Rabbi Yishai Lisner
Former Rosh Kollel in Montreal
Every day, we recite the familiar prayer:
“May our eyes behold Your return to Tzion with mercy.”
Yet, at first glance, this request seems to contradict Chazal‟s well-known teaching that Yerushalayim was:
“Sanctified for its time and sanctified for all future time.” (BT Shavuot 16a)
In other words, once Yerushalayim was sanctified during David and Shlomo‟s time, the sanctity was never lifted. Indeed, in Ir HaKodesh V’HaMikdash, Rav Tikochinsky cites Chazal:
“With respect to sanctity of a place (i.e. Yerushalayim), there is no disagreement. And even one who says that it was not sanctified for all future time [holds that] this sanctity remained and is not cancelled, just as there is no cancellation for any type of sanctity.”
The Rambam (Hilchot Beit HaBechirah 6:15) states:
“And why do I say that with respect to the Mikdash and Yerushalayim, the initial sanctification was sanctified for all future time… Because the sanctity of the Mikdash and Yerushalayim is because of the Divine Presence, and the Divine Presence is not lifted. But it says, „And I will make your sanctuaries desolate.‟ (Vayikra 26:31) And the Sages said that although they are desolate, their sanctity remains.”
Yerushalayim‟s eternal sanctity is derived from the Shechinah‟s Presence, which never disappears – even during difficult times, when the Beit HaMikdash, which is Yerushalayim‟s beauty and splendor, is destroyed.
What, then, is the meaning of the aforementioned prayer? Why would Jews throughout the millennia tearfully beseech Hashem to return His Presence to Yerushalayim – if the Shechinah had never departed?
In Sefer HaKuzari, R‟ Yehudah HaLevi explains:
“The Shechinah which is seen eye to eye is that which has disappeared… and is that which we anticipate when it says, „For eye to eye they shall see that Hashem returns to Tzion,‟ (Yeshaya 52:8) and when we recite in our prayers, „May our eyes behold Your return to Tzion.‟”
R‟ Yehudah HaLevi clarifies that neither Yerushalayim‟s sanctity nor the Divine Presence has been lifted since the initial sanctification. However, we long for the Shechinah which we can see with our own eyes. When we say, “may our eyes behold Your return to Tzion,” we are asking to behold the glory and splendor of Hashem‟s Presence, which dwells in the city. We know that the Shechinah does not leave the Kotel, but we want to be able to witness and sense the Divine Presence.
Many generations have attempted to behold the Shechinah in Yerushalayim through the gloom of destruction and exile. As the Tashbetz recounts:
“And there is evidence and proof that the sanctity of the Mikdash and the city exists… For one of the miracles which occurred in Yerushalayim still remains: that no one said to his fellow, „this place is too narrow for me.‟ For in the beit knesset in Yerushalayim, they provide for the locals throughout the year, and it fills up peh al peh (literally, „mouth to mouth‟), when everyone gathers there. On Shavuot, the celebrants number over three hundred people. Everyone enters and has room to sit (yoshvim revachim), because it retains its sanctity. And this is a sign of the Third Geulah (Redemption).”
In our generation, we are privileged to see the Shechinah in Yerushalayim through the light of the unique geulah which we are experiencing. The reunited city and the site of our Mikdash have returned to our hands, via the revealed miracles of the Six Day War.
Hence, we must continue to pray that our eyes behold the renewed and complete Revelation of the Shechinah. May we soon be privileged to ascend to the Beit HaMikdash and behold the Shechinah “eye to eye.”
“And it shall be at the end of days, the mountain of the House of Hashem shall be firmly established at the top of the mountains, and it shall be raised above the hills; and all the nations will stream to it. And many nations will go and they will say, Come, let us go up to the mountain of Hashem, to the House of the God of Yaakov, and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths; for from Tzion shall the Torah come forth, and the word of Hashem from Yerushalayim.” (Yeshaya 2:2-3)