The eternity of Jerusalem
Our dear chairman Bishop Don Ambrogio, Distinguished friends. It is a great honor to be here in my capacity as the director-general of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, at this important conference. The Sant'Egidio community has taken on a momentous historic task in organizing this annual international conference for prayer and peace.
We have been privileged to participate in a number of these conferences, and I have no doubt concerning the significant contribution they make to the awareness and understanding between religions, and the advancement of world peace, by means of productive dialogue, and personal meetings between major religious leaders. This conference is yet another precious link in this magnificent chain, and I congratulate the community of Sant'Egidio, and wish it many more years of good work.
When Kaiser Wilhelm toured the Dome of the Rock in 1898, he said to his hosts: “Archeologists should excavate this important site.” But the kadi at his side raised his eyes to the heavens and said: “On this spot, people should direct their eyes and thoughts upward, rather than downward.”
Indeed, in Jerusalem, and especially on the Temple Mount, our eyes should be turned upward; however, this important conference is certainly more interested in earthly Jerusalem, and what is happening there today. As every leader or scholar knows, all aspects of a subject should be explored in order to gain the best and fullest perspective. This is especially so, for a subject as sensitive and highly charged as Jerusalem. And as every new driver learns in their first lesson, before driving forward, always look in the rear-view mirror to see what's happening behind the car. In the same way, before we explore the state of Jerusalem today, and before looking into the future to the coming generations, we must look back at the glorious history of this eternal city and its profound meaning for the Jewish people. Because Jerusalem cannot be discussed in the same way we talk about Paris or London, or any other city in the world.
The first step on our journey to Jerusalem is conceptual and faith-based, and is needed to give us the right perspective on Jewish history and our fate and destiny. Our sages said on the verse in Chronicles: “And David blessed God before all the congregation and said: Thine, O lord, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the eternal , and the majesty.”
What is the eternal – that is Jerusalem; and the majesty – that is the Holy Temple.
Rabbi Shmuel Hanaggid, a tenth-century scholar and poet, said that if one wrote even 5,000 poems but not one about Jerusalem, it would be as if one had written nothing; but if one wrote one poem on Jerusalem, it was enough.
From Mount Moriah the rules came down to the entire world.
When the Temple stood, the people would gather three times a year in Jerusalem, to celebrate the festivals.
But when the Temple was destroyed for our sins, Jews raised their right hand and vowed: “If I forget thee o Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its cunning. If I do not remember thee, may my tongue, cleave to the roof of my mouth; If I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.”
We recall Jerusalem at all times, at times of grief and mourning over the destruction of our two Temples; and at times of joy, at every wedding, and in all our prayers.
On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the holiest days to the Jewish people, which we have just marked, every Jew prays: May your name O Lord be sanctified on Israel your nation and Jerusalem your city, and Zion the seat of your glory.” When praying for oneself and one’s family, every Jew throughout the world knows that his own personal salvation is intimately tied to the salvation and rebuilding of Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is mentioned in the Bible 640 times. Zion appears 150 times, and together with all Jerusalem’s other names, a total of 850 times.
The Jewish people yearned and longed for Jerusalem and the land of Israel throughout all the generations.
Jerusalem was chosen to be the capital of the ancient united kingdom of Israel out of a desire to unite the nation, because Jerusalem was an area that did not belong to any of the tribes.
King Solomon built the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, and laid the foundations for the universal nature of Jerusalem as a place of prayer for all people of all nations, when he prayed to God after completing the construction of the first Temple: “Whatever prayer or supplication is made by any man or by all thy people Israel [...] And concerning a stranger, who is not of your people Israel… when he shall come and pray toward this house [...] and do everything for which the foreigner shall call to you.
We have just finished celebrating the Succot holiday – Feast of Tabernacles , one of the three festivals of the year. When the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem and served as the spiritual center and focus for the Jewish people, seven bulls were sacrificed to symbolize the seventy nations of the world. The Book of the Zohar teaches us that the purpose was to pray for God's mercy for all nations.
