Excerpted from Change and Renewal: The Essence of the Jewish Holidays, Festivals & Days of Remembrance
July 30, 2012
On the night of Tisha B’Av, when the Jewish people devotes itself again to mourning for all that it has lost during its long exile; after everyone is seated on the ground and before the Kinot (lamentations) are recited, there is a custom that the prayer leader rises and proclaims to the congregation, “Today marks such-and-such many years since the destruction of our Sanctuary.” The essence of the mourning over the great catastrophe, over the years of exile and all that they have entailed, returns to the focal point of this mourning – to the destruction of the Temple and city of Jerusalem.
The Midrash describes Jerusalem’s essential place in the world:
Abba Hanan said in the name of Samuel the Small: This world is like a person’s eyeball. The white of the eye is the ocean surrounding the world; the iris is the inhabited world; the pupil of the eye is Jerusalem; and the face [the reflection of the observer] in the pupil is the Holy Temple. May it be rebuilt speedily in our days.”
The whole world consciously or unconsciously feels Jerusalem’s destruction. As our Sages say: “Since the day that the Temple was destroyed, there has been no day without its curse . . . and the curse of each day is greater than that of the one before it.” “Since the day that the Temple was destroyed,” we are taught, “the sky has not appeared in its full purity, as it says: ‘I clothe the skies in darkness and make their raiment sackcloth.’” The mourning over Jerusalem is universal; it is a tragedy from which the whole universe suffers.
The destruction of Jerusalem is for us the ruin of all of existence, and ever since a curtain of sadness and darkness has covered the face of reality. The mourning over Jerusalem is more than a one-time memorial of a once-a-year day of mourning. All of Jewish life is continually suffused with mourning – in remembrance of the hurban (destruction).
The memory of Jerusalem casts a shadow of eternal gloom on the Jewish people. “One may not fill his mouth with laughter in this world” until the coming of the redemption, when “our mouths will be filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy.” Until then, everything is enveloped in sadness. Ever since the destruction of the Temple, all profane music and singing have been prohibited.
Thus, the mourning over Jerusalem has continued for nearly two thousand years, like a thread of tears running through our lives.
The passing of so much time has not erased from our consciousness the memory of Jerusalem; on the contrary, it has expanded and deepened this memory.
Through conceptualization, Jerusalem and Zion became more than place-names, more than a city or spiritual center. Jerusalem became the symbol of the Shekhina (Divine Presence), the point of Malkhut (Kingship), the point of contact and connection at which the Infinite touches the finite, at which time and place touch what transcends time and place. Jerusalem, as the point of Malkhut, is the point at which the silver cord of divine influence is connected to the reality of the world.
Spiritual, symbolic Jerusalem has not made us lose sight of the geographic, this-worldly city of Jerusalem. Throughout all the generations, even in the darkest years of oppression and persecution when no Jew was permitted to dwell in it, this city has been the Jewish People’s center and capital. There is no other all-embracing Jewish center besides Jerusalem.
In the meantime, all turn toward Jerusalem. All the synagogues throughout the world, in all their various shapes and styles, face one direction: toward Jerusalem. And wherever a Jew may be, when he stands up to pray, he turns his face to the place to which all Jews turn – to Jerusalem.
In many places, the practice was that in every marriage agreement, they would write that the wedding will take place, with God’s help, on such-and-such a date in Jerusalem, and they would add that if by then redemption has still not come, the wedding will take place in another specified place. This practice expressed, in its innocence, the hope and the ideal that the place where one ought to be is none other than the city of Jerusalem.
Although in most generations this aliya was not actually possible, the hope was ever present.
Jerusalem is a twofold city – “like a city joined together.” Jerusalem below, earthly Jerusalem, which is now in ruins, is parallel to Jerusalem on high, in which there is a glorious Divine Temple, where all the majesty of the supernal world is found. This celestial Jerusalem is hovers over earthly Jerusalem. Moreover, celestial Jerusalem depends on and springs from earthly Jerusalem. “The Holy One, blessed be He, said: ‘I will not enter Jerusalem on high until I enter Jerusalem down below.’”
 Sotah 48a, 49a.
 Berakhot 59a citing Isaiah 50:3.
 Avodah Zarah 3b.
 Psalms 137:5-6.
 Ketubot 110a-b.