In our day, to be a Doresh Yerushalayim, a seeker of Jerusalem, involves the demand of a surety, the demand of title, the staking of a political, national and exclusive claim to the city.
The prophets command us to constantly ‘seek Jerusalem’. “This is Zion, whose welfare is sought by none” (Jeremiah 30:17) — from here we learn the obligation of ‘derisha’, seeking the welfare of Jerusalem, teaches the Talmud.
Even today, as fortunate citizens of the restored capital of the Jewish people under Israeli sovereignty, there’s a great deal of ‘derisha’, seeking, to be done.
Firstly, we must pay more attention to Jerusalem. To be more involved, to care, to build and develop, never to take for granted. To visit. According to one survey, an amazing fifty percent of 18-year old Israelis have never visited the national capital! Outside of the primary schools and the Bnei Akiva religious-Zionist youth movement not too many Israelis take much note of Jerusalem Day, missing an opportunity to step forward and rediscover our historic national lodestone. It’s time to make Jerusalem day a formal civic holiday, like Yom Haatzmaut.
‘Derisha’ also means imposition of a moral obligation, the requirement to live up to a certain heavenly standard that is implicit in the city of peace. “For Zion shall be redeemed in justice, and her returnees in charity – this is what God seeks of you”. And we must ask ourselves: are we sensitive enough in Jerusalem to the plight of the poor, the unemployed, the orphan, the battered woman and new immigrant? Is our justice system sufficiently suffused with knowledge of Jewish values, alongside democratic norms? Are we doing all we can to reach peace within — with our neighbors and fellow Israelis, not to mention other nations beyond?
Seeking Jerusalem also means the search for God, the quest to uncover existential-metaphysical layers of holiness. Here in Jerusalem the gates to heaven open before us, allowing for an encounter with something that is greater than human rationality. Thus we are obligated to be ‘doresh Yerushalayim’, to spiritually refine ourselves and draw closer to He who truly owns Jerusalem, even while standing in the rebuilt city. Yes, indeed, the Divine Presence peeps at us through the cracks of the Holy Wall, there to be seen and experienced, if we only seek it.
But ultimately, the seeking of Jerusalem in this time, at this moment, involves the demand of a surety, the demand of title, the staking of a claim. United Jerusalem is ours, the capital of this ancient-modern State of Israel, and no-one else’s.
This is our political, practical demand of the nations of the world: recognize our birthright, accept our claim, for we will not compromise over Jerusalem. This is our ultimate red line. The redivision of Jerusalem, even the sharing of sovereignty, is incompatible with our identity.
Ambassador Yaacov Herzog once told the story of Apollo 10, whose captain asked his priest to read in church several Psalms, as he orbited the moon. Some of the Psalms understandably related to creation, but one related to ‘Jerusalem which has been reunited” (Psalm 122).
Why Jerusalem? Because in space astronauts look for an anchor, explained Herzog, something around which to organize their surroundings. And at that moment, trying to pin down his feelings, to define himself, the Apollo captain looked for a place that gave him the anchorage of being linked to some earthly structure, while reflecting his feelings of uplift in endless spirit – and he chose Jerusalem.
Understand, fellow nations of the world, that the absolutism inherent in our claim over Jerusalem is unshakably anchored in Jewish history and identity. From Jerusalem we made our way to all corners of the earth and returned. And ultimately, the Jew can live in contemporary society only if he is touched by the eternity of his destiny.
So call me uncompromising, call us fundamentalist, obstructionist, what you will. But do not force us to make a choice, for if push comes to shove that selection has been made: we choose Jerusalem.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post on Sunday, May 24, 1998