Jerusalem Above


“You shall be established through righteousness. you shall be safe from oppression, and shall have no fear from ruin, and it shall not some near you…” (Isaiah 54:14)

These words, which come from this week’s Torah portion, Re’eh, evoke a collective dream of our life in the land – a life of blessing, of freedom, of ultimate safety and security. I’ve been especially mindful of this dream for the past ten days as I’ve been traveled throughout Israel with members of my congregation, many of whom are visiting and experiencing this land for the very first time.

Of course, it is impossible to be unmoved by the land’s palpable spiritual beauty – but it is just as clear, as many on our tour have observed, that the history of this region is marked by 3000 years of continous conquest and reconquest.  Yes, I agree: it is deeply ironic that the place referred to as the Holy Land has known its share of unholy inhumanity and tragedy. I’m writing these words from Jerusalem, the “City of Peace” that has known never truly known any peace.  How can we possible reconcile our ongoing dreams with such tragic history (and ongoing reality?) 

Here’s an answer from classical Jewish tradition: for their part, the rabbis spoke of two Jerusalems: Yerushalayim Shel Mata (“Jerusalem Below”) and Yerushalyim Shel Mala (“Jerusalem Above”). Earthly Jerusalem is the physical city we know which, while beautiful to be sure, is but a pale reflection of Heavenly Jerusalem – the Jerusalem of our highest aspirations, the true City of Peace.  As I choose to understand this sacred symbolism, it teaches that if Jerusalem below does not yet resemble Jerusalem above, it is only because we have not yet managed to make it so.

To help underscore this point, I’ve posted this picture of Jerusalem taken via satellite to suggest what the city might look like from Yerushalyim Shel Mala.  Isn’t it amazing how things always look so much simpler when viewed from above?

May all who consider this place to be holy realize this collective dream. May earthly Jerusalem be a true City of Peace, established in righteousness, safe from oppression, free of fear from ruin…

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