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Jerusalem Diary: 2014 Edition

The Deepest Love in the Throes of Anguish

Thursday, July 31, 4 Av, The Nine Days, Jerusalem —

I am sitting right near the outer walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. No words can express the profound feelings of being in the exact proximity of events that have taken place here for thousands of years. Especially in these Nine Days when we remember the tragic events that transpired right at these walls.

This very earth is saturated – haunted by ancient ghosts and angels.

I close my eyes and wonder: Who else has tread on this very spot? Did Abraham and Isaac walk by here as they climbed the Temple Mount for the Akeidah? Which Temple priests used this path? Did the Babylonians and later the Romans march by here as they breached the walls and destroyed the Temples? How about the Crusaders and all the other warriors attempting to make their mark in conquering the Holy City?

How far from here did Rabbi Akiva and his colleagues stand when the latter cried and the former laughed as they stared at the desolate Temple Mount, where foxes roamed after its destruction?

As my mind takes me down the corridors of history, I almost forget about the present. But then again, is the present that different from the past?

With rockets continuing to be launched and sirens wailing into the Israeli night, with battles raging in Gaza and a comprehensive maze of intricate killer tunnels discovered under Israeli population centers, with the death toll rising and no end to the fighting in sight, with a hostile world, clamoring, criticizing and pressuring Israel – events today are eerily reminiscent of all that has occurred in the Holy Land from the beginning of time.

On one hand that sounds like terrible news. The more things change the more they stay the same. Are we doomed to perpetual hostilities? Will Israel ever find true peace?

But on the other hand, when we look closer at Israel’s history, we can actually derive enormous hope and strength.

Which brings me back to my being here in Israel at this crucial time. A number of people have asked me why I didn’t cancel my trip to Israel, as did so many thousands. Am I not afraid to be in this dangerous “war zone?” as they put it.  As strange as it may sound to some, I feel that this is the best possible place to presently be. I am deeply proud and humbled – even in a state of awe – to join my brethren here in the center of the universe – in the vortex of the cosmos – as it experiences convulsions that rock the very core of this land and the fabric of the entire world.

Nothing reflects reality more than Israel today. Indeed, Israel – as the “portal” between heaven and earth – reflects the true nature of existence: the tension between matter and spirit. Like a heart, Israel is supersensitive to the true existential dichotomies and hostilities of our lives. This place, this time evokes our deepest passions, exposes our most intimate beliefs, tests our mettle, the strength and quality of our characters, courage and fortitude; it reveals all that defines our truest humanity, our very souls.

So yes, I prefer being in the heart of the world and experiencing the sensitized truth of our harsh reality than to be living in some false, comfortable veneer of the global body’s extremities.

People everywhere are asking what is the present mood in the Holy Land? How are Jews handling the situation? What do the streets look like? And the biggest question: Where is all this going?

But nothing is really new: Israel has been in a state of war for 66 years and under siege for over 2000 years since the destruction of the Holy Temples which we commemorate during these Nine Days. What can we learn from this long history of embattlement? How have we thrived through it all, and how does that inform our present strategies?

Well, the answer comes directly from events that took place at this very spot exactly 2436 years ago.

As the Babylonians entered the Holy of Holies they saw the keruvim (the cherubs atop the holy ark) cleaving to each other (Yoma 54b). The keruvim represented the relationship between G-d and His people: the Talmud tells us that when the people rebelled against the will of the Almighty, the keruvim would turn away from each other; when they were faithful to G-d, they would face each other (Bava Batra 99a); times in which the love and goodwill between G-d and His bride were at their peak were reflected in the keruvim’s embrace “as a man cleaves to his wife”.

But if the destruction of the Temple is a time of estrangement between G-d and Israel, why were the keruvim embracing each other at the time of the Temple’s destruction?

Because the deepest love between a couple is revealed not when things are going well, but when the love endures despite challenges and betrayals.

All that Israel has experienced throughout history – from the destruction of the Temples to today’s battles – one thing is absolutely clear: Nothing can vanquish Israel’s existence. All these challenges have exposed an indestructible resilience.

Thus the pagans entering the Holy of Holies found the keruvim in intimate embrace. On the surface, Israel was being attacked, and the Holy Temple set ablaze. The “marriage” was under siege. But within the Holy of Holies—within the innermost sanctum of their marriage—the love between G-d and His people was at the ultimate of closeness and unity.

Though we are now in the Nine Days and Israel is under attack, within the throes of our anguish lays a profound resolve and determination.

This, my friends, sums up the sentiment in Israel today: While parents and a nation are burying their young who died in protecting the innocent citizens of Israel, while men, women and children are running to bomb shelters, while the tunnels are a frightening force – every Jew in this Holy Land is standing together strong, resolute, courageous, filled with the deep belief that we will prevail, as we have always done.

A cab driver taking me from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem said it well. As we heard the news about the latest five IDf soldiers killed, he began to cry: “What do they want from us?!” “What did we do to them?!” And then with a voice coming from the depths of a Jewish soul, he continues: “Yet, we will fight on and show the world that we live forever.” As we entered Jerusalem he proudly declares: “Ayn ir b’olam kemo Yerusholayim.” There is no city in the world like Jerusalem…

As I proudly walk the holy ground of Israel, I absolutely feel: What better time to stand together with our brothers and sisters. People are thanking me for coming to Israel in this challenging time. I tell them all that in truth, I and Jews all over the world should be thanking them for standing strong on our behalf. We should be honoring the young soldiers of the IDF who are placing themselves at great risk defending Jews on a daily basis.

We cry over our losses, and frankly also the losses of those killed in Gaza due to being cynically used as human shields for terrorist fanatics that do not value any life. We cry just as the sages who looked down at the barren Temple Mount. But we also know how to smile, as Rabbi Akiva did, recognizing that within the destruction lays a redemption that will ultimately emerge, a building of the Third Temple which will endure forever.

Go here to view Rabbi Jacobson’s latest class broadcast under the shadows of the Old City of Jerusalem.

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