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SIDIC Periodical XXIX - 1996/2-3
Jerusalem: Prophecy of Peace (Pages 20 -27)

Other articles from this issue | Version in English | Version in French

Jerusalem; a Discovered and a Dual City - The significance of Jerusalem for a Diaspora Jew
Stefano Levi Della Torre


The High and Low City
Jerusalem is a high and low city, built on uneven ground. The highest and the lowest things are found there. There is a "shared-ownership" of the spirit (Jews, Christians, Muslims, believers and non-believers) and in the meetings of these "owners", even if they are the most excellent of persons, the basest instincts surface; petty distrusts and jealousies about somebody else's minimal right. ibis unworkable shared ownership is one of the tragic characteristics of Jerusalem, as Amos Elon writes in Jerusalem, City of Mirrors.

The current etymology of the name, although this is conjecture, would be "city of peace": Shalem, Shalom. However, Jerusalem is not a peaceful city, quite the contrary. Like those people who say in all modesty: "If I understand, everyone can understand", Jerusalem can say of itself, "If I, a city of conflicts, can achieve peace, that means that everybody can achieve it". In fact, the thorniest problems with regard to peace are found in it. Rivalries of all sorts are woven into its most intimate fabric, and that is why education in peace can come precisely from its febrile situation of conflict. It is a model for peace, not as something already acquired, but as a way - the most rocky - to reach it through the clutter of interests and symbols that are in painful and exhilarating struggle: a demonstration of a majore ad minus, of the most difficult and easiest peace itinerary.

"It is a country that devours its inhabitants", Moses' envoys had reported after their exploration of the Promised Land (Nb.13:32); therefore a land both desired and feared. So also, Jerusalem is desired and feared because, just like the Promised Land, the Promised City can devour its inhabitants. This is so true that, according to rabbinical tradition, the destruction that occurred in the year 70 of our era is due first of all to the mutual hatred that devoured it from within. Amos Elon says that it is a place where it is easy to "lose one's head" under the political and religious furry. However, Jerusalem is also a place that can be devoured by those who love her and submerge it with interpretations and symbols. The best thing would be to let it speak for itself. Each one of us feels the duty to explain to it what it is, what its vocation is, and I myself cannot avoid doing so. To let Jerusalem speak implies something concrete: to listen to its inhabitants, even if they are "crazy" in a certain way; to listen to its geopolitical and also symbolic situation, but from within.

From Jerusalem, we draw two immediate lessons. The first comes from the fact that it is still existing, that in a certain sense it is re-born. It is a lesson for the Jewish people for itself, but not just for itself, on how to continue to exist through and in spite of devastations. The second lesson concerns its ability (or its inability) to face conflict and - God willing - resolve it one day. Listen to Jerusalem, especially in this period when it is telling us, or is about to tell us, something great concerning peace.

For my part, I will speak of two characteristics of Jerusalem. The first is that it is not an ordinary city, it is a city that is discovered: when it became
David's capital it had already existed for centuries. The second characteristic is that it is a dual city. The dissonance of the name Yerushalaim is dual (dual like 'cocain, eyes; oznapn, ears), but this duality does not concern only its name, as we shall see.

The City that is "Found"
Jerusalem is a city "discovered", that is, preexisting, as was the Promised Land; it was not new, not deserted, but lived in and cultivated by seven peoples, as we are told:
We went into the land to which you sent us. It does indeed flow with milk and honey; this is its produce. At the same time its inhabitants are a powerful people; the towns are fortified and very big... (Nb. 1.3:27-28)

And Jerusalem pre-existed even on the religious level; pre-existent to Abraham's monotheist vocation. The latter, in fact, will meet near Shalem Melki-Tsedek, the "king of justice", who was already invested with the priesthood of the One God:
Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought bread and wine; he was a priest of God Most High. He pronounced this blessing: Blessed be Abram by God Most High, creator of heaven and earth (Gn.14:18-20).

Hence, Abraham had something to learn from someone who had preceded him in Shalem.
Secondly, David did not build ex novo, but he conquered a city already built, as we are told in 2 Sam:5. We could wonder in what sense Psalm 87 speaks of Jerusalem when it says: "In you is my source". In what sense can we speak of a reality that is not original? What is the new in the human work?