Another ritual performed on Succot in the Temple was the water libation, the pouring of water on the altar as an expression of the beginning of the rainy season, lest there be a shortage of water, the source of all life everywhere in the world. This prayer too was for the whole world.
We find that on Succot, the holiday we call “the time of our joy,” in the Holy Temple, the holiest site to all Jews everywhere, the most significant rituals were conducted out of a desire to share the good and abundance of the Holy Temple with all nations. As the prophet Isaiah said: “For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” This is more than a mere symbol of Judaism’s belief in the need for solidarity and harmony among all nations.
We see that throughout history, almost every nation, language and religion has sought to strike roots in Jerusalem. The rich variety of religions and institutions in Jerusalem, and their importance and sanctity to those religions are unparalleled. In a single square kilometer – known as the holy basin – we find major centers of all the monotheistic religions, all highly charged with emotional and spiritual meaning. All the events of the end of days will occur there, with the coming of the Messiah.
As Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister said: “Is there any nation besides us that loves this land? Many nations have tried and succeeded to conquer this land, out of a desire for power, like with any other land – but not out of love for the land. This special love belongs only to our nation. There is one thing that a person can never replace, and that is his parents. The parents of this nation is this land, we cannot replace it.”
The Jewish people throughout all the years of its exile looked with anticipation to the redemption and prayed with all their hearts: “Next year in Jerusalem.” Baruch Duvdevani wrote: We have merited that which other generations did not. This great merit of ours is thanks to those who for thousands of years since the destruction did not forget Jerusalem, and whose hearts and souls clung to it. For seventy generations, Jews were profoundly tied to Jerusalem, although they never saw it, but they saw Jerusalem as their capital city. This is a wondrous thing that no other nation has earned. This was expressed in prayers, customs, at times of joy and at times of sadness. Throughout all those generations, Jews made pilgrimages to Jerusalem. Not to the Jerusalem of today, with its hundreds of thousands of inhabitants, with its magnificent neighborhoods and institutions, both economic and spiritual, religious and scientific, social and cultural: No, but to the humiliated city that it was then.
And as in the words of Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, Jerusalem occupies a special centrality, and it is the center and core of all the inner strengths of the nation: Torah and prophecy, temple and monarchy. Jerusalem is the seat of the Sanhedrin, and the royal capital. It is a city in which political, spiritual, moral and legal power all joined forces. Jerusalem, not only as a geographical city, but also and especially as a spiritual conceptual center and as a focus for aspirations and vision, unites the nation. As the city that has been joined together, it joins Israel and unites them in harmony.
And in the heart of Jerusalem, stands the Temple Mount and the Western Wall. We believe that the divine spirit is always present at the Western Wall. There are silent stones, but these are stones with a heart, a real heart. The heart is the core, the center of life. From the heart, the blood flows to all parts of the body. So it is with these stones too; they are the center, the center of our life. Through them and from them, lines are drawn, lines of life for the entire Jewish people everywhere across the globe.
The Western Wall – the kotel – also has ears, to hear our prayers, the murmurs of our spirit and the pulse of our heart.
After many generations, we have finally been able to uncover our roots, to reveal the secrets of our nation, to touch the stones and march through the streets through which our ancestors paraded joyfully in song to the Temple Mount. They paved the way for us, a path that runs like a scarlet thread through the chain of the generations, from Adam, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the judges, the kings, the prophets and all Jews who love Zion and Jerusalem. This path has illuminated the future of our beloved Jerusalem and its inhabitants.
As King David, the Psalmist, wrote: “For my brethren and companions' sakes, I will now say: ‘Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; may all that love thee prosper. Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces. For the sake of the house of the Lord our God I will seek thy good.’
And as in the days of yore, when prayers for the peace of the world emanated from Jerusalem, let us pray that in these days too, all the religious and political leaders be the vanguard in leading their followers and nations to peace.
And may it be God's will that we all see the goodness of Jerusalem, and The Lord will give strength unto His people and bless His people with peace.