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The Highest Joy

By Tzvi Fishman
12/18/2007, 12:00 AM

Today is the Tenth of Tevet, the fast day marking the beginning of the siege that led to the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the First Temple. It is a day of introspection and repentance, not only over the misdeeds of our ancestors, but over our wrongdoings, as our Sages have taught, “In every generation that the Beit HaMikdash is not rebuilt, it is like it was destroyed in that generation.” That is to say, it is our sins today that are preventing the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash - the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

One of these sins is when we fail to set Jerusalem above all of our other joys. As the Psalmist says: “How can we sing the L-rd’s song in a foreign land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy” (Tehillim, 137: 4-6).

So important is this message to the survival of the Jewish People that our Sages decreed that this Psalm should be recited after every meal we eat during the week. “By the rivers of Babylon (and Manhattan and Paris and Los Angeles and Mexico City), there we settled down, yea, we wept when we remember Zion” (Tehillim, 137:1)  We are always to remember that Zion is our true home, not Babylon, and we are to set our love for Jerusalem above our highest joy.

Our Sages also decreed that this Psalm should be recited at every Jewish wedding, in order to teach that even at this supreme moment of happiness when bride and groom are joined in holy matrimony, there is yet a greater joy – the joy we must feel for Jerusalem.
If we place other pleasures over the joy we should feel for Jerusalem, then something is wrong with our Judaism.

If we place other pleasures over the joy we should feel for Jerusalem, then something is wrong with our Judaism. If sitting down on Sunday mornings in our Central Park apartments with the New York Times and a fresh bagel and lox is more pleasurable to us than our joy over Jerusalem, then we ourselves are delaying the rebuilding of the Temple. If the New York Knicks and the Chicago Bulls and the World Series and the New York Stock Exchange and the Academy Awards and the latest Woody Allen movie and our golf handicaps and doubles matches are more exciting to us than Jerusalem, then our understanding of being Jewish is warped. If refurnishing our mansion in Johannesburg and our villa on the Cote d’Azur is more important to us than rebuilding Jerusalem, then something is wrong with our understanding of Torah. If vacations to Bermuda and Venice and Disneyland are our first choice ahead of Jerusalem then we have some serious repentance to do.

Our  unsurpassed love for Jerusalem is not only because it is G-d's chosen city. It is not just because it is the most beautiful city on earth. Jerusalem teaches us the true understand of Torah. It teaches us that Judaism is more than practicing private mitzvot, and searching for OUs in the supermarket, and donating to the Federations in Miami, Los Angeles, and New York. Jerusalem teaches us that the Torah is the establishment of a mighty Jewish nation in the Land of Israel. It teaches us that the Torah is not just a list of dos and don'ts, but rather a Divine national constitution and that real Torah Judaism includes a national homeland and national capitol and national kingship and judiciary and army and being a part of the Nation of Israel - and not a part of a foreign land.

I hope these beautiful photographs of the walls of Jerusalem by the Israeli photographer Yehoshua HaLevi will inspire each one of us with a greater love for our cherished Holy City and help us reset Jerusalem above our highest joy. May the Holy Temple be rebuilt swiftly, in our time. Amen. 

Other photographs by Yehoshua HaLevi can be found at: