By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
I spent this past Shabbos in the eternal city of Yerushalayim. To say that Yerushalayim is an eternal city is not an empty cliché. It is a correct depiction of the constantly evolving Holy City. Wherever you go, there is construction going on. New buildings are popping up all over the city. Roads are being built and rebuilt in a constantly changing pattern that necessitates constant reprinting of maps and updating of GPS systems.
The city keeps on developing, but as much as it changes, it stays the same. It maintains the same charm. Yerushalayim is blessed with a chein like no other city. Its streets are different, its people are different, its sounds and smells are different, and, of course, its buildings, all clad in Jerusalem stone, are different. But what makes it most extraordinary is its inherent holiness and history. Wherever you go in that city, you are touching, feeling and experiencing history.
On Sunday, I passed a road reconstruction project in Yerushalayim. Anywhere else, fixing a road is no big deal and follows a predictable, oft-repeated pattern. Architects design, engineers plot, construction workers carry out the plans, and, in a set time, a new road is there for everyone to travel on. In Yerushalayim, though, nothing is that simple, especially when it involves digging. In this instance, during their excavation, workers uncovered a Hasmonean-era stone wall. It wasn’t even a big deal. The discovery of a 2,000-year-old wall didn’t make any headlines. People walk by the construction site, which is now partially closed to vehicular traffic, without even taking a second look to peer at the historic relic being uncovered.
It is such a chizuk in emunah when you can see, touch and feel the pesukim of the Torah and Neviim as they come alive right in front of you.
This is true not only in Yerushalayim. Essentially wherever you go in the country, you find evidence of our past and the pesukim in Tanach. How can you not be affected?
On Thursday, we took a drive through the yishuvim of the Shomron. We stood on Har Gerizim and looked out across the valley at Har Eival and down the cliff at the ancient city of Shechem. Chills run down your spine as you contemplate what transpired on this mountain as masses of Jews stood before it and received Hashem’s blessings.
From there, we went to visit the site of the city of Shilo, where, the Gemara in Zevachim (118b) states, the Mishkan stood for 369 years. Wherever you step, there are pieces of broken pottery on the ground. Meir Eisenman, who brought us there, explained that they are remnants from the keilim that the Jews cooked their korbanos chatos in, during the time the Mishkan was in Shiloh. Since the keilim absorbed the juices of the sacred meat, they became forbidden as nosar and thus were smashed and broken as the posuk dictates in Vayikroh 6, 21. These shards are still extant, and as you walk about in ancient Shiloh and its environs, you can’t help but step on them. It is fascinating to know that you are literally stepping on history. You can actually pick up these pieces and put them in your pocket, carrying with you thousands of years of Jewish holiness.
You stand where Jews came to bring their offerings prior to the construction of the Bais Hamikdosh and marvel at the site. You wonder how anyone can deny our truths after standing in these places and realizing that the words of Nach are not simple flights of fancy.
This is all magnified in Yerushalayim, as you see Ihr Dovid, where Dovid Hamelech lived and ruled. You can stand by Yad Avshalom, the memorial that Dovid’s rebellious childless son constructed for himself on Har Hazeisim. Yerushalmi Jews of old used to bring their children to the site and train them to throw stones at the memorial, teaching them the lesson of the fate of a child who rebels against his parents.
To stand in front of the Kosel and to believe that the Shechinah never left this place, and to know that just behind it really stood the Botei Mikdosh, is one thing. A deeper dimension is added when you look around there and realize that you are surrounded by a kibbutz goliyos of Jews of every type from every part of the world.
As you daven there, you hear a cacophony of voices and sounds representing every dialect. It doesn’t disturb your kavanah, but rather serves to enhance it as it forms a symphony of prayer.
Those sounds accompany you wherever you go. You hear so many languages spoken and you recognize that Jews are coming home to their ancestral land, actualizing the visions of the prophets throughout the ages. They all know that they have returned to rebuild and repopulate their own land, the land that was repeatedly destroyed and yet rebuilt and reborn. They see the old and the new merge as one, and their hearts beat stronger and their neshamos become more vigorous and tenacious as a result.
