The letters of our thoughts are the ideas present in our mind before they come to realization . . . Thoughts that are, yet not felt . . . The words of the subconscious . . . of the soul . . .


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Jerusalem of my Soul -A Song of Ascents

The Deliverance of Jerusalem, (1956), etching by Marc Chagall. (Source)

Based on an earlier post.

I rejoiced when they said unto me: 'Let us go unto the house of the L-rd'

This winter I traveled to Israel with a group of friends.

I've traveled extensively around America and Europe in the past. I've been from Asti to Zhitomer, to Hel, Poland and back again . . . but I'd never been to Israel.
When asked how it could be that I had never stepped foot in the Holy Land, I would reply with a shrug, or a witty remark. I was evasive -for in truth I had no real reason for not going.

Yet, save for the occasional confrontations with my lack of connection to the land of my fathers, I lived as any other Jew in Diaspora.
I was here, my heart there.
Three times daily in my prayer I faced east to a land that I had never seen -to a spiritual land, to a land that lived only in my soul. That was how things were -the eternal song of Le Juif Errant.

Our feet were standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.

Arriving in Israel on a Friday morning, we went directly to Jerusalem in light of the impending Sabbath.

Bags unpacked, Sabbath clothes donned, the grime of a night spent on an overseas flight washed away.

We were to welcome in the Sabbath by the Western Wall, but with the evening approaching we decided to first say the Mincha -afternoon- prayers before leaving. We gathered in the hotel lobby.

My prayer book clutched in my hands, I began to pray.
'My L-rd, open my lips and my mouth shall declare your praise.'

Pages yellowed with time, the edges dog-eared with constant use turned before my eyes. Black letters of prayer floating in a sea of yellow, moving to the ancient current of prayer as transmitted from generation to generation.
'You are holy and Your name is holy . . .'

Tired from travel, my mind began to wander; my body, however, continued to move to the silent pulse of the crowd. Looking at the amber walls of the lobby, and the swaying black forms of my friends dressed in their Sabbath clothing, I mused that I too was only a letter of prayer bobbing in the sea, slowly ascending to . . .

' . . . to Jerusalem your city return in mercy . . . and rebuild it speedily in our days as an eternal edifice'

My mind suddenly came back to where I was, to where I was standing - Jerusalem. The words danced before my eyes as my prayer suddenly stopped for a moment - as if the pulse had been arrested by a great electrical surge.

Here I stood in Jerusalem, the city that I faced in my prayers, that I besought the Creator to rebuild, that I kept in front of my eyes . . . In that very Jerusalem.

The prayers ended.
The built-up Jerusalem is like a city that was joined together within itself.

The sun began to set over the hills and roof tops, bathing white walls of Jerusalem stone in hews of rose and champagne. Windows of the various homes nestled on the street sparkled as the the great luminary's rays were refracted and sent asunder; sparks spreading to every corner of the public domain.

Passing the lone windmill built by Sir Moses Montefiore a century and a half before - a stern centennial stoically guarding the Hills of Zion, its sails unmoving since their creation, frozen, as if in time, by a lack of wind to turn them - we descended into the Gei ben Hinnom, the valley were Canaanite tribes brought human sacrifices and that later lent its name to gehenom, Hell, and then began to ascended to the gates of Jerusalem.

There ascended the tribes, the tribes of G-d, testimony to Israel, to give thanks to the name of the L-rd. For there were set thrones for judgment, thrones for the house of David.
No longer on open streets and boulevards, we had entered the Old City. As we wound our way through the alleys, we were joined by dozens of others. Like rivulets merging into the great river, and then making their way as one out to the sea, we all flowed towards one point . . .

The sun had almost completely set; rose and champagne mellowed to shades of indigo and violet, stars began to twinkle in the inky firmament. The air was cold, my breath visible as it came out in short undulating puffs . . .
Soon my arms we almost pressed to my body as I was brought ever closer to the myriad of Jews swirling around me -the Fur hats of native Jerusalemites, black fedoras belonging to American yeshivah students abroad, woven Kippot, long kerchiefs in iridescent colors, baseball caps and nylon kippot pinned to thick dreadlocks. A sea of heads, moving in the current of Jerusalem's pulse.

We began to sing. Eyes turned to our group of American Yeshiva students. Had we broken the silent pulse of Shabbos, disturbing the serenity of others? A group of Argentinian students turned a corner and began to sing with us,
"Hakodesh Baruch Hu, Anachnu Ohavim Otcha -The Holy One, Blessed be He, we love you!"

Ecstatically they began to jump up and down, twirling and spinning, we danced through the thickening crowds. Leaping down steps and kicking our legs in the air, we pulled in several French tourists.
Energy flowed through our muscles and was absorbed into the cobblestones; the earth then responded in turn, sending back an energy of its own.

Sweat began to drip down my forehead -I was no longer cold, I was alive . . .

And then we stopped -in awe.

We had come to a slight clearing in the buildings.
We could all see it ahead of us, cast in lights, calling to us . . .

The Kosel, the Western Wall.
Request the welfare of Jerusalem; may those who love you enjoy tranquility. May there be peace in your wall, tranquility in your palaces. For the sake of my brethren and my companions, I shall now speak of peace in you. For the sake of the house of the L-rd our G-d, I shall beg for goodness for you.

l'ilui nishmas Aryeh Leib Reuvein ben Ya'akov Grifkin

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Nemo said...

What about:

"A song of ascents for David. I rejoiced when they said to me, "let us go to the house of the L-rd..."

Mottel said...

At which point? The song of ascents is in the title . . .

Nemo said...

That's the verse that they would say upon the approach to Jerusalem carrying the Bikurim. At least according to Eliyahu Ki-Tov.

Actually, when we were headed there, Roni actually took out his Bible and read the passage.

Mottel said...

. . . And that's why it's quoted in the vignette.