The Sara Litton z”l Monthly Emunah Essay | My Beloved Jerusalem
Grief is defined by the American Psychological Association as the anguish experienced after significant loss, usually the death of a beloved person. One is laden with sorrow and may feel shattered. Those who have suffered loss know that one may find solace, but the sense of bereavement never completely goes away. People just become adept at juggling the ache, developing the art-form of circumventing the gaping hole left by the passing of a loved one and touching its tender spots when feeling particularly brave and especially vulnerable. The pain also reflects a deep love and connection; and there is exquisite beauty in that, forhttps://youtu.be/XKEQ-B6VKjc a loved one is never truly gone.
Chassidic Rebbe, Menachem Mendel of Kotzk was known to say that there is “nothing so whole as a broken heart.” This is seen by Yaakov Avinu. He is shown his favorite son’s tunic, ketonet pasim, dipped in blood and deduces that a beast has mortally attacked Yosef (Bereishit 37:32-33). Yaakov tore his clothes and mourned Yosef for many days. When his sons and daughters arose to comfort him, the verse tells us (ibid v.35) that he refused to allow himself to be consoled – וַיְמָאֵן לְהִתְנַחֵם. Why would Yaakov refuse comfort when the scripture lauds the behavior of Yehuda his son, mentioning that he was indeed comforted after the death of his wife (Berieshit 38:12). Rav Yossi expounds (Bereishit Rabbah 84:21) that we accept comfort for those who have passed on, but not for those who are still alive.
Yaakov intuited that Yosef was still alive. We know that even people who are physically absent in this world may still be present. The chumash alludes to this concept with parshiot “Chayei Sarah” and “Vayechi Yaakov” – the chapters describing the physical passing of this individual matriarch and patriarch are linked with chaim, with life. Righteous ones in their death are called alive- צדיקים במיתתם נקראו חיים (Talmud Berachot 18b). Just as individuals have the possibility of remaining alive in a certain sense, so does the city of Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is not like any other city, she is alive and breathing, anthropomorphized for all time. Even in the most devastating period of her destruction, the book of Lamentations opens with a description of Jerusalem sitting like a widow in solitude. She sighs, she weeps, and she finds no one to comfort her (Eichah 1:1,8,9) for she is with us, waiting along with us to be adorned in gold once again. We call out to her and speak to her heart (Yishayahu 40:2) as we would a loved one.
It is told that Napoleon once passed by a synagogue on the 9th of Av and overheard Jews crying over the loss of the Temples. He said “A nation that can mourn and cry over the loss of their land for thousands of years without forgetting- will never be destroyed. Such a nation can be confident that its land will be returned to it” (Ryzman, Zvi The Wisdom in the Hebrew Months). The continued mourning we practice every Av is in and of itself a reason for optimism. Jerusalem is still alive in our hearts and we pray to merit seeing her rebuilt and renewed in all of her splendor. When our hearts are ailing, it is a sign that there is hope.
Just as we cite the Torah of great Bible commentators and Rabbinic leaders, reference quotes from beloved relatives and stories of long time friends, we quote our beloved, sacred city of Jerusalem when we read the book of Lamentations and know that our connection to her is חי וקיים, alive and well (See Talmud Bechorot 31b).
May our pain provide comfort. May we relish in our deep love for Jerusalem and know that our sense of loss is the very thing that can strengthen our emunah as we see the blessing in the pain and the beauty in the heartache. May we embrace one another in the streets of Jerusalem, who has been broken and built and will be rebuilt again, all of her fragmented pieces forged together to create a new masterpiece of unity – יְרוּשָׁלַ͏ִם הַבְּנוּיָה כְּעִיר שֶׁחֻבְּרָה־לָּהּ יַחְדָּו (Tehillim 122:3). May we find joy, hope and optimism in knowing just how whole we already are in our brokenness, and how whole we once again can be in our re-built Yerushalayim.