In Jerusalem there is the new because it is a renewed, renewable city, and not because it is original. The new, as I understand it in Jewish thought, is the capacity for conversion, the teshuva which means "turning" and "response": to be renewed by responding to the divine message; and that reality is original. The human newness is to find the traces of the original in something pre -existing (in religious terms: to find the signs of the Creator and of creation in the creature). That is how "the sources" are in Jerusalem: The origins are proposed anew to us, as it were, in reverse. The same goes for the commentary, which is the principal channel of Jewish culture, thanks to which the new springs from finding what pre-exists, that is to say that we find in the text something that is already there, of course, but is hidden, and we bring to light. The pre-existent, the text of Scripture, is the place for a dialogue between the divine proposition and the human response; the new springs, so to speak, in this relationship, like the spark implicit between Adam's finger and that of God in Michelangelo's "Creation of Man" (the comparison is from Andre Neher).

This acceptance of the term new is extended in the idea of "remnant", according to Isaiah: "the remnant of Israel" as the possibility of a rebirth and reconstruction. And Jerusalem is always a remnant,the inexhaustible possibility of reconstruction after each catastrophe. New also in the sense of tikkun "reconstruction": the ability and human vocation to put the pieces of the real together again, to make them converge towards a meaning, a form, a call. Tikkun means "to make things new", not so much as to their origins, because origins are of the divine nature, but in that they are renewed through the remoulding of (heir practical and linguistic connections. (those who paint, as I do, know how realistic is this vision of the new as something that is revealed in the pre-existent, in an already existing material of psychic form. And even more, we could say that revealing what already exists, revealing the implicit possibilities in the pre-existent, is the fundamental act of all art as well as of prophecy.)

Jerusalem is thus the discovered, restored city, the city of tikkun: "Jerusalem built as a city where everything is reborn" (Ps. 122:3); a discovered city, that is to say revealed (the same as the Scriptures) as "that place that the Lord your God has chosen…to place his name" (Dt.12:5).

What, on the contrary, is the totally new city, the paradigm of human creation (quasi) ex nihilo? It is the tower of Babel in Genesis 11. Jerusalem and the tower of Babel are in antithesis. (This is not the tower of Babylon opposed to Jerusalem of John's Apocalypse.) One is the city which is constantly being rebuilt, the other is the edifice which is forever bankrupt. And in reality, what is the form of that tower? The passage reads:

Throughout the earth men spoke the same language, with the same vocabulary.. Now as they moved eastward they found a plain in the land of Shinar where they settled. They said to one another: "Come, let us make bricks and bake them in the fire" - for stone they used bricks, and for mortar they used bitumen. "Come", they said, 'let us build ourselves a town and a tower with its top reaching heaven. Let us make a name for ourselves, so that we may not be scattered about the whole earth." (Gen.11:1-4)

Thus the tower rises from the plain up to heaven; it is not like Sinai, a rather low mountain whose modesty is stressed by the Masters. The tower is not a modest mountain, and it is artificial (artificial in its very elements: bricks instead of stones). It is a construction that contrasts with the lowliness of the flat land as well as with the height of heaven; in contrast with Jerusalem which is built of stones and rises on two rather low mountains: Mount Sion and Mount Moria. Jerusalem spreads out, underlines the natural formation of the land without discord, and rises up without exaggeration. It does not challenge, but interprets the formation of the land which pre-existed it; while the contrary is true for the tower. Babel is a single mountain, a single tower, while Jerusalem is two mountains. The first is "monistic", the second is dualistic. The first wants to replace heaven and earth (so that we may not be scattered about the whole earth", as if to say: "the tower will be our earth and our heaven.") But Jerusalem places itself in relationship with heaven and earth.

Jerusalem is Beloved in its Gates
The Lord prefers the gates of Zion to all the dwelling places of Jacob (Ps.87:2)
While when Genesis FL speaks of the tower, we read: "Men spoke the same language, with the same vocabulary", (in Hebrew: devarim ahadim); a commentary says that we should not read ahadim,"unique", but ahudim, "closed: closed words. This unique language represented a closed attitude of human beings.

