Freedom to Build in Jerusalem

Building a home symbolizes permanence and belonging. "Next year in rebuilt Jerusalem" means just that.

Rachel Sylvetsky , | updated: 5:00 AM

Construction in Jerusalem
Construction in Jerusalem
Israel news photo: file

Karl Marx accused his fellow Jews of being a “cosmopolitan” people who could not develop roots in any specific area of the world. No Jew lover, he wrote his barbed phrase as though it was an inherent Jewish characteristic, along with usury and other unproductive occupations, without taking into account that it might be an acquired one. After all, Jews could hardly be expected to plant roots when history was replete with banishments, expulsions, pogroms and ghettoizing that hardly served to make the Jewish populace in most countries feel at home.

The Jew’s image in the Diaspora was also that of the People of the Book, a more positive, and continuing, pursuit than that
The Jewish people certainly had a history of building,
attributed to them by Marx. Intellectualism made up for a normal nations’ construction, farming and production, denied to them for centuries. 

However, the Jewish people certainly had a history of building. It began when they first constructed permanent dwellings in Egypt, but not for their personal use. They were the slaves who build the cities of Pithom and Raamses, but who, once freed on Passover, were satisfied with the tents Balaam described in Numbers 24:5 as “goodly”. This newly- formed people spent forty years in the desert in temporary “booths” where, while they complained about the monotony of their manna menu, they did not demand less flimsy residences for their families.

For them, it was G-d’s cloud of glory that provided the permanence and security a home usually symbolizes. Their central place of ritual in the desert was a portable, curtained Tabernacle, which was brought to Shiloh once they entered Israel.

This was in sharp contrast to what transpired when the Jews had a monarchy in the land of Israel. This was when roots of construction, farming and production were planted in the Promised Land. King David described himself as living in a permanent home, feeling guilty because G-d ‘s Ark had only a temporary one. His son King Solomon spent many years building the First Temple and his own palace, enlisting the help of experts from Lebanon. His people, too, built permanent homes in the land of their forefathers. 

When the first group of Jews was exiled to Babylon, the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel had to tell them that they were to build homes there.  That symbolized permanence to them, and so strong was their yearning for Zion, that they wanted to stay sojourners in their land of exile awaiting the rebuilding of their beloved Temple in Jerusalem.

Throughout the ages, even when their status allowed for beautiful residences, the Jewish people was willing to abandon them for a week and return to those temporary booths, Sukkahs, that reminded them of G-d’s guarding presence in the desert, so longed for during their sufferings in exile. In fact, Rav Tzvi Hirsh Berliner was once asked by the Prince of Mannheim why children don’t ask four questions on Sukkot, as moving into a booth is just as unusual as the Passover seder. He answered that the opposite is true, for leaving one’s home hastily for a temporary haven is the most commonplace of occurrences in the Diaspora with which even a child is familiar.

Construction is the symbol of permanence.  A “guarding wall and lookout tower” were what early Zionists built with Haganah help to create settlements during the memorable period in which they countered 1936-39  Arab insurgency by
Why don't children ask four questions on Sukkot? Moving into a booth is just as unusual as the Passover seder.
creating “facts on the ground”. It is tragic to think that their offspring did not internalize the difference between a people at home and the wandering Jews of Marx and were willing to destroy Jewish homes in Israel and send thousands of Katif Bloc residents to temporary booths as if they were back in the desert of the Diaspora.

It is true that in the Diaspora, when Jews lived in places that were good to them, they built homes, communities and public buildings, such as the hospitals with Jewish names that dot the USA, for the good of the countries who treated them kindly. History showed  most tragically that this does not help Jews achieve permanence. Perhaps all the Jews, even those living most comfortably in the Diaspora, expressed this truth subliminally when they sang “Next year in rebuilt Jerusalem” at the close of the Seder each year.

“Rebuilt Jerusalem”--

Those words once meant the exiles’ hope to return to rebuild the city, but after it was reunited in 1967and the sounds of construction filled the air as Jerusalem grew and expanded naturally in all directions, it seemed to be happening in our time.  Jews still sang those words hoping for the Redemption, when they could rebuild the Holy Temple in the “city in which King David settled”, as Jerusalem is called in a poem of longing and idealism written by Rabbi Avraham Yitschak HaKohen Kook, Israel’s first Chief Rabbi.

“Rebuilt Jerusalem” has taken on another level of meaning these past few weeks. It seems the joyous rebuilding of the past forty three years is not seen as natural growth by much of the rest of the world. The ancient words of the song now are an assertion of the Jewish people’s right to build everywhere in their holy city and a demand for it to be recognized as rightfully theirs.

Let us sing those words with redoubled fervor this year. Jews are building in their own land, as in days of yore. The other nations are mouthing the words attributed to Esau’s—not Ishmael’s-- descendants, Edom, said by our Sages to be “known to hate Jacob”, at the time of the Temple’s destruction: “Destroy, destroy, unto the very foundations” of Jerusalem (Psalm 137).

The psalmist tells G-d to “Remember what the sons of Edom did on the day of Jerusalem” in the previous verse. We too will remember. And we will keep on building, because we have come home.