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Beit Midrash Series Chassidish Stories

Chapter 5

The Charm of Jerusalem

The problem lies in a person's outlook, how a person relates to things. When the land of Israel appeals to those who gaze upon her, when Jerusalem finds pleasure in the eyes of its residents, no difficulty in the world will dampen this affection.
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Dedicated to the memory of
Hana Bat Haim
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Chassidic Jews relate the following anecdote:
Chassidish Stories (17)
Rabbi Eliezer Melamed
4 - The Horse Vs. The Sabbath
5 - The Charm of Jerusalem
6 - Descending from the Hilltop
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There once was a Chassid who moved to the Land of Israel and made his home in Jerusalem. But he was unable to adjust to the living conditions there and decided to return to Poland. Before returning, he went to receive a blessing of departure from Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Varka, (the son of the the righteous Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Varka), who was living in the Holy City at that time. The Chassid related to the rebbe his reasons for returning. The pious rebbe let out a deep sigh and said, "I pity you greatly. It seems that you do not appeal to Jerusalem, for if you had appealed Jerusalem, Jerusalem would have appeal to you..." These words made an impression upon the man; he changed his mind about leaving Israel and remained in Jerusalem.

The above story tells of a Chassid who moved to Israel and made Jerusalem his home. Seemingly objective factors, though, prevented him from maintaining residence there. He was therefore forced to return to Poland. The legitimacy of his leaving Jerusalem due to these difficulties seems so incontestable that he turns to the rebbe, himself a resident of Jerusalem, to receive a blessing. The rebbe's response, however, changes his entire viewpoint toward everything that he had heretofore experienced in Jerusalem.

The principal lesson to be learned from the rebbe's response is that the Chassid's privations are not objective; they exist only in the latter's own head. The sages teach us that "the beauty of a place appeals to its residents." In other words, a person is generally fond of his place of residence. It appears that here, however, Jerusalem does not appeal to the Chassid.

The problem is not that hardship makes living in Jerusalem unbearable; rather, the place is not appealing. Appeal is a subjective matter. Different things appeal to different people. The rebbe in our story puts matters on the table: It is not that you find it difficult to live in Jerusalem, but that Jerusalem does not appeal to you.

It appears that by underscoring the principal that everything depends on the manner in which a person relates to his place of residence, we return to the biblical story of the Sin of the Spies. The sages inform us that God caused many of land's inhabitants to perish so that the local people would become preoccupied with escorting and burying the dead and would not take notice of the spies. Seeing so many funerals taking place, the spies returned to Moses and exclaimed, "This land devours its inhabitants!"

The problem lies in a person's outlook, the manner in which a person relates to things. When the land of Israel appeals to those who gaze upon her, when Jerusalem finds pleasure in the eyes of its residents, no difficulty in the world will succeed in dampening this affection. If, however, this beauty is spoiled, "technical difficulties" will suddenly arise - difficulties which call for solutions.

The rebbe does not stop with a declaration that all of the Chassid's difficulties stems from the fact that Jerusalem does not appeal to him; he provides a reason for this: "It seems that you do not appeal to Jerusalem, for had you appealed Jerusalem, Jerusalem would have appeal to you..."

The rebbe gives Jerusalem human qualities. The Chassid "did not appeal to Jerusalem," and therefore Jerusalem does not appeal to the Chassid. The anthropomorphizing of the Holy Land recalls the scriptural verse, "...so that the land not vomit you out because of your defilement, in the manner that it vomited out the nation which was here before you." Israel can decide to rid itself of its residents. Similarly, Jerusalem can be unhappy about the presence of a particular person living in her midst.

King Solomon, in his great wisdom taught: "As in water face answers face, so the heart of man to man" (Proverbs 27:19). Man is responsible for the manner in which others relate to him. A person who evinces a cold heart towards other creates a situation wherein the others will display coldness in return. If an individual does not not feel a sense of love, appeal, affection towards the Holy City; if a person's love for Jerusalem does not cover up all of the city's shortcomings, a situation is created wherein Jerusalem does not love him either.

We encounter a similar idea in the episode of the Blasphemer ("HaMekalel"), which appears just subsequent to the matter of the Showbread ("Lechem HaPanim"; see Leviticus 24:5-9). The Blasphemer claimed that the entire Showbread idea was far flung, for the bread was left on the table for a week, and kings are certainly not accustomed to eating bread which has been left out for a week. Kings eat hot bread, fresh from the oven.

"Imrei Emet" (the son of "Sefat Emet") points to the following difficulty: The Talmud tells us that when the Festival pilgrims would go up to Jerusalem the priests in the Temple would show them the hot Showbread and exclaim, "See how beloved all of you are before the Almighty - the bread is as hot as when it left the oven." How, then, could the Blasphemer have charged that the Showbread was cold?

The "Imrei Emet" himself answers by explaining that the Showbread possessed a unique character: If a person were to approach it with a heart that was cold towards God, he would indeed find cold bread. It naturally followed that such a person would have doubts regarding the bread. However, if a person were to approach the bread with a heart that was "warm" towards the Almighty, he would find fresh hot bread. This was what the Showbread came to teach: "As in water face answers face." This is also the lesson of Jerusalem: To the degree that she appeals to us, we too will appeal to her - "As in water face answers face."

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The translated biblical verse in this article was taken from The Jerusalem Bible (Koren Press).

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