallels the heavenly Jerusalem. A Jew who travels to Jerusalem is not only traveling to the earthly Jerusalem, but also to the heavenly Jerusalem. When one travels to Jerusalem, he cleanses himself of his personal issues, from his here-and- now existence, and connects to an eternal reality. When everyone travels to Jerusalem, they come together and unite in that they are traveling to the earthly Jerusalem. In this way, the earthly Jerusalem parallels the heavenly Jerusalem in that in brings all of Israel together in a bond of brotherhood.
Our Sages expounded on the duty of every Jew to strive for the betterment of Jerusalem. They said that: “Any generation that does not see the rebuilding of the Temple is considered to have destroyed it.” Asked the Sefat Emet: it would be understandable if the Talmud had said that the “Temple had not been built,” but why does it say that the generation “is considered to have destroyed it”? The Sefat Emet answered that the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple is not a one-time event, but rather an extended and ongoing process. Every generation adds its own layer to the structure until the construction is complete and the structure stands as a whole. When understood like this it is clear that any generation that does not add its own layer is considered to have destroyed its share of the process.
As we all celebrate the day of the liberation and unification of the holy city of Jerusalem, we must add our layer to the rebuilding of our capital city. We will strive to spread brotherhood and kindness among ourselves, to bring peace between brothers and thus to merit the realization of the words of Rabbi Yehoshua Ben-Levi in Tractate Derech Eretz: “The Holy One Blessed be He said to Israel: You caused the destruction of my House and the expulsion of my sons. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem and I will give you peace.”
The author is head of the Center for Religious Affairs in the Diaspora in the World Zionist Organization (WZO).