I sleep every Tisha B’Av night on a narrow cushion in front of the Me’aras HaMachpelah in Hebron. I do this because the following chiddush came to me many years ago: When the spies went to Israel, the pasuk says “vayavo ad Chevron” – “and he came until Hebron.” He instead of they. Rashi says only Calev ben Yefuneh went to Hebron, to pray to Avraham Avinu that he not fall for the plan of the spies.
The spies gave their horrible report on Tisha B’Av night, and this night became a night of crying through the ages. So I said, “Hebron and Me’aras HaMachpelah is where I’m going sleep to remember the power of the prayer of Calev.”
And as I traveled to Hebron, how could I not stop at the tomb of Rachel Imeinu? It’s right on the way.
The Tenth of Av is my birthday, and this year as I walked from my car to Rachel’s Tomb I found myself singing, “Unhappy birthday to you, unhappy birthday to you, Dov Shurin!” – since on my birthday we are all crying for Mashiach.
Once I was in the tomb I took a Tehillim and beg David HaMelech to direct me to a verse that would consol me on my “unhappy” birthday. With my eyes closed, I asked that my finger open to a special page. I opened the book, my eyes still closed, and I asked, “Which page, right side or the left?” I imagined I was told the left. Then I ran my finger down the page until I sensed I should stop.
I opened my eyes and I was on the verse in Psalm 104 that reads “You send forth your spirit and they are created, renewing the face of the earth.” What a birthday present from above! It’s all about one’s birthday, about renewal. The verse before this is about death, and this verse is birth. I thought about the Torah giant we just lost, Rav Elyashiv, zt”l, and how Hashem certainly is renewing the earth with new tzaddikim; in fact, we’re told that Tisha B’Av is when Mashiach will be born.
Then I went to Hebron and stayed until Minchah time. At first it was difficult for me to deal with the Nachem prayer we say only on Tisha B’Av in the middle of the Vel’Yirushalayim Ircha blessing in the Shemoneh Esrei. The verses read: “Console the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem …. the city is destroyed, disgraced and empty.”
That’s not the case today, with close to two hundred thousand Jews living here, and we even have our light railroad. It just seemed to me the Nachem tefillah should be updated.
I did notice the Nachem prayer distinguishes between Zion and Jerusalem. So I decided to consult the amazing sefer of the Malbim, HaCarmel, which discusses relevant words and concepts. I turned to where he writes about Zion and Jerusalem. He notes that Metzudas Tzion was the city of David, which was occupied by children of kings, important personalities and Torah scholars, and the rest of Jerusalem is where the simple multitudes lived.
So Zion was what we refer to today as East Jerusalem. In my previous column I wrote about a police officer who was stabbed to death years ago by an Arab who came up from Silwan, which is Zion, which was the city of David and is called exactly that by those Jews who have settled there. So unfortunately the words of the Nachem prayer are in fact relevant today regarding East Jerusalem and its status in the eyes of the international community.
On Tisha B’Av Mitt Romney became the latest presidential candidate to promise to move the American embassy to Jerusalem, may it really happen this time. The Israeli government needs to make it clear that Jerusalem, and especially Zion, the city of David, is not for sale, period. Until then, the Nachem prayer remains true to its text.
May our Charming Nation see the consolation of Zion, the final Godly building of Yerushalayim, and the renewal of the face of the earth with the coming of Mashiach quickly in our day, amen.
Dov Shurin is a popular radio personality and the composer and producer of several albums of original composition. He lives with his family in Israel and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears in The Jewish Press every other week.