Fifty-six years ago tomorrow, during the Six-Day War, Israel reclaimed the Old City of Jerusalem after fierce fighting against the Jordanian army. Israel appealed to Jordan to stay out of the war, but God had other plans. Who can forget the stirring words of commander Motta Gur, “Har Habayit b’yadeinu”—“The Temple Mount is in our hands.” Why a victorious army would then willingly give the Temple Mount away to the Muslim Waqf is beyond me, but that’s for another discussion.
Who can forget the emotional reaction of every Jew, religious or secular, to that stunning news? Battle-hardened, anti-religious kibbutzniks cried at the Kotel even if they didn’t quite understand the significance of the Western Wall or even the Holy Temple itself. In their heart, in their kishkes, they felt something historic had happened, something life-changing for our people. And they wept.
Jerusalem has that effect on us, doesn’t it? We just returned from a shul tour in Israel and to be honest, as wonderfully impressive as all the tours and museums around the country are, for my wife and I, just walking the streets of Jerusalem was the best part of our trip.
We can argue about everything. And we do. Hopefully, we all agree that Jerusalem is not negotiable and an undivided Jerusalem will be Israel’s capital forever.
But did you know that there is another Jerusalem too? The Psalmist writes about a “city united together” and the mystics say there is a “Jerusalem below and a Jerusalem above.” Jerusalem is mentioned many hundreds of times in our Bible. It was our national center and spiritual core a thousand years before Christianity and 2,500 years before Islam. We mention Jerusalem at every wedding and at every funeral. It is embedded in us like no other place.
Yes, there is a spiritual Jerusalem. Though the Babylonians and later the Romans destroyed our Temples, they could never destroy the sanctity of Jerusalem. They could not drive God out of His capital city. And His holy presence is still felt there. When we were at the Kotel, we saw visitors from virtually every country in the world. They too appeared visibly moved that they were in a holy place.
As with Jerusalem the city, so is there a little spark of Jerusalem inside each of us. The outer walls of our holy city may have been demolished, but the spirituality cannot be extinguished. Rocks, stones, wood and mortar can be destroyed, but the essence of Jerusalem is eternal and impregnable.
So too, there is a place inside each of us that remains sacred, inviolate and pure. The essence of our neshama, our “soul,” is like a little Jerusalem inside us. That spark of holiness can never be extinguished. The pilot light of spirituality continues to burn inside every Jew, whether we see it or not. Our outer structures may be weak, but our inner sanctum remains untainted. We may be lacking in this observance or that, our building blocks may be sparse, but the inner flame still burns.
No enemy could drive God out of Jerusalem and no ignorance or indifference can break down our inner Jerusalem either. Just as Jerusalem is politically non-negotiable, there is a bottom line for every Jew beyond which he or she will not cross. What it is will differ for each of us, but that it is there is undeniable.
I find it fascinating how Jews who, by their own admission, observe few if any of our Jewish traditions, will suddenly rise up with righteous indignation about a tradition that is important to them. That one tradition is a bottom line and they will fight for it with courage and conviction. I don’t consider this hypocritical. To them, it is real and authentic. It is holy and non-negotiable.
The martyrs of Jewish history, those who gave their lives for their faith, for their people, for our homeland, were not all rabbis or devoutly religious types. Ordinary Jews do extraordinary things all the time. That’s who we are.
Despite our differences, we all believe in Jerusalem and the Jewish future. May we take that inner faith and build on it. May Jerusalem soon be rebuilt, inside and out.
Rabbi Yossy Goldman is Life Rabbi Emeritus of Sydenham Shul in Johannesburg and president of the South African Rabbinical Association. He is the author of From Where I Stand, on the weekly Torah readings, available from Ktav.com and Amazon.