By Rabbi Yerachniel D. Fried
Dear Rabbi Fried,
I appreciate reading your column weekly and wish to refer to you a question that was discussed at our Seder this year. We, in the Diaspora, end the Seder with “Next year in Jerusalem!” What do people in Jerusalem say?
— Mark J.
People in Jerusalem say, “Next year in Jerusalem!”
This should not come as a shock, because in the daily prayer service, as part of the silent Amidah prayer recited three times a day, we also ask God to return us to Zion and Jerusalem. That prayer, as well, is recited by Jews living in Israel and Jerusalem.
Now, you’ll ask, why is that so? They have already been returned to Jerusalem.
The reason for this is because the Jerusalem we have today is not quite the same Jerusalem we have been praying for during the last 2,000 years. We, of course, are more than thrilled to presently have possession of the Wall, the Old City and the surrounding old and new cities of Jerusalem. It affords us the opportunity to connect to Jewish history, to the Jewish people and to God. It gives many the occasions to study for short-term or extended periods of time in Yeshivos and seminaries on very high levels of Jewish scholarship and intensity.
With all the above, it is still a far cry from the Jerusalem we are waiting and praying for. Jerusalem is not just a place, even a holy place, but a concept. It is the composite of two words: yirah, meaning the awe of the almighty, and shalem, which means perfection and inner peace, the root of the word shalom. The combination of the two spells out Yerushalayim, Jerusalem.
The way we arrive at the real Jerusalem is with the Divine Presence, the Shechinah that dwells within it. This took place in the Holy Temple, which stood behind what we know today as the Western Wall. That Wall, with all its holiness and power, is merely an external wall of the Temple courtyard.
The Temple itself, known as the Beit Hamikdash or Holy House, was a place where Jews — and gentiles, as well — could visit and bring their offerings to God. All who entered that hallowed place would feel they have entered a different dimension, a kind of twilight zone, which could not be described with normal descriptions or superlatives.
Visitors knew they were in a completely different space than ever before and left changed forever, as recorded by gentile historians of the Second Temple period. That feeling was not limited, however, to the Temple alone. Its light shone upon the entire city of Jerusalem; the entire city was a place where its visitors were transformed by its granting of inner peace and the awe of God exhibited by its citizens.
This is the meaning of the verse we sing with the removal of the Torah from the arc each week: “Ki Mitzion Teitzei Torah u’dvar Hashem M’Yerushalayim;” “From Zion will emanate the Torah and the Word of God from Jerusalem.”
When Jews from throughout Israel would come to Jerusalem three times a year on each holiday as the Torah commands, something special would happen. They would see the holiness on the faces and in the lives of the Jerusalemites, and observe the hallowed existence of the Kohanim, priests, performing the Temple worship in their unique garb. They would notice the shining face of the Kohein Gadol, the high priest, in his eight royal vestments, surrounded by holiness, and feel the aura of the Shechinah. All this they would take back with them after the holidays to their respective towns and villages, serving as an inspiration to diligently study Torah and aspire to newer and higher heights of observance and spirituality.
That is the Jerusalem we are waiting and praying for. Next year in Jerusalem!
Rabbi Yerachniel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel, Questions can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.