At our Seders last week we all recited the ancient vow “Next year in Jerusalem.” If you are a Jew, Jerusalem is in your blood. It’s a city engraved upon your heart. Centuries ago Yehuda HaLevi wrote, “My heart is in the east while I am in the west.”
No matter where life has taken us, our hearts have forever remained in the east, in Jerusalem.
When I was a little girl in Hungary, I may not have known where Paris or Rome was, but I did know the location of Jerusalem. My parents of blessed memory, HaRav HaGaon Avraham HaLevi Jungreis, zt”l, and Rebbetzin Miriam Jungreis, a”h, nurtured us with the milk and honey of Yerushalayim. Nowadays, few still thirst for that sweetness. And yet, with all the distractions of modern life, Yerushalayim tugs at our hearts.
Several years ago, I saw with my own eyes and heard with my own ears this connection between the Jew and this holy city.
I was speaking at Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue. There was no spare seat to be had and, despite the lateness of the night, people kept coming. Many lingered after I finished my speech. Some sought advice and guidance. Others just wanted to talk.
Above all, they asked for berachos – for shidduchim, for health, for sustenance. And then, a tall, lovely, blond-haired girl stood before me. She was crying. Something prompted me to ask, “Are you Jewish?” Her voice cracking with tears, she whispered, “I’m a convert. I came to Yerushalayim to become part of the Jewish people.”
She explained that she came from a country where Jews had been beaten, tortured, maimed, and killed during the Holocaust. But her soul whispered the message, “Go, join the people who stood at Sinai; go to Jerusalem!”
I naturally assumed she sought a blessing for a good shidduch. “No, no,” she protested, “that’s not why I’m here. You just related a story that entered my soul. Please bless me with the ability to not forget.”
And then she repeated one of the stories I had told in my address.
The story was about a mother who lost her husband and 11 of her children in Auschwitz. She made aliyah but still had no peace. She couldn’t sleep. She couldn’t work. She couldn’t come to terms with her fate.
She sought out a rebbe – perhaps he would offer her some consolation. She spilled out her heart and described each and every one of her children. The rebbe listened and wept with her. And then he said something amazing. “I think I saw someone among the newly arrived children now settled in a kibbutz who fits the description of your Dovidl.”
The rebbe told her he would try to trace the lineage of that child.
A few days later the rebbe called. “I may have some good news for you,” he said. Heart pounding, she returned to the rebbe’s home – and there was her little boy.
“Dovidl, Dovidl,” she shouted. “Mama, Mama,” he sobbed as he ran into her arms. When the boy caught his breath, he asked a painful question. “Where is my father? Where are Moishele and Rochele?” As Dovidl enumerated the names of all his brothers and sisters, he and his mother cried uncontrollably. They continued to weep long into the night.
As I told that story, I remarked to the audience that it occurred to me that Dovidl’s children and grandchildren have no memory of those who preceded them. Similarly, we come to Israel, rush off the plane, pick up our luggage, and make our way to Jerusalem. And what do we think about?
We’re busy asking ourselves and each other, “Where is a good place to eat?” “Any new restaurants around?” “Did you try out that new hotel?” Is it worth it the price?”
But do any of us ask, “Where is the Beis HaMikdash?” Does anyone really miss the Beis HaMikdash? Does anyone search for it? Does anyone even think about it? Does anyone even want to remember?
The girl who stood before me begged with tears, “Please, rebbetzin, give me a berachah that I should never forget to cry for the Beis HaMikdash. I’m so afraid I will forget and become oblivious to its loss. I do not want to be like Dovidl’s children.”
I could only look at her. She had taken my breath away. I couldn’t recall anyone ever asking me for such a berachah – to be able to remain constantly aware of the Beis HaMikdash and, yes, to weep for it.
For thousands of years, we prayed, wept, and hoped for Yerushalayim. To see Yerushalayim again, to behold the rebuilt Beis HaMikdash, has always been the center of all our prayers. At our weddings, in the midst of our joy, we break a glass to remember our Temple that is no more. When painting our homes, we leave a small spot empty to remind us that no home can be complete if the Beis HaMikdash has not been rebuilt.
We have a thousand and one reminders in our prayers, in our traditions, in our observance, that constantly recall to us Jerusalem and the holy Temple. And yet, now that we have Jerusalem again, we have somehow forgotten our dream – our Beis HaMikdash that we prayed for and continue to pray for.
Sadly, our prayers for the Temple have become just words recited by rote. And here comes a young woman new to our faith and she seeks a blessing, not for a shidduch, not for parnassah, not for good health, not for personal happiness – but for the ability to shed tears and yearn to see the Beis HaMikdash rebuilt. Should that not give us all pause? Should that not make us think and consider?
Should we not ask again and again and still again, “Where is the Beis HaMikdash?” I know I miss it so. Even when I’m in Jerusalem, my joy is not complete – and it won’t be until the shining crown of the holy city is with us once again and I see its glory restored.