What we mean by ‘Next year in Jerusalem’

Dear Rabbi Fried,
We, in the Diaspora, end the Passover Seder with “Next year in Jerusalem!” What do people in Jerusalem say?
Mark J.
Dear Mark,
People in Jerusalem say, “Next year in Jerusalem!”
This should not come as a shock because as part of the daily silent Amidah prayer we also ask God to return us to Zion and Jerusalem. That prayer is recited by Jews living in Jerusalem.
Now, you’ll ask, “Why is that so? They have already returned to Jerusalem.”
The Jerusalem we have today is not quite the same Jerusalem we have been praying for the last 2000 years.
We are more than thrilled to presently have possession of the Wall, the Old City and the surrounding new cities of Jerusalem. It affords us the opportunity to connect to Jewish history, the Jewish people and God. It offers many Jewish young men and women the opportunity to study for short- or long-term periods of time in yeshivos and seminaries on very high levels of Jewish scholarship.
However, the Jerusalem of today is still a far cry from the Jerusalem we are still 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,” meaning perfection and inner peace. Shalem is also the root word of shalom. The combination of the two spells out “Yerushalayim,” or as we know, “Jerusalem.”
The way we arrive at the real Jerusalem is with the Divine Presence, the Shechinah which dwells within it. This took place in the Holy Temple which stood above what we know today as the Western Wall. That wall, with all its holiness and power, is merely a retaining wall, below the Second Temple courtyard. The Temple itself, known as the Beit Hamikdash, or House of Holiness, was a place that Jews and Gentiles could visit and bring their offerings to God. Many of those who entered that hallowed place felt they entered a different dimension, a kind of twilight zone which could not be described. Even Gentile visitors knew they were in a completely different space and were left changed forever. 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 had the potential of being transformed by its granting of inner peace and the awe of God exhibited by many of its citizens. The light of the Temple illuminated courtyards throughout Jerusalem.
This is the meaning of the verse we sing with the removal of the Torah from the Ark 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 came to Jerusalem three times a year on each holiday as the Torah commands, something special happened. They saw the holiness on the faces and in the lives of the Jerusalemites, and observed the hallowed existence of the Kohanim, a group of priests performing the Temple worship in their unique garb. They noticed the shining face of the Kohein Gadol, the high priest, in his eight royal vestments, surrounded by holiness, and felt the aura of the Shechinah. All this they took 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, together with the citizens of the present Jerusalem, are waiting and praying for. Next year in Jerusalem!

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