Rabbi Yisrael Rutman
Jerusalem Is Burning
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Jerusalem Is Burning

Rabbi Yisrael Rutman

That’s how one of the Israeli commentators put it a few days ago. He meant it figuratively, of course, as in a ‘burning issue.” The recent hit-and-run terrorist attacks, the shooting of a Jewish activist in the heart of Jerusalem, daily rock-throwing, and riots and police raids at the Temple Mount. The need to get things under control is urgent, a burning issue. But it has a literal dimension too. Many of the disorders have featured firebombs, firecrackers and burning tires. In a sense, Jerusalem is literally on fire. It brings to mind the Midrash at the beginning of Lech Lecha, which tells of how Avraham Avinu (Abraham, the Patriarch) discovered God. He was passing by a bira dolekes, a citadel aflame. Looking at the scene, he asked: “Is it possible that the bira has no master?” Avraham perceived that such an impressive structure must have been built by somebody, could not have come into existence by itself. But where is the owner? Will he just allow his bira to burn down? Whereupon the owner revealed himself: “I am the owner of the bira!” The bira symbolizes the world; the world afire, threatened with destruction by the fires of idolatry and immorality of every description, a world seething with hatred and violence. Is it possible, Avraham asks, that there is no one in charge, and that we are witnessing the destruction of the world as we know it?

The answer of the Midrash, of Jewish tradition, is: No. There is somebody in charge, and He will not allow His world to be destroyed. Evil may reign for a long time. It may cause terrible destruction. But ultimately the citadel, the world, will emerge intact. Not only is Jerusalem burning. The world is burning---in Syria, in Iraq, in Egypt, in Afghanistan, in Ukraine. And the UN has peacekeeping missions in 16 places, including Darfur, Haiti, Mali, Kosovo, India-Pakistan (since 1949), Cyprus (since 1964) and the Golan Heights. But we have a promise: It will not be destroyed. The Midrash does not say how the fire will be extinguished, how the world will ultimately be saved. But the Torah itself gives the answer to that question in Lech Lecha and subsequent chapters as it tells the story of Avraham: how he traveled to the land of Canaan (later to be called Israel) at prophetic behest; proclaiming God’s name and reaching out to others with the truth; accepting the mitzvah of circumcision; offering his own son Yitzchak’s life at Mount Moriah at God’s command.

The rest of the book of Genesis traces the story of the Avrahamitic dynasty through Yitzchak, Yaakov and his sons, the exile to Egypt and the Divine promise that the Jewish people would eventually return to inherit the land of Israel. There, the Temple would be built, destroyed, rebuilt and destroyed again, until Moshiach, the messianic era, and the entire world will accept the Torah. In the meantime, the world continues aflame. The best that can be done is the dubious efforts of diplomats, a peacekeeping mission here and there, and constant incitement and arming for the next war. In Jerusalem, the mosque which has recently become the focus of so much controversy and conflict stands on the Temple Mount. The media reports often do mention this, but little or nothing about what it means. That it is the place where Avraham bound Yitzchak, where Yaakov worshipped, where Kings David and Solomon built the ancient Temple. That it’s the place on earth to which Jews for generations since have turned in their prayers, and more recently returned to live. The very name Jerusalem bespeaks our heritage. In Hebrew it is Yerushalayim, which is a compound word. Originally, it was called Shalem, which in Hebrew means perfection. Then Avraham came and added Yireh, which means He will see. Yireh, modified to Yeru, became the first part of the name. Because it is the place where God will see the suffering and sacrifice of the Jewish people for their faith down through the ages. Only then, when their undying faith is proved, will the world see true perfection. And He will see Jerusalem burning. But it will not be destroyed.

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