Therefore, on the one hand there are the gates, the openings of Jerusalem, and on the other, the closure of the tower of. Babel, the enclosing of themselves in the tower which God will open by separating the languages. The intention of those who build it is, in reality, to protect themselves from dispersion: a refusal to accept their condition of "creature", their vocation to "fill the earth" through dispersion and differentiation.

On the one hand, there is the closure of the tower, a static preservation; and on the other, the gates of Jerusalem which instead refer to a movement of coming and going. it is not only a question of a tranquil crossing of thresholds, or even the perimeters of the whole city (as it is said in Zec.2:8-9: Jerusalem is to remain unwalled...but I will be a wall of fire for her all around her, and I will be her glory in the midst of her). It is also and especially a question of the drama of the Alya and the yerida, the going up and coming down, the taking possession and the exile, the alternation between dispersion and gathering in: or on the contrary it will be the movement of entry of the invaders (the Babylonians, Romans, Crusaders...) and the going forth of the "teaching", "because from Zion will come the Law, and from Jerusalem the word of the Lord" (Is.23).

"Let us make a name for ourselves so that we may not be scattered about the whole earth": for the generation of the tower, unity was an a priori, something to be preserved, in competition with the divine unicity. We might call it a re- edition of original sin... The two episodes speak of a divinisation of the human: Eve and Adam make themselves (almost) equal to God by knowledge; the generation of the Tower make themselves (almost) equal to God by unicity and by power. Both episodes lead to exile: Eve and Adam are expelled from the Garden of Eden. The "People of One Language are dispersed throughout the world.

But what is this divinisation of the human? It is a rejection of the human condition, a rejection of the progress of creation. "You will be as gods", the serpent had suggested (Gen.3:5) and the temptation to want to fall away from the divine constitutes, like an implosion of creation, a returning of the latter on itself. It is the negation of that which differentiates the creature from the creator. The advancement of creation lies just in this differentiation and in that of creatures between themselves, in their expansion over the face of the earth.

"You will be as God", who is the Unique One: that is idolatry, the creature wanting to grasp that unicity which is divine. And the other side of this temptation is dispersion, the multiplication of and the exile of human beings.

The temptation of the Unique, "to be as God", the episode of the Tower of Babel is a "repetition" of the sin of Eve and of Adam. But such temptation is not metaphysical: it is familiar to us, an everyday affair; it is the temptation of the compact and coherent identity, ethnic purity, or religious, racial, ideological purity, which consists in a safa akhat, "one tongue" and the devarim akhudim, "closed words and events": it is the temptation of an identity complete in itself, "monolithic", totalitarian. The Torah dwells on the tendency that we have to construct towers of Babel... to prevent change; to protect things through the fortress of a collective identity is to reject the development of creation: that is the Tower.

On the contrary, the tragedy of Jerusalem is movement: movement in time, between destruction and reconstruction, oscillating between dispersion and gathering in. On the one hand, Jerusalem gathers the dispersed, and the other hand scatters what stands together. That is the historic, but also symbolic, movement of this city. Thus, the vicisitudes of human beings are represented in the form of a city: the discovered and rebuilt city involved in both building up and pulling down, which is the condition of the living. While in the tower, the creature denies its own condition to affirm a unity (a single humanity, one language, the same language), which does not belong to it because it is divine.

The Dual City
We have already seen that Yerushalaim has a dual character and that it rests on two mountains. Let us now pursue this thought. When David conquered the city it is said: "He (David) reigned in Hebron over Judah for seven years and six months; then he reigned in Jerusalem over all of Israel and Judah for thirty-three years." (2 Sam.5:5). Therefore, Hebron is an incomplete capital since from there David only reigned over Judah; but in Jerusalem, the definitive capital, he reigned over the two parts, Judah and Israel; and there he accomplished two successive actions: first the conquest, then the installation of the holy Ark (2 Sam.6). Thus Jerusalem will be the political and religious centre:
The city of David and the city of God;
The city of the powerful and that of the prophet who denounces them;
The city that is destroyed and the city that is rebuilt;
The afflicted and the consoled;
The adