By: Chaya Sora Jungreis-Gertzulin
We are starting the Nine Days, a time of mourning for Yerushalayim and the Bais Hamikdosh. A time of remembering what we once had. A time of davening that we merit to see it once again.
“V’l’yerushalyim ircha, b’rachamim toshuv…, And to Yerushayim Your city, may You return in compassion, and may You rest within it…” (From the Daily Amidah)
“Uvnei Yerushalayim ir hakodesh b’mheirah b’yameinu, Rebuild Yerushalayim, the Holy City, soon in our day….” (Birchas Hamazon)
Every day, we daven for the Holy City of Yerushalyim. In every Shmonei Esrei, in every Birchas Hamazon, we ask HaShem to see it once again in its splendor and glory.
Prayers that are on our lips, but do they enter our hearts? Are our souls truly yearning for Yerushalayim? Does anyone really cry for Yerushalayim?
The year was 1920. The British government appointed Sir Herbert Samuel as the first High Commissioner of Palestine. Sir Herbert visited the Holy Land. He met with Christian and Muslim leaders, and made an appointment to visit Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld zt”l, Chief Rabbi of Yerushalayim.
The meeting was scheduled to take place at the rabbi’s small, simple basement apartment in the Old
City. To enter, one had to descend a long flight of steep stairs. The rabbi’s students pleaded with him to temporarily relocate his residence in order to give Sir Herbert a more favorable impression. Rabbi Sonnenfeld declined, but made a small “indulgence” by acquiring a new tablecloth in honor of his guest.
On the day of the visit, Sir Herbert was escorted to the Old City by a tight ring of security. There were huge crowds and a large media presence to report on the event. As Sir Herbert descended the stairs and entered the apartment, he greeted the rabbi with what he thought to be a joke…. “The rabbi couldn’t find himself an apartment deeper in the earth?”
Rabbi Sonnenfeld’s reaction was to open a shuttered window revealing a street-level view of the Old City.
Tears began to roll from the rabbi’s eyes, as he said in a pained voice: “As long as the dwelling place of my beloved G-d lies in ruins, my home need not be any better than His.”
The rabbi’s profound and heartfelt words left Sir Herbert in awe. Visibly moved, he suddenly found himself speechless. Sir Herbert just turned around and silently left. When he reached the street, reporters surrounded him, firing questions about the meeting, but Sir Herbert remained silent.
My mother, the Rebbetzin a”h, always availed herself to speak personally to whomever approached her following her many classes or lectures. Once, after a speech in Yerushalayim, a beautiful young woman came over and shared her story. She was originally from Sweden and went to Israel for a visit. She fell in love with the land and its people and couldn’t bring herself to leave. After much studying and preparation, she converted, becoming a member of Am Yisroel.
My mother was sure that she would be asking for a berachah to find an appropriate shidduch, but that was not the case. Instead, she asked for something else. A berachah to find it within her neshamah to truly cry for Yerushalayim. To weep for a city in ruins, to cry for a people surrounded by enemies, a people in pain.
My parents raised us with a love for Eretz Yisroel. Our family’s first trip to Israel was during the summer of 1968. While I was just a young girl then, I remember standing in front of the Kotel. My mother bent down to kiss the ground, and we children did the same. Ema’s words are still with me. “The ground you are walking upon is admas kodesh, holy ground. Do you understand the miracle that you are witnessing? HaShem gave us a beautiful gift. The Kotel is ours again. For all of Am Yisrael to daven at.” It was a most awe-inspiring moment, to stand on the very same ground which our ancestors walked upon over two thousand years ago.
The Rebbetzin wrote about that experience in her first book, The Jewish Soul on Fire. “We stood there as if in a trance, my husband, my children and I. We could not speak. There were only tears. For two thousand years we had waited for this moment. Our ancestors had prayed for this day. What they would not have given to stand here, even for a fleeting second, and yet they were denied the privilege. How strange that we who were unworthy, we – who were wanting in faith – were the ones to stand here in the presence of sanctity! How, I wondered, could we ever prove ourselves worthy of the merit? How dare we approach this holy place?”
My mother related a story about a soldier who was a member of the battalion that liberated Yerushalyim in 1967. The soldiers ran to the Kotel, and overwhelmed with emotion, broke down in tears. One soldier, who wasn’t religious, stood off by the side. He too broke down in tears. When asked why he was crying, his response was “I am crying because I do not feel what my fellow soldiers are feeling. I am crying because I do not have what to cry about.”
As we are getting closer to Tisha B’Av, let’s make an effort to concentrate even more on our tefillos. To shed a tear for Yerushalayim. As we daven, we should try to visualize a rebuilt Yerushalayim.
We are a nation that has shed many tears. A nation that has experienced much pain and persecution. Yet, at the same time we are nation that sings Ani Ma’amin – I Believe. A nation that infuses hope and belief, Emunah and bitachon, into our tears. In that merit, the day should come soon when our tears of sorrow become tears of Joy.
The Talmud teaches, “Kol hamisabel al Yerushalayim, zoche v’roeh b’simchasah… Whoever mourns for Yerushalayim will merit to witness the rejoicing of it’s rebuilding.”
Chodesh Tov and Shabbat Shalom.
Chaya Sora can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was written L’zecher Nishmas / In Memory Of HaRav Meshulem ben HaRav Osher Anshil HaLevi, zt”l and Rebbetzin Esther bas HaRav Avraham HaLevi, zt”l