Jerusalem Needs A Hug (2004)

by | Oct 31, 2006 | 0 comments

Every stone in Yerushalayim wants to be hugged.

The Eastern gates to the Courtyard of the Beis HaMikdash in Jerusalem were called “Shaarei Nikoner” or the gates of Nikoner.

They were beautiful bronzed structures that greeted the guests as they arrived from all over the land.

Why are they called “Gates of Nikoner”? Nikoner was a Greek general during the Hashmonean era. When Antiochus’s nephew decided to remodel the Beis HaMikdash, he used his resources to import artifacts from the best craftsmen in the known world. He commissioned his general Nikoner to travel to Alexandria of Egypt to have these bronze gates custom-made. Nikoner decided to transport the cumbersome gates by ship, and while out on his Mediterranean voyage they encountered a life-threatening storm. The general, seeing that the weight of the ship was too much to survive the storm, ordered one of the doors be thrown overboard. The storm, however, continued and the boat rocked even more. The crew got ready to throw the next gate into the sea. Nikoner watched as the group hoisted the heavy bronze door into the air and something happened. Nikoner ran to the gate and began to hug it. “If this gate goes into the sea, so do I.” The storm immediately subsided. Realizing what had just taken place, Nikoner began to cry over the first door that he had thrown overboard. When they finally reached the port of Ako and docked their ship, they found the missing door, under the ship and promptly installed both doors in the holy Temple. To remember this miracle the gates were called “Shaarei Nikoner”. (Talmud Yoma 38)

What stopped the storm? The fact that the gates destined for holiness were on board was not enough to ward off the storm. The doors wanted to be hugged! Yerushalayim wants to be hugged. Every gate, every passageway, every stone in Yerushalayim wants to be hugged.

The initial reaction was to throw the gates to Yerushalayim overboard. Lives are at stake – don’t rock the boat! But that didn’t help, Yerushalayim works on a different level – if we love the gates, if we express our passion for them, they remain with us, even if it takes a miracle.

“It was then that Moshe and the children of Israel sang out their song to Hashem”. They had already seen miracles; Moshe had already had prophecies. They knew G-d, but there had been no outpouring of emotion until now. There had been no passion. Now at last they sang, now at last Moshe sang. G-d traveled from their minds to their hearts, and all the angels in Heaven sang along. When we read the Torah we read the shira in the same melody as we read the Ten Commandments. The commandments were an outpouring from G-d; this song was an outpouring from Israel. “I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me.” We finally showed passion for G-d. We burst into song.

I have often quoted the words of Rabbi J.B. Soloveitchik describing the way he grew up. “The emotions that overtook me as a child (particularly around the High Holidays) stimulate me still today, and my whole Weltanschauung, my whole religious philosophy, is a result of this experience… Contemporary Orthodoxy is well grounded intellectually. In spite of this, however, its followers lack passion.” (Rabbi Soloveitchik in the “Days of Awe” pg. 60).

It’s been a rough few days. We are just learning about the depth of injury and the lives of those that died on the number 19 bus in the middle of Rechavia. Jerusalem needs a hug!

We are living in an at-risk time. Kids at risk, marriages at risk, Jerusalem at risk, Israel at risk, Judaism at risk. They all need some passion! They all need a hug.

My Rebbe, Rav Chaim Scheinberg, would often quote the words of King David, “I have given Your Torah as an inheritance to my children because they are the joy of my heart.” Torah does not usually go down as an inheritance. I can be a great Torah scholar but that says nothing for my children. There is only one way that we can bequeath Torah to our children, “when it is the joy of my heart.” When we can take it from our minds to our hearts, when we can sing about it and when we can hug it; then it remains ours.

By Rabbi Yaacov Haber

Rabbi Yaacov Haber has been a leading force in Jewish community and Jewish education for over forty years. He lived and taught in the United States, Australia and in Israel. He is presently the Rav of Kehillas Shivtei Yeshurun, a vibrant community in the center of Ramat Bet Shemesh, Israel, and serves as the Rabbinic guide to many of its wonderful organisations.


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