Longing for Yerushalaim is not the same, and is not as easy, as mourning for Yerushalaim. We know at least the outer trappings of how to mourn. We fast, sit on the floor… But how do we express longing? Now that Tisha B’Av is past, how do we go about feeling and expressing our desire for Yerushalaim?

Chazal made a clear distinction between mourning and longing in actions that are done ‘zecher l’ (a reminder of). Actions that are zecher l’churban (a reminder of the destruction) fall in the category of mourning. These include putting ashes on the chasan’s head and having him break a glass at the end of the wedding ceremony. Also, leaving an unpainted square on your wall, not wearing all your jewelry, etc. These are different from actions that are zecher l’mikdash (a reminder of the Temple), which RMatisyahu Solomon notes, in a talk heard by my son, are related to simcha (joy), and reflect our longing for the Bais Hamikdash. Some of these are taking lulav and esrog on all days of Sukkos (which was not done outside Yerushalaim), and blowing shofar and the kapparah (atonement) of the neilah (closing prayer) on Yom Kippur. And in the Seder we say ‘zecher l’mikdash k’Hillel’ (a reminder of the Temple according to Hillel) when eating Korech, the ‘sandwich’ of matzoh and marror. The gemara in Sukkah 41a and Rosh Hashana 30a asks ‘From where do we know that we have to perform ceremonies zecher l’mikdash. Rav Yochanan quotes Yirmiyahu (30:17) “Because they have called you an outcast. She is Zion; there is none that seeks for her”. ‘There is none that seeks for” her implies that she should be sought. So these are concrete things we do to seek for and long for Zion, but to them we must attach an internal connection.


I would like to explore the longing for Yerushalaim in this article. My main source is a beautiful book, Jerusalem the eye of the universe by Aryeh Kaplan ztl, published in 1976. I would like to explore our relationship to Yerushalaim, in the context of its ability to unite and unify.

We are in love with Yerushalaim. In colloquial English, we call someone we adore ‘the apple of our eye’. Rabbi Kaplan takes the title of his book from a saying from Derech Eretz Zuta: Abba Issi said in the name of Shmuel HaKatan: The world is like a human eyeball, the white in the ocean surrounding the world, the iris is the land, the pupil is Jerusalem, and the image in the pupil is the Holy Temple.’ Rabbi Nachman said “Wherever I go, I go to Jerusalem”. And so it is for every Jew. We pray for Yerushalaim when we thank Hashem for our food, in our prayers, at weddings. There is a custom to put earth of Yerushalaim inside the coffin when a Jew dies. The two most observed holidays of the year for all Jews, Yom Kippur and the Pesach Seder, both end with l’shana haba’ah b’Yerushalaim. Every synagogue in the world is built facing Yerushalaim. It is our love for Yerushalaim that causes us to call upon her at every opportunity. The Talmud tells us that ten measures of beauty descended to this world. Nine were given to Jerusalem and one to the rest of the world. And Yerushalaim is more holy than any other place.

Unifying Bnei Yisrael

At Pesach, Shavuos and Sukkos, Jews poured in from all over the world, and were united and molded into a single people within the context of holiness and serving Hashem. No Jew would be suspected of harming another in any way during these pilgrimages. The place chosen by Hashem had to be a city for this reason; it is a place where civilization grows and develops. The work ir, city, comes from same root as to awaken. A city has the potential of awakening mankind and bringing out our best creative instinct. Yerushalaim was the city, the ‘awakener’, arousing and motivating the Jew toward his mission. Our Sages teach that Yerushalaim is the highest realization of the concept of the City. At the time of bringing Maaser Sheni, which had to be eaten in Yerushalaim, the owner of the food himself would become himself, as Hirsch describes in Parashes Re’aih (Devarim 14:23), a Kohen and Levi in spirit, living off his tithe there. Each person had to take time off from work, purify himself, and remain there until tithe consumed. Through Maaser Sheni, the entire Jewish people would become a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. It provided spiritual regeneration for all members of the Jewish people, and it was the place a person attained atonement.

Unity of Different Aspects of Serving Hashem

There is a striking difference in the description of the composition of two parts of the Bais HaMikdash. We know that the mizbeach (altar) had to be built of stone that had not been hewn, or molded with any metal object. Nearby, the Sandhedrin met in a room called Lishkat Hagazit,, the hewn chamber. The mizbeach represented man submitting himself entirely to Hashem. The Lishkat Hagazit represented man’s use of his intellect to understand the words of Hashem, as symbolized by the stones being cut. Both approaches are necessary. Interestingly, Yerushalaim and the Temple area itself were made up of two parts. The Lower City, to the east and including the eastern slope of the Temple Mount, was known as Shalem in ancient times. It is here where the academy of Shem v’Ever and the judges for the nations were located, and this was the area on which the Lishkat Hagazit stood. The Upper City, included the western part of the Temple Mount. and the area of the mizbeach and was called the land of Moriah. The mizbeach was the site where Avraham brought Yitzchak for the akeida, and it symbolizes, according to the Meshech Chochma, the direct connection of man with the Almighty. The city of Shalem and the academy there represent man’s connection to other people and the attempt to elevate others.


Unity of Physical and Spiritual

It is something that is difficult for us to understand. When we say the ‘asher yatzar’ bracha after going to the bathroom, it ends with praising Hashem as “mafli la’asos”, He does wondrously. Rav Schwab notes that the Shulchan Aruch and Rema, which characteristically present halacha without additional explanation, elaborate on this bracha. How can a human body with may openings in it retain the soul without it escaping? . Rema says what is wondrous is that the soul is kept within the person, attaching the neshama, the highest level of ruchniyus to the body, the lowest level of gashmiyus.

Hashem created this world and placed man in it, so that he could take his physical part and elevate it using his spiritual part. Hashem treasures the union of the physical and the spiritual, and the ultimate state after techiyas hameisim is not disembodied souls but rather the purified body rejoining the soul.

The Bais HaMikdash expressed the desired joining of the physical and the spiritual. Rav Hirsch notes that Bnei Yisrael are told not to come emptyhanded to Yerushalaim for each holiday. He interprets this to mean that we don’t separate out our spiritual selves, and only take this part to Yerushalaim. Rather, we take our physical with our spiritual parts, so we can elevate them together in the Holy City.

The Bais HaMikdash on earth corresponded to the Bais HaMikdash above, so that the Bais HaMikdash was the point where earth and Heaven connected. There was a portal, as it were, allowing prayers to ascend and prophecy to descend through the space between the Cherubim in the Holy of Holies.



In a talk about Yerushalaim, Rabbi Yisroel Reisman captured the need for longing for Yerushalaim. He brings a Gemara (Chulin 91b), which describes Yaakov’s trip from Be’er Sheva to go to Charan. The pasuk says ‘Vayifga bamakom’, he encountered the place, where he has the dream of a ladder reaching to Heaven and sets up a monument and prays to Hashem. The gemara says that when Yaakov reached Charan, he thought to himself, “How can I have passed through the place where my fathers prayed (Har HaMoriah, site of the alter of the future Temple) and not have prayed too?” He immediately thought to return, but no sooner had he thought of this than there was kefitzas haderech (contraction of the earth) and he immediately arrived there. Rabbi Reisman asked why he could not have been taken to this site directly, rather than having to backtrack when he reached Charan. He answered that it was only when he got to Charan that Yaakov thought of being in Yerushalaim, and longed for Yerushalaim, to pray as his fathers di,d that Hashem enabled him to fulfill his desire immediately. May we long for Yerushalaim and bring about a time when we can all be there, feeling its kedusha and praying to Hashem in the closest way possible.


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Janet Sunness is medical director of the Richard E. Hoover Low Vision Rehabilitation Services at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center. She gives classes and talks on a variety of topics in the Baltimore area for the Women’s Institute of Torah and Cong. Shomrei Emunah.