The end of this week and the start of next week mark the 52nd anniversary of the great miracles that God preformed for us during the Six Day War, the ultimate highlight being the liberation and reunification of Yerushalayim. In honor of those events I would like to focus our attention in this shiur to the bracha in the daily Amida dedicated to Yerushalayim.
(I will be using the nusach Ashkenaz version of the bracha; the Sfardi version is almost identical in content but the order is different.)
And to Jerusalem, Your city, with mercy may You return, and dwell within it, as You have spoken, and build it soon, in our days, an eternal structure, and the throne of David, Your servant, may You prepare within it.
וְלִירוּשָׁלַיִם עִירְךָ בְּרַחֲמִים תָּשׁוּב, וְתִשְׁכּוֹן בְּתוׁכָהּ כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבַּרְתָּ, וּבְנֵה אוֹתָהּ בְּקָרוֹב בְּיָמֵינוּ בִּנְיָן עוֹלָם, וְכִסֵּא דָוִד עַבְדְּךָ מְהֵרָה לְתוֹכָהּ תָּכִין: .
Blessed are You, Hashem, the builder of Jerusalem.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יי , בּוֹנֵה יְרוּשָׁלָיִם.
When studying brachot it is always good to start from the end, the closing line of the bracha, as it contains the most succinct formulation of the theme. In our case it is very straight forward – “bonei Yerushalayim”. God is described as the one who builds the city. We are not given any indication as to why He does so, what the purpose of the city is, how it is done and why it is significant to us. On one hand it is mysterious while on the other hand the beauty is in its vagueness and simplicity. The bracha suggests that it is a given that a Jew has a basic and fundamental understanding of the centrality of Jerusalem, without having to give it a strict definition.
Yerushalayim, however, has so many aspects to it, including national, political and religious ones, that I wonder if we can better understand our attitude towards it by analyzing the rest of the bracha more carefully.
If we examine each phrase in the bracha I think we find that there are many elements that simply do not need to be there, however their inclusion highlights important facets of our relationship with Yerushalayim.
We start by referring to the city asירושלים עירך – Your Yerushalayim. The sentence would work just fine without the possessive.
We continue to ask Him to return to the city with rachamim, mercy. Once again, the sentence would remain loyal to its meaning if God would simply be asked to return; why the stress on rachamim?
Later on we ask Him to rebuild it, however we add in a timeframe – we want it soon and we want it to be everlasting. One would imagine that given the importance of Yerushalayim simply asking God to rebuild it would have sufficed. It almost seems selfish and impatient to insist on our timeframe for such a major event.
The penultimate clause is also curious. We ask Him to restore the throne of the Davidic reign. While this is a very reasonable request, it seems to be the theme of the next bracha in the Amida – why do we need to insert it here as well?
I believe that these additions reflect important added value to the concept of Yerushalayim and our interaction with it.
God’s City –
Yerushalayim is referred to as His city. Throughout the Torah we do not mention it by name, but it is referred to as the place that He will choose. It is a location handpicked by God, but for what purpose? In our bracha we use the phrase to dwell,תשכון – this is an obvious reference to the opening verses of parshat Trumah where we read that we are told to build the mishkan in order that He dwell amongst us. The mishkan and later the mikdash serve as homes for God (with all the theological challenges that writing such a sentence involves). Indeed Yerushalayim is not just a place, it is His place. We ask Him to return to His city and DWELL amongst us; we clearly are referring to the mikdash, His home in this world. Yerushalayim is the religious capitol of the world precisely because God chose it to be His home on earth. We are all guests in His home at any moment that we are in the city.
Indeed the entire city has the status as an extension to the mikdash when it comes to certain korbanot. The ones such as shlamim, and korban Pesach may be eaten anywhere within the city walls.
The Emotion –
The bracha is power packed with emotion; we appeal to the element closest to Him and ask that he return mercifully. We request that He have mercy on us and grant us the solace that we need by building Yerushalayim. We are in a state of a spiritual vacuum that is simply painful. I find it hard to believe that any Jew can think about, talk about or visit Yerushalayim without the visit triggering deep emotional feelings. It is not only our brothers and sisters from Ethiopia who were totally dedicated to getting to Yerushalayim, and were devastated to discover the events of 2000 years ago that they were unaware of. It is not only the paratroopers who gathered at the Kotel on that fateful day in 1967 who poured out their tears of sorrow and joy together. It is each and every one of us who, three times a day, regardless of where we are on the globe, aligns ourself with Yerushalayim in order to communicate with God. Yerushalayim has become our city because it is His city and we so desperately need it to feel complete.
The beautiful words of Naomi Shemer in her song, Yerushalayim Shel Zahav, deeply touched people in the dark days prior to the war in 1967 as the words reflected deep love and connection to the city. Her words quickly became the international anthem for Jews everywhere as her prophetic lines were realized.
Our request for Him to return with mercy is the desperate cry of each and every one of us, asking Him to feel our pain and lack upon the absence of His presence amongst us.
The Timing –
Had we left the request as a general statement along the lines of “please build it” it would have indicated a hollow and insincere statement. If you have ever received an invitation to “come by at some point” it is as if to say “I am being polite to invite you and if you actually do come I would be happy to have you” but that is as far as it goes. There is a world of difference between the open-ended invite and “Can you come on Tuesday at 10:00am?” Now that’s a plan. That is a clear signal that not only would it be nice to have you but I clearly want it and have moved things away that are less important that you.
We ask Him to build it soon! In our days! And forever! In terms of a dream that we have had for thousands of years these are terms of immediacy. We have no doubt that it will happen, but we want to be there to see it!
Today, when I recite this bracha I imagine cranes, scaffolding and a tremendous amount of dust in the air. We don’t need to envision miraculous things falling from the heavens as we are fortunate enough to see and feel the real building of the city in front of our eyes.
The Throne –
Our final question was about the last clause in the body of the bracha where we ask that the throne of David be restored. This seems to be the very topic of the next bracha in the Amida – why would we add it to our bracha?
In truth it may have a very simple answer, at least according to the version of the Amida in the Talmud Yerushalmi. Their version of the Amida did not have two separate brachot in the section that we are dealing with today. There was one combined bracha that requested both the rebuilding of Yerushalayim and the return of the Davidic dynasty. The Talmud Bavli has it the way that we do, as two separate brachot. What we actually have may be a remnant of the other version of the text.
If we search for more significance behind the addition, we need to note the comments reported in he name of the ARI Z”L who said that this phrase refers to Mashiach ben Yosef.
We have a tradition of two messiahs – the first one will be from Yosef and the second will be from David. Simply put, the mission of the first one is to establish the physical infrastructure which is to be followed by the second who will add the spiritual facets to complete the Geulah.
According to the ARI Z”l the last phrase in our bracha is about the physical part of Yerushalayim, the actual throne of David. Only in the next bracha will we focus on Mashiach ben David, who will actually sit on the throne.
The Bracha Today –
Wrapped up in one bracha we find many central concepts in our relationship with our/His city. We are privileged to be able to say the bracha with a perspective that was not possible for many, many generations. I am sure that Jews have said this bracha for a long time without actually having been here, but I cannot imagine that the fervor and commitment could have been the same. There is no substitute for actually experiencing something in order to identify with it. Today, as I stand in the city and pray for its development, I cannot help but be struck by the sheer emotion of actually being here.
Our bracha is found in the middle section of the Amida, the section dedicated to requests that we make of God. On days like Yom Yerushalayim, when I stand in the city and begin the words, I find myself in the “wrong” state of mind. Mentally, the bracha slides over to the final section of the Amida, where we thank God for all the good that He has granted us. We stand where our grandparents only dreamed of! The famous recording of Rav Goren reciting this bracha that magical day in 1967 echoes in my ears. He signed the bracha not simply with Bonei Yerushalayim, but rather he used the expanded “Menachem Tzion oobonei Yerushalayim”, the Comforter of Zion and the Builder of Yerushalayim. That ending is the way we end on Tisha b’Av, after expressing special prayers for the rebuilding of the city. Rav Goren turned our mournful text into a festive one.
We must thank God for each and every gift that he has given us, and yes, there is still plenty of room to make further requests of Hashem to continue building the city and make it His true home. We ask that are able to see the new developments in the final critical building of the mikdash in the crown of His/our city.
Shabbat shalom and chag sameach.