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Parshas Va'Eschanan - The Influence of a City   15 Av 5782

08/12/2022 09:37:31 AM


This time of the year brings many tourists to San Diego, and that includes many  “frum” religious Jews. On a daily basis, I encounter Jews from all walks of life and from all over the world. Most of these guests are vacationing from the East Coast, which gives opportunity for us to  play Jewish geography on all levels. I always ask where our visitors are from and where they came from originally, such as where did they grew  up. Recently, an older man visited with his married grandson. He told me where he was from and then went on to tell me where his grandson lived. He mentioned one of the myriads of small cities surrounding Lakewood and said, ”My grandson is from such and such Ir HaKodesh.”! I quickly jumped in and exclaiming ”Perhaps Lakewood itself is Ir HaKodesh, the Holy city, but not… (the city to which he was referring).!

This week I heard the usual line, “Tish’a B’Av has come and gone, and the Beis HaMikdash is still not rebuilt. I guess we will have Tish’a B’Av again next year. ”Truth be told, of course I hope there will be a Tish’a B’Av next year; it is only a date on the calendar! Of course, I understand the meaning of this statement. I fully understand that this statement laments the fact that we are still in exile and are only using the 9th of Av as the association to something tragic. Nevertheless, we should look toward next year’s 9th of Av no longer as a sad day, but rather, as the Rabbi’s teach us, that the day will become a holiday and a day of Yom Tov.

Of course, all of this is spoken in jest, I mean do people really think or believe that we should call Lakewood N.J. Ir HaKodesh/ a holy city? When I hear statements as such it lends itself to thinking we have made it religiously and there is no need to even consider Eretz Yisrael, a place which is our national homeland and home to the four major holy cities. This, unfortunately, rings to the sounds of a local Jewish community their city as equal to Jerusalem. The following is an excerpt from the Jerusalem Post in 2015: At the synod of Reform rabbis held at Frankfurt in 1845, Rabbi Samuel Holdheim rejected the idea of a personal messiah and political redemption in the Land of Israel. “The hope for a national restoration contradicts our feeling for the fatherland,” Holdheim stated. “Our nationality is now only expressed in religious concepts and institutions.”

This rejection of the concept of Jews as a nation was rooted in two concepts. The first was the Reformers’ rejection of what seemed to be a primitive notion of a personal messiah and the resumption of sacrifice in the Temple in Jerusalem. This concept clashed with the ideas of Enlightenment, an era believing in a religion of reason and universal brotherhood. But the second reason for Holdheim’s statement is just as striking: this Reform rabbi wanted to avoid charges of dual loyalty. The Jewish commitment to sovereignty in Israel brought into question the allegiance of Jews to the Germanic state where they were striving to be citizens.

The very notion of comparing cities with large Jewish populations, referring to them as holy cities, seems anti-ethical. As we assess the state of the Jewish people we wonder as we look around, observing our actions and behaviors, is this truly why Moshiach would come? Is this an era worthy of his coming? There is an overindulgence of the material world that prevents us from focusing on the truly important things in life. Nevertheless, there is one important difference between Germany, 1850 and Lakewood, 2022. That major difference is the flourishing of Torah and the commitment to Mitzvos at a level we have not seen in over 2000 years since the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash and the exile from Eretz Yisrael.  Despite the challenges the “frum” community faces, there exists a level of kedusha/holiness that is created by living a religious life. When more Torah is learned, more mitzvos are fulfilled, more tefillos are offered, more good deeds are accomplished, there is a holiness that is created within the place where this occurs. Hashem’s presence is still among us through His Torah, and that serves as a comfort for us despite being in galus/exile. The Gemara Brachos 8a states: “From the day of the destruction of the Temple, God only has the four cubits of halacha as His domain in His world.”

I would like to suggest there are two types of kedusha/holiness in the world; 1) an inherent holiness, somewhat “God made” that maintains its sanctity whether there is any Jewish life present at all. That is Yerushalayim Ir HaKodesh. 2) a holiness that is “man-made”, driven by the Jewish people living according to the Torah. The latter can be attained anywhere in the world. This stands in clear contradiction to Germany, 1850, where the reform movement rejected the Torah, mitzvos and the promise of Zion and the ultimate redemption. Germany was not like Jerusalem because there wasn’t any holiness created. This is by no means rationalizing that any “makom Torah” any place of Torah can replace Yerushalayim as the holy city. Rather, any Makom Torah creates an artificial kind of holiness, which for its time and place raises the level of sanctity for its inhabitants.

Throughout the millennia the Jewish people created great cities during every exile and in places that were desolate of everything. Therefore, I take back my comment that Yerushalayim is the only holy city. It is the only city that has its holiness from within and maintains its kedusha holiness throughout the millenia of time. Nevertheless, we each have within us the ability to create a holiness wherever we go. This applies to the individual and the Klal. In a place where the Torah is no longer being followed and fulfilled, destruction and desolation will follow, but where Torah and Yiddishkeit are flourishing, the influence of the Torah raises the level of every person in the city, Jew, and gentile alike.

 Every city where Jews reside should be a place where there is clear evidence of focused effort to make their city a makom Torah, a Makon Tefilla, a Makom of Gemillus Chassadim. This would be a wonderful way to identify our city of San Diego as a holy place. Perhaps the next time someone is asked where they went on vacation, they will respond San Diego, Ir HaKodesh. And more so if someone were to ask me where I am from, I can say, San Diego, Ir HaKodesh!    

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Mon, March 4 2024 24 Adar I 5784