Jews have been praying about Jerusalem for a long, long time. From Abraham’s encounter with Melchitzedek from “Salem” in Genesis, to David’s conquest of the Jebusite capital around 1000 BCE, to the return of Ezra and Nehemiah, to the medieval poetry of Yehudah HaLevi, to modern Zionism, Jerusalem and the Jewish narrative are inextricably linked.
The phrase that we proclaim at each Seder, and at the conclusion of Yom Kippur, reinforces this idea. No doubt you recognize the words: LiShana HaBa’ah B’Yerushalayim– next year in Jerusalem. At the end of the Seder, having journeyed from slavery to freedom, from Egypt to the Land of Israel, we proclaim our hope that next year we will be celebrating the festival of freedom in the holy city.
Passover is a holiday rife with themes of deliverance and Messianism. God delivered us from slavery and performed miracles. Elijah visits us at the Seder as the herald of the Messianic Age- for he will ultimately be the one who heralds the coming of the Messiah. We reaffirm these messages each Spring as we pray that next year we are able to celebrate Passover in Jerusalem. At Pesach, we remind ourselves that no matter our situation, there is always the promise of hope and salvation. Passover is a time to celebrate the redemption and the freedom that we both experience and pray for, and also to remind ourselves that the vision that we share for the future is one of peace and harmony.
Among the meanings of Jerusalem is “City of Peace.” Not because it is the city of peace, as history has certainly demonstrated the opposite, but because Jerusalem harbors our aspirations for what will be and can be.
These past few weeks have illustrated the challenge that we face in realizing this future for Jerusalem. The renewed rocket attacks from Gaza, the murder of a Jewish family by a Palestinian terrorist, and the bombing of a bus in Jerusalem all serve as stark reminders that the peace that we seek is fragile at best, and able to be shattered in an instant. This Pesach, the last words of the Seders should remind all of us that our eternal hope is to have Jerusalem truly be a city of peace.
It is, in fact, a prayer that we have been offering for thousands of years.
This year, before you recite the piyyut that contains LiShana HaBa’ah B’Yerushalayim, consider adding one of the two passages below.
“Violence will no more be heard in your land, desolation nor destruction within your borders. Your people will all be righteous, they will inherit the land forever” (Isaiah, chapter 60).
Or, in the language of the Psalmist, shaalu shalom Yerushalayim, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem! May they prosper that love you. Peace be within your walls and prosperity within your palaces!” (Psalm 122).
May it be God’s will that we see such words, and our prayers for peace, be realized, bimhera, biyamenu, b’karov, speedily and in our days.