The Beating Heart of the Jerusalem’s Heart – Vayechi 5777
Jerusalem, and probably every other Israeli city after a terrorist attack is a very interesting place to be. Nachi and I were staying with friends, congregants from Newcastle who made Aliyah 10 years ago, less than a 5 minute walk from the deadly terrorist attack on the Armon Hanetziv promenade in which 4 soldiers were murdered.
It’s an interesting place to be; for half an hour later, once the roads were reopened, everything and everybody continued on with their lives. Obviously, families were torn apart, lives were snuffed out and dreams, hopes and futures were changed forever; but for the general public the everyday continued. I am unsure if it is an indication of their bravery and typical Sabra refusal to be dictated to by others, or if it is an indictment of their despair and acceptance of the situation.
For Nachi and I it was both a privilege to be amongst our people at that moment, but also a feeling of ‘outside’, knowing that we were essentially visitors, strangers in our own home; our children were safe and sound in England and we had tickets to return ‘home’ in a week.
Having walked the streets quite a bit this past week, both as a lover of Jerusalem – its architecture, its people and its absolutely unique taste and vibe, and also as a visitor here, I had a number of conversations and experiences, three of which I would like to share with you.
Firstly, it was the conversation that we had with a local Muslim a mere hour after the attack; the victims were yet to formally identified and nothing concrete was known other than the initial number of people murdered. Yet I had a fascinating Halachic discussion with Mustafa (details to be shared in Shul this Shabbat) and I agreed with his opinion and ruling.
Secondly, it was when we were sitting in the visitor’s gallery of the Knesset the very next day. This was a spur of the moment decision and a visit that I highly recommend, although to be able to fully follow the proceedings one needs a very good grasp of Ivrit. The Israeli’s version of decorum and ‘proper behaviour’ in the Knesset is in a world of its own, but their idea of democracy (not to mention their technology and speed) was a sight to behold. The first five speakers at that session included two Muslim members of the Knesset, two women and one Orthodox Zionist man. Here was true democracy and possibly the real meaning of Or Lagoyim – a Light unto the Nations.
Thirdly it was the discussion with a member of staff at the Temple Institute in the Old City. The Institute educates and also recreates, they have models of the Temple and its vessels. They have full sets of the Kohanim’s clothing and every reference and scholarly work on the Temple in existence. Having completed their tour a number of times I had only popped in to browse their latest books and educational material, but still got caught up in a discussion with a member of staff. She proudly told me how they have now recreated both the Shulchan and the Mizbeach, which have been deemed by the top scholars in the land as fit for use in the future Bet Hamikdash. This of course led on to a discussion about the large gold Menorah that is proudly displayed half way down the Maalot (steps) of Rabbi Yehudah Halevi on the way to the Kotel.
I mentioned the well-known sketch of the Rambam who drew the Menorah with straight ‘v’ shaped branches as opposed to the curved ‘u’ shaped ones. She responded with a differing opinion, and we agreed that eventually, with the coming of Moshiach we would all know the correct design and that the actual proof of Moshiach would indeed be us all agreeing on the very shape of the Menorah!
Before leaving I told her my favourite Dvar Torah about Jerusalem, told to me by my father many years ago, and the whole point of recounting these three anecdotes.
The Mishna in Ethic of the Fathers lists the 10 miracles that took place in the Bet Hamikdash, including the fact that even during the 3 Foot Festivals when tens of thousands of visitors would make the pilgrimage, still “no man complained and said there’s no room for me to stay”. My father explains that the miracle here wasn’t the abundant accommodation, or even the ‘stretching of the Jerusalem’ as per a previous miracle, but was in fact that amongst all the Jews present “no man complained”.
Anyone can crowd extra people into a city, but it takes a G-d to ensure that we don’t complain.
What Nachi and I saw in Jerusalem, and what truly gave us hope in this dark world, were the people getting on with each other. Away from the glare of the media and world opinion, away from the soap box of celebrities and politicians and the heated arguments of world governing bodies, were the salt of the earth inhabitants of Jerusalem, Jewish and Muslim, Religious and Secular, Locals and Visitors, Natives and Newly Arrived Olim. In a world that once again is teetering on the brink of (if not already deep within) total terrorist anarchy, it was heart-warming to sit on a balcony in a mixed neighbourhood in Jerusalem and hear the Muezzin calling Muslims to prayer, see the Orthodox walking purposely to Bet Haknesset and the Secular Zionist proudly flying the flag of the State.
There were so many more events, and please G-d in time I will tell you about the conversation with the 3 soldiers at The Wall, and the sights we saw whilst walking through the Rovah on Friday night, we will remember the overheard conversation of the American non-Jewish visitors and the throwaway comment of the Flaffel man, but until then let’s take heart from the heart of Jerusalem.
Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom,