Monday, May 10, 2010

Jerusalem Day 5770: Time is Fluid

An approachable past, an anchored present and an attainable future are the basic components of the traditional Jewish sense of time and of history. I first learned that lesson from the Rav זצ"ל. Later, my appreciation of this sophisticated view of history was deepened by studying with the late Yosef Haim Yerushalmi, and by reading Geoffrey Barraclough, Mircea Eliade and Aron Gurevitch.

That kind of merging of Past, Present and Future are reinforced for me daily by living in Israel.

As I write these words, I am seated in the Reading Room of the National Library in Givat Ram (Jerusalem). It's very quiet here, as the patrons of the library are (largely) well-behaved. There are great minds seated around me, and there are great researches into the past of our people, our religion and our civilization developing on the perennial green tables that furnish this room. The stillness, for me, invokes the timeless nature of the pursuits that its patrons undertake.

Yet, it was not always so quiet or pastoral here. Forty three years ago, Jordanian guns opened up on West Jerusalem and shelled it. The shells fell not far from where I am sitting. The verdant campus outside was a staging area for the Israeli counter-attack that liberated Jerusalem, and the Temple Mount. Some of the predecessors of my colleagues in this room were killed either by shells, or in the fight to liberate the City of God, bedrock of Judaism and the Jewish People, Jerusalem.

In my imagination I can hear the shells scream overhead. They resound in the silence of this room, where the eternity of Torah and of Israel is retrieved, recorded and advanced. The quiet determination of the scholars here, along with the whispers of eternity, betray a secret that our enemies have never quite understood. Long after the Jihadists, long after the Radical Left and Radical Right have all been consigned to the dustbin of history, there will be Jews in Jerusalem; celebrating Jerusalem; studying Torah, researching our past and securing our future, here.

That's not kitsch. It's not maudlin jingoism. It's an existential reality. All you need to do is listen to the echoes of the shells in the silence, and the cry of הר הבית בידינו.

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