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If I Forget Thee O Jerusalem

By: Rav David Milston

“Rav Chelbo further said in the name of Rav Huna: ‘Whoever partakes of the wedding meal of a bridegroom and does not make him happy violates ‘the five voices’ mentioned in the verse: “The voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voice of them that say, Give thanks to the Lord of Hosts.” (Yirmiyahu 33:11) And if he does gladden him what is his reward? Rabbi Nachman ben Yitzchak says, ‘It is as if he has restored one of the ruins of Jerusalem.’ For it is said: “For I will cause the captivity of the land to return as at the first, says the Lord.” (Yirmiyahu 33:11).[1]


Even though the redemption of the people and marital happiness are juxtaposed in the verse in Yirmiyahu, we are still perplexed by Rabbi Nachman’s statement. 


The inherent connection between Yerushalayim and marriage is further enhanced by the content of two of the Sheva Berachot:[2]

“May the barren one (Yerushalayim) exult and be glad as her children are joyfully gathered to her. Blessed are You, Lord, who gladdens Zion with her children.”

“Blessed are You, Lord our God, sovereign of the universe, who created joy and gladness, groom and bride, ecstasy, song, delight and rejoicing, love and harmony and peace and companionship. Lord our God, may there speedily be heard in the cities of Yehudah and in the streets of Yerushalayim voices of joy and gladness, voices of groom and bride, the jubilant voices of those joined in marriage under the bridal canopy, the voices of young people feasting and singing. Blessed are You, Lord, who causes the groom to rejoice with his bride.”

The Shulchan Aruch[3] enumerates a number of customs initiated by Chazal to remember the Beit HaMikdash. Some have been included in the wedding ceremony, the most famous being the breaking of the glass.


So what is the intrinsic connection between marriage and Yerushalayim?


Let us first define “Yerushalayim.”


“If one is standing outside Israel, he should turn towards Eretz Israel, as it says, ‘And pray to You towards their land.’ (Melachim Alef 8:48) If he stands in Eretz Yisrael, he should turn towards Yerushalayim, as it says, ‘And they pray to the Lord toward the city which You have chosen.’ (ibid. 44) If he is standing in Yerushalayim he should turn towards the Sanctuary, as it says, ‘If they pray toward this house.’ (Divrei HaYamim Bet 6:26) If he is standing in the Sanctuary, he should turn towards the Holy of Holies, as it says, ‘If they pray toward this place.’ (Melachim Alef 8:35) If he was standing in the Holy of Holies he should turn towards the Aron Kodesh [lit: Beit HaKapporet - see Shemot 25:17]. If he was standing behind the Aron Kodesh he should imagine himself to be in front of the Aron HaKodesh. Consequently, if he is in the east he should turn his face to the west; if in the west he should turn his face to the east; if in the south he should turn his face to the north; if in the north he should turn his face to the south. In this way all Israel will be turning their hearts towards one place.”[4]


If we were only interested in physical positioning, the Talmud could have simply said we should face towards the Holy of Holies wherever we are. The extra detail seems to bear a deeper message.


Yerushalayim is not just another city. It is a spiritual reality. Perhaps each place mentioned in the Gemara represents a spiritual level. If a person is on the spiritual equivalent of “Eretz Yisrael” he should be aiming towards the next level up – “Yerushalayim,” with the highest level being “Aron HaKodesh”.


Interestingly, when we read Megillat Eicha, we see no mention of Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian leader directly responsible for the destruction of Jerusalem.


The message is clear. We lost Yerushalayim because we were unworthy. Had it not been Nebuchadnezzar it would have been someone else. Yirmiyahu, when writing Eicha, wanted to be sure future generations would understand that Yerushalayim is a spiritual reality.


Our rights to Yerushalayim have nothing to do with Nebuchadnezzar or anyone else. It is all about us – or as General Motta Gur said as we entered the Temple Mount in June 1967 – “Temple Mount is in our hands!”[5]


Let us go further.


The Talmud informs us we lost the First Beit Mikdash because of three unacceptable behaviors: idolatry, promiscuity and murder. We lost the Second Beit Mikdash because of Sinat Chinam (purposeless hate.) [6]

What do all of these sins have in common? Egocentricity.

It isn’t difficult to understand why murder or promiscuity emanate from narcissism. Both are motivated by the murderer or unfaithful individual demanding they have what they want at all costs. Purposeless hate is also driven by obsessive self-absorption. We are so engrossed with ourselves that anyone or anything that mildly disturbs our personal equilibrium is automatically put on our blacklist.  

But how does idol worship reflect our ego?

The Talmud has a suggestion:

“Rav Yehudah said in Rav’s name: Bnei Yisrael knew that idols were non-entities but they engaged in idolatry so they might openly satisfy their incestuous lusts.”[7]  

When bound by the Torah’s objective truth, we have no choice but to follow its directives – despite our subjective desires – if we want to grow spiritually. However, once we create our own ‘religious alternative’ we can fashion the rituals in accordance with our own physical tendencies. When we opt for idolatry, we are essentially choosing to serve ourselves. Non-Divine religion is created by man so he can do whatever he wishes “in the name of God”.[8]

Yerushalayim represents the opposite. God is the center of the world, not Man. There can be no Yerushalayim in a society full of idolatry, murder, promiscuity or purposeless hate! Either God is the center or Man is but it cannot be both. We have to choose. If the world is all about “I, Me, Mine,” [9] it will be a world without the beauty of Yerushalayim.

Therefore, if the destruction of Yerushalayim is self-inflicted through egocentricity and selfishness, it can only be rebuilt through selfless giving.

And there is no better example of selflessness than marriage! Marriage is all about unconditional love and building a family is all about self-sacrifice. Hence, whenever we cite destroyed Jerusalem we mention marriage, because we spread Ahavat Chinam when we live healthy family lives. The more selfless we become the more room there is for the Almighty to be in the center. This is what will bring Yerushalayim back to us in the fullest sense of the word.


This is also why the Talmud prioritizes Shabbat candles (symbolizing Shalom Bayit – peacefulness at home) over Chanukah candles (symbolizing the miracle of the rededication of the Second Beit Mikdash) in the event we can only afford one set of candles. Shalom Bayit in our personal Mikdash Me’at is the foundation stone for the rebuilding of the national Beit HaMikdash.[10]


We can only bring back Mikdash if we remember Yerushalayim. We have been lucky enough to merit a partial return to Yerushalayim[11] but if we truly wish to build the Third Beit Mikdash we must constantly have Yerushalayim and all it stands for at the forefront of our minds. And then translate those thoughts into actions.


“Temple Mount is in our hands!”

As we near the end of the month of Iyar that we began with our celebrations of Yom Haatzmaut, Yom Yerushalayim takes us one step further.

If Yom Ha’Atzmaut symbolizes our independence then Yom Yerushalayim symbolizes our direction. If Jews in the Diaspora face Eretz Yisrael, Jews in Israel face Yerushalayim. If Israel is the body Jerusalem is the soul. (See Berachot 30a.)

On this day we celebrate the return to our Capital, the recapturing of Jerusalem, the place of our Holy Mikdash, after 2,000 years of exile. We returned to our Patriarchs and Matriarchs, in Hevron and Bet Lechem. We reclaimed the soul of our people, our spirit, our holiness. 

And that is why Yom Yerushalayim falls on the 28th of Iyar, the 43rd day of the Omer – “Chessed ShebeMalchut.”

The overall trait for the final week of the Omer is “Malchut” – nobility, control, leadership – “Sovereignty.” After seven weeks of consistent spiritual progress we reach inner control and leadership. Yet we do so on this first day of the last week beChessed, with love.

What could be more appropriate than Chessed ShebeMalchut to symbolize the reality of Yom Yerushalayim? We re-crowned our capital city, our majestic essence. However, the events leading up to the Six-Day War – and certainly the events of the war itself – emphasize our Malchut was returned to us with love, a true gift from the Almighty.

We are not yet at the level of Shavuot. We have entered the week of Malchut – our sovereignty has been returned to us. We are at the stage of Yom Yerushalayim, but it is only the earliest stage, the level of Chessed. Yom Yerushalayim is a gift, not a gift that we fully deserve, yes we have suffered, yes we have ultimately remained loyal to the Almighty for close to two millennia – but as a nation there is still so much more to do. Mikdash is not a physical building it is a spiritual reality – to build a Bet Mikdash the nation has to be worthy. And so we must now use this stage – our amazing, miraculous reality – as a springboard to our goal… Shavuot – Malchut ShebeMalchut!

If we are to reach the climax of Shavuot then we have to once again declare those words "Naase VeNishma" (Shemot 24/7) – our objective is to reach "Sovereignty" not only through the love of the Almighty but because we are worthy of that "Sovereignty" – we are so near but yet so far, we have the finishing line in our sites, but if we are to cross that line, if we are to merit seeing the absolute Kingdom of God revealed once again in our days, we will have to achieve it ourselves. The "Chessed ShebeMalchut" comes from God, the "Malchut ShebeMalchut" must come from us! 

Yom Yerushalayim Sameach!




[1] Berachot 6b.

[2] The seven blessings recited at the wedding and at the celebratory meals held for the bride and groom during their first week of marriage. The source for these berachot is Ketubot 7b-8a.

[3] Orach Chaim 560.

[4] Berachot 30a.

[5] Of course he meant it literally but that sentence sums it up. Our possession of Yerushalayim is dependent on us and us alone. We have to be worthy to merit Yerushalayim.

[6] Yoma 9b.

[7] Sanhedrin 63b.

[8] This definition of idolatry is confirmed by the Midrash in Bereishit Rabbah 38:13. For an examination of this midrash and its implications, see pp.63-65 in Volume 1 of my parsha series, “The Three Pillars”, Sefer Bereishit.

[9] A Beatles song, written by George Harrison and released in 1970. “I Me Mine is the ego problem. There are two ‘I’s: the little ‘I’ when people say “I am this” and the big “I” i.e. duality and ego. There is nothing that isn’t part of the complete whole. When the little ‘I’ merges into the big ‘I’ then you are really smiling!” George Harrison

[10] Shabbat 23b.

[11] It is significant to note that the Six Day War was fought with a real unity Government in session. Levi Eshkol and Menachem Begin sitting side by side was a symbol of Ahavat Chinam!


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