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Eretz Yisrael, Jerusalem, and Prayer

Throughout my book, Beyond Survival: A Journey to the Heart of Rosh Hashanah, Its Prayers, and Life, one will find numerous photographs of Eretz Yisrael and Jerusalem. One section explains the connection between Eretz Yisrael, Jerusalem, and prayer.

The reason is because there is a profound connection between these three cornerstones of Jewish life. Allow me to explain.

Long, Long, Ago

The roots of prayer run deep in Jerusalem. Thirty-six hundred years ago, Abraham prayed in Jerusalem. Four hundred years later, in the Sinai desert, God instructed the Jewish people to build the Mishkan, a portable sanctuary, where God’s “presence” would be intensely manifest. Though constructed in the desert, the Mishkan was destined for Jerusalem. Then, twenty-eight hundred years ago, one of the greatest events in Jewish history took place—King Solomon dedicated the First Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple was the permanent structure for the Mishkan, and Jerusalem—crowned by the Temple—was both the corporeal and spiritual capital of the Jewish homeland.

During the Temple dedication ceremony, King Solomon addressed the nation. In his address, he spoke about the relationship of prayer to Eretz Yisrael, Jerusalem, and the Temple. This is part of what he said:

For any prayer that any one of Your entire nation Yisrael may have—for each person knows what troubles his heart—when his hand reaches out [in prayer] towards this House: May You listen from Heaven … because only You know the hearts of each person. And also the gentile … who will come and pray towards this House...may You listen from Heaven.

When Your nation goes to war … [or when] they are taken as captives to the enemy’s land—far or near—and they will pray to You facing the land that You gave to their forefathers, facing the city that You have chosen, and facing the House that I built for Your Name.

King Solomon, Kings I 8:37-48

In his address, King Solomon seemed quite confident that when Jews would find themselves outside of Eretz Yisrael, they would always pray facing Eretz Yisrael, Jerusalem, and the Temple. What made him so sure—did he have some sort of Jewish crystal ball? After all, God is everywhere.

It seems that King Solomon may have studied his Torah a bit. Let’s take a look at a couple of lines that blend the text of the Torah with the explanation of Rashi (an 11th century scholar and preeminent Torah commentator), in brackets. The setting for these verses is approximately 3,230 years ago. After 40 years in the desert, the Jewish nation was preparing to cross the Jordan River and enter the land of Yisrael. Moses had been told by God that while he had led the nation out of Egypt—across the Red Sea, to Mount Sinai, and through the desert—he would not be leading them into the Promised Land. Joshua was about to be handed the reins of leadership, and Moses’s last days were drawing near. At that point, Moses turned to God in prayer.

And I prayed to God at that moment, saying, “My God …please allow me to cross over and see the good land that is on the other side of the Jordan; this good mountain [Jerusalem], and the Lebanon [the Temple]. Deuteronomy, 3:23-25

Think about this: Moses had achieved so much in his life; he had been chosen by God to lead the Jewish people out of Egypt, he received the Torah on Sinai, and he achieved unparalleled closeness to God—yet he still wanted to go higher. Moses was yearning for even greater intimacy with his Creator, and this, he understood, could only be realized if he crossed the Jordan. Moses knew that only in Eretz Yisrael could he achieve a deeper connection to God. To go even deeper, he would need to be in Jerusalem—and to achieve the ultimate in spirituality—he would need to enter the Temple. For Moses, none of this was to be. That yearning, however, would always live in the Jewish soul. Prayer is the way we express our longing for God. As Jews, in our moments of deepest longing, nothing could be more natural than to turn towards Eretz Yisrael, Jerusalem, and the Temple.

Jerusalem and Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah takes place on the anniversary of the creation of man. Would you like to hear something amazing?

We have an ancient tradition that says God began all of creation from a single “point”—and that point is centered on the Temple Mount, in the heart of Jerusalem. Our tradition also teaches that the first person was created on the Temple Mount. The origins of the universe, and the origins of mankind, are rooted in Jerusalem. As we have seen, the very first thing that the very first person did, was to pray. It is no wonder that our forefather Jacob referred to Jerusalem as, “the gateway of Heaven.” (Genesis 28:17) The kabbalah teaches that no matter where one is when he or she prays, that after leaving our hearts and out lips, our prayers “travel” to Eretz Yisrael, Jerusalem, the Temple, and then to God.

Jerusalem, Rosh Hashanah, and You

In a few days is Rosh Hashanah, a day that exists at the timeless intersection of creation, Jerusalem, and prayer. Jewish law states that a person praying in Eretz Yisrael should always face Jerusalem, and in Jerusalem, one should face the Temple. Synagogues around the world are built facing Jerusalem. Today, when you say the Amidah, you will turn towards Jerusalem. When you do, you will be joining together with Jews around the world, and Jews throughout history.

If you have been to Jerusalem, then you know its power. You have stood beneath her enchanting sky; you have touched her Wall, and it has touched your soul. If you have been to Eretz Yisrael, I hope your experience connects you—and your prayers—to something very, very deep. If you haven’t been to Jerusalem, then I have a secret to share with you: you are connected nonetheless. From creation, to Adam, to Abraham, to Moses, until this very day—whenever we pray—we are rooted in Jerusalem.

Oh, and by the way, if you haven’t been to Jerusalem lately: what are you waiting for?

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