As tourists, we also benefit from that extra bounce in the step knowing that we are traversing hallowed ground, standing on the remnants of keilim that Jews used 3,300 years ago and walking on the same paths and roads that our forefathers walked on.
The people we visit to seek guidance and blessings inspire as well by their very being. When you look at Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv and speak to him, you know that you are benefiting from the accumulated Torah knowledge accrued over ten decades. This is enhanced when you appreciate the contributions to that fountain of knowledge by his sainted father, his father-in-law, Rav Aryeh Levin zt”l, as well as his grandfather, the noted Lithuanian Kabbalist and author of the Leshem on the Zohar, and his prodigious rabbeim.
When you speak to Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman and Rav Michel Yehudah Lefkowitz, you see the definition of the words of Chazal that “divrei chachomim benachas nishma’im.” You can sense and feel ten decades devoted to self-improvement through Torah and mussar. You witness the blessed life of a person who has perfected himself by following the 48 Kinyanei HaTorah.
When you think about the greatness that a person like Rav Chaim Kanievsky has achieved through his total dedication to Torah, it shakes you up to know that in our day and age, it is possible for man to reach such a superior level of Torah knowledge. Rav Chaim is a person who knows kol haTorah kulah, and yet you know that he wasn’t born with it. He reached his current state through total dedication to his lifetime pursuit. Add to that his humility and utter simplicity and it is simply breathtaking.
You look at Rav Dovid Abuchatzeirah in Nahariyah and you see in front of you the scion of generations of greatness in niglah and nistar. You observe a person blessed with generous amounts of siyata diShmayah, who imparts a great portion of his time on behalf of the hundreds who travel to him every week seeking encouragement and guidance.
So it goes in the day of a tourist in Eretz Yisroel.
On this most recent trip, however, I was no ordinary tourist. We had gone to celebrate the 100th birthday of a special woman, my wife’s grandmother, may she continue to enjoy good health and happiness. I couldn’t help but think of how thankful her offspring and family should be that they benefit from the wisdom and experience of a good woman who has lived through so much.
We tend to take so many of our blessings for granted. Having the benefit of a special woman who has the hindsight and the emunah temimah of one who lived through wars and deprivation is something worth celebrating. As the family gathered to commemorate the special occasion, I thought of it as a seudas hoda’ah, thanking Hashem for granting them the blessings of having a person with such sterling character at the head of the family.
Eminently thankful for all the good Hashem has granted her over the past ten decades, her simplicity, emunah, bitachon and ehrlichkeit are remarkable. In a time of plenty, when most people are never satisfied and are always seeking more, she stands as an example of someone who appreciates what she has and knows that all her needs are provided for by a Father in Heaven Who knows best.
My wife’s grandmother lives in Yerushalayim, the city of the new and the old, the young and the seasoned, and nothing could be more appropriate. The lessons she imparts and the way she davens and cheers others are indigenous to Yerushalayimer Jews who achieve gratification through their relationship with Hashem and his Torah and have no need or respect for affluence and opulence.
She has seen it all since the day she was born in a small Czech town near the Hungarian border. With mesirus nefesh, she raised fine children during trying times in New York, and she subsequently retired with her husband to Yerushalayim in the early ’60s.
It is the people such as her who make Yerushalayim beautiful, who make our nation great, and who set an example for our generation to emulate and follow. Too often, in this land of plenty, we lose sight of our purpose in this world. Living in a young country with a history of but a few hundred years, we permit a culture steeped in extravagance to degrade our values.
We really shouldn’t have to travel halfway around the world, step on keilim from the Mishkan-era and meet centenarians to rebalance our priorities. But it helps.
We can’t just drop everything and run off to Yerushalayim every time we need chizuk. Thankfully, there are people here with us as well from whom we can learn. There are edifices of kedushah in every city, where, with the proper mindset, we can regain our equilibrium so that our lives can be more productive and purposeful, and so that Hashem will shine his blessings upon us, granting us long life, coupled with good health and nachas, and, ultimately, the coming of Moshiach and the rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdosh, bekarov beyomeinu. Amein.