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Remembering Jerusalem

With the fast of the Seventeenth of Tamuz, we officially entered the national period of mourning for the destruction of Yerushalayim and the two Holy Temples. We refrain from rejoicing such as weddings, cutting our hair and buying new things.

If we would pay attention to the words we say when we daven, we would find a lot of interesting things. Did you ever notice, for instance, something strange about the Lechah Dodi poem we sing on Friday night? The author invites us to join him in greeting the Shabbos Bride together and, indeed, the first two stanzas refer to the holy day. However, in the third stanza, Mikdash Melech, the author suddenly turns his attention to the Royal City, the Sanctuary of the King, which means, of course, Jerusalem, and continues to discuss her status in Exile and to encourage her not to be afraid and to rejoice in anticipation of her imminent redemption and all that it entails. Only in the last stanza does the author finally return us to actually greet the Shabbos Bride.

In Jewish philosophy, we can surely find a correlation between Shabbos and Yerushalayim, especially according to the Kabala. Even so, there must be a practical explanation why the author digressed from his original theme and focused most of his attention to something else.

In the nineteenth century, the holy city of Tzefas was the center of Jewish settlement in Israel. The greatest scholars of Talmud and Kabala lived there and taught Torah to their many students. In 1837, there was a terrible earthquake which killed thousands of people and totally destroyed the entire community in the Galilee.

The Chasam Sofer ztvk"l (Rabbi Moshe Sofer, 1762-1839, born in Frankfurt am Maine, Germany who became Rabbi of Pressburg, Moravia, in 1806) rules (in Yoreh Deah Chapter 234) that it is a bigger mitzvah to settle in Yerushalayim than in any other place in Israel.

In his Sermons (volume 2, page 389b) he wrote that in his opinion, the reason for the tragedy in Tzefas was that Yerushalayim was jealous that her glory was replaced by another. He explains that there were periods when it was too dangerous to live in Jerusalem, either because of our enemies and/or because of plagues and diseases. At that time, the Jewish center moved to the Galilee, specifically to Tzefas. But people began to forget Yerushalayim, and even when it was possible to live there again, they continued to be attracted to the place where Jewish institutions were thriving. Therefore, Yerushalayim felt slighted, and, as a result, Tzefas was destroyed.

I believe that these terrifying words of the Chasam Sofer may be the answer to the question I asked above. The author of the Lechah Dodi was Rabbi Shlomo Halevy Alkabetz ztvk"l (ca. 1505; whose name appears in the initials of each stanza). He was a great Kabbalist who lived in Tzefas in about 1535, together with Rabbi Yosef Karo and Rabbi Moshe Kordovero ztvk"l . Perhaps he was aware of the problem and wanted to try to prevent a disaster from befalling the community. Therefore he decided to remind the people, every Friday night when they gathered together to greet the Shabbos, that the Holy City of Jerusalem lay in ruins and that they should be concerned for its well being. Indeed the Gemara says (Ta'anis 30b), "All who mourn for Yerushalayim will be privileged to participate in her joy; but all who do not mourn for Yerushalayim will not be privileged to participate in her joy." Unfortunately, apparently his initiative did not succeed entirely, and tragedy eventually struck and decimated the populace.

The lesson we must learn from all of this is that we should be very careful to appreciate Eretz Yisroel and Yerushalayim properly and never say or even feel that any other place is as good and certainly not better. This is contrary to a song: "Miami is the greatest place in the world" and other such expressions like "B'nei Berak is better than Jerusalem" or "Monsey is better than Israel". These are statements and thoughts that endanger our very existence chas veshalom and should be avoided at all costs.

We should properly value these Heavenly presents, and yearn to live there though it may be difficult. Indeed, the Gemara (Berachos 5a) says that Eretz Yisroel is one of the three special gifts given to us by Hashem which can only be acquired by means of suffering.

But until we are all privileged to live there, we should at least never forget her. It says in Tehillim (102:15), "For Your servants hold her stones dear, and have pity on her dust." Rashi there brings a Midrash that King Yechanyahu and his people carried stones and sand from Jerusalem, when they were sent into exile, in order to build a synagogue in Babylon out of them.

With modern technology, there are many other ways to remember the Holy City, including displaying the many pictures available. Those who use the Internet (hopefully, with great caution), are able to see the Kosel HaMa'aravi, live, in streaming video, twenty four hours a day. Certainly it is a great mitzvah to visit as often as possible. And it is definitely very important to support the institutions and the poor of Eretz Yisroel and Yerushalayim to the best of our ability.

May we always remember Jerusalem and be privileged to share in the joy of her redemption, by the hands of Moshiach, speedily, in our days, Amen.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel