My first visit to Jerusalem, Sukkot 1967: My dad, already in relatively advanced stages of ALS, and my mom (at the “ancient” age of 40) reserve a “special” – a taxi for the day, just for the four of us. While still dark outside, we clamber into the car, gliding through the ever so quiet streets of sleepy Haifa, heading south then east, so by morning we can see the city “in whose heart there is a wall”. It’s the first time I see sefardi sukkot, with embroidered walls, colorful rugs and big, cushy pillows; Har Hatzofim (Mt. Scopus) with its university buildings punctured by bullets and shells’ holes; and the kotel, a giant wall rising up al the way to the sky, with plants and birds above. As the city gets ready for bedtime, we leave the pinkish, golden, dusty hills, turning dark, and sleep most of the way back amidst hushed adult conversations. The next day, “Jerusalem of Gold” seems almost like a dream.
For centuries, travelers dreamed and journeyed, from all over the world, with great excitement, to reach the magical, holy city; especially this weekend, as we celebrate the holiday of Shavuot, we reminded again of the pilgrimage festivals ascending this city; a city which answers so many names and aside from magic, also sports traffic jams, construction, drivers honking, and people yelling like any other place… What is it about Jerusalem? Is it just another ‘coincidental site’ or is there something truly incredible, davka here?
Rabbi Uri Sharki offers an interesting approach. Accordingly, people encounter mainly three limiting things in life: the ability to be only in one place (here, wherever that is), at one time (now) and within only oneself. We try to overcome these limitations, possibly to connect with the eternal aspect of our soul and being, nevertheless, remain bound to them.
Our tradition likewise addresses this challenge and offers a few unique possibilities:
1. Time: there is one day a year, Yom Kippur, when one can “time-travel” back and forth. We can go back to the past, atone and correct what we’ve done through the process of teshuva for a better present and future.
2. There’s a place, the Land of Israel, which scripture calls ‘Eretz Hatzvi” – the Land of the Deer (Daniel 11:41). That place is elastic, like a deer’s skin; it widens and shrinks and can include within it much more than is initially obvious. We’re told that “one never said, there is no place for me to sleep overnight in Jerusalem” (Pirkei Avot 5:5), meaning, everyone always had room, and this phenomenon is recorded in travelers’ journals of later days as well, as if the place “stretches” to accommodate more people as needed.
3. Self: on Yom Kippur, the High Priest would atone for all the transgressions of the People of Israel. We might be too used to it to think about it, but this is truly a strange idea. After all, we can’t ask someone to fall in love for us, or feel longing or joy or anything for us. And yet, the High Priest is instructed to atone for the whole people, namely, he holds others “on his heart” (Exodus 28:36); and when he does, something changes within us too!
All these “magical” things, transcending time, place and selfhood, happened only in Jerusalem.
Last week, tens and even hundreds of thousands came to celebrate “Yom Yerushalayim”, which “coincidentally” falls on the 28th of the Hebrew month of Iyar, and also on the 1st day of the last week of the Count of the Omer. The Kabalist, based on the verse in the Torah, taught that these 49 days between Passover and Shavuot are made of 7 weeks, each week ushering a different “sefira”, a different Kabalistic level. Then, each day, qualifies itself with a specific energy during that week. It’s just so happens to be that Yom Yerushalayim is the first day in the 7th week, making it a day of Chesed (kindness) in Malchut (kingship). May we continue to see more of both, chesed and malchut, emanating, especially from this place.
Shabbat Shalom & Chag Same’ach.