WHAT CONNECTS JEWS to Jerusalem? Some would say its history; starting with Abraham bringing his son Isaac for a sacrifice and Jacob’s amazing dream. King David established it as the Jewish capital some three thousand years ago. His son King Solomon constructed the First Temple that was destroyed some 465 years later by the Babylonian King Nebachnezer. After an interlude of 70 years later it was rebuilt, lasting close to five centuries to the year 70, when the Romans conquered it. Over the millennia Jews remained bonded to Jerusalem, mentioning it in the daily prayers, at the end of a wedding ceremony and facing synagogues in its direction. Today it’s the seat of Israel’s government, the Knesset, Supreme Court and government ministries. Are these the core reason that Jerusalem is important to the Jewish People?
The Torah teaches us that when the Jews stood at Mount Sinai G-d instructed them that after they enter the Land of Israel they should establish a spiritual center, “In the place I will command you.” That place is Jerusalem. King David prepared the groundwork by making Jerusalem Israel’s capital; King Solomon fulfilled the Divine Command by building the Holy Temple.
The Temple in Jerusalem represents the core idea in Judaism, that the ultimate purpose of human existence is the connection between the Creator and the Creation. The Temple was the first holy site erected to focus human attention on an immutable G-d. Until this point idolatry had held sway in the world. In the Temples of the Greeks, Egyptians, Babylonians and other nations there were idols of wood, metal, and stone. Celestial spheres like the moon, sun and the stars were worshiped. Monotheism, the belief in a Divine Being that transcends time and place and created the world, was foreign.
Here lies the true idea of Jerusalem. The rich history of Jerusalem as a capital and the traditions connected to the city are an important legacy. They are just reflections of the central message of Judaism to humanity-the belief in One G-d. Jerusalem and the Holy Temple was the physical space of the revelation of the Divine Being in the physical world. The verse says, that “G-d will dwell in the sanctuary.” In King Solomon’s Temple, there were no statues for prayer. Only to recognition of an invisible G-d.
The Talmud has a remarkable statement in regard to Jerusalem. “Ten portions of beauty were brought down the world, and nine went to Jerusalem.” Jerusalem is a stunning city filled with ancient stone and a rich vistas. Still, it’s not Yosemite or the Grand Canyon. It seems to me, that the Talmud is sending a deeper message. True beauty is not physical but spiritual. Jerusalem is the place that G-d chose to reveal his essence in the physical world. It’s this deeper spiritual beauty that the Talmud is alluding to.
Yes, we should celebrate the fact that the world most important power has finally recognizing Jerusalem as the Jewish capital. We should also hope that other countries follow suit. But we should remember the real message of Jerusalem is recognizing the Divine Presence in the world. This is why we call it the “Holy City.”
Rabbi David Eliezrie is at Congregation Beth Meir HaCohen/Chabad. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.