Remembering Jerusalem

In Eichah 1:7, it is written: “Jerusalem remembered, in the days of her poverty and degradation, all the treasures she had in former days. When her people fell by the hand of the oppressor, with none to help her, her oppressors saw her and made jest over how she had come to a standstill.” The Maggid interprets this verse in conjunction with the following famous declaration (Tehillim 137:5-6): “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill. Let my tongue cleave to my palate if I fail to remember you, if I do not raise Jerusalem above my foremost joy.” The Maggid asks: Why is it not enough for Jerusalem to be included on the list of things that we must keep in mind? Why must Jerusalem take center stage, and be raised above our foremost joy? He answers with a striking parable.
A man wished to move into a certain city, but did not seek the consent of the townspeople to settle there. Instead, he relied on the power of the baron of the city, who told him he could live there wherever he liked. When he set out to build himself a house to live in, the townspeople raised a hue and cry, and declared a ban against him. The word went out that no one in the city should sell him a plot of land to build on. When the man told the baron about this, the baron gave him permission to build his house on any vacant spot that he might find.
The man searched for a plot. Finally, he found one site that appeared suitable. He built there spacious houses and lofts, and he was quite satisfied. But he saw that the passers-by all laughed at him as if he were out of his mind. He kept asking people why they were laughing, but he would get no answer. Eventually he approached one of the townspeople and asked: “Please tell me, what is wrong with my building? Why does everyone who passes by it laugh at me? In my opinion, it is a splendid structure, and there is nothing wrong with it at all.” The man replied: “Your building is indeed splendid. But you have built it on a frozen river. When warm weather comes the ice will melt. Your building will then sink, with all you put into it.”
The point of this parable is to show what a precarious state we are in now. When we were established in our own land, we had a measure of  security. Whenever Hashem blessed someone with wealth and material goods, he and his heirs would have a firm hold on these gifts for whatever length of time Hashem granted them. But now it is not so. Now our very lives are hanging in the balance; we are not sure we will live even another hour. We are even more insecure about our money and property. Even if Hashem blesses someone with wealth and possessions and everything good, what can it all mean to him, really, if he knows that it may not last the night? What satisfaction can a person’s assets bring him, when he knows that it all could be gone overnight, plundered by strangers?
This person’s great wealth will remind him of when we were well settled in Jerusalem. He will say to himself: “If the Holy One Blessed Be He had given me all this wealth while we were settled in our land in peace and tranquility, free of adversaries and misfortune, the blessing would be complete. But of what value is it now, when it causes me such sorrow?” Thus it is indeed fitting to raise Jerusalem above our foremost joy. In our times of joy we feel the pain of exile all the more, for even our joy is not complete. As it says in an earlier verse in the same psalm (Tehillim 137:4): “How can we sing a song to Hashem on foreign soil?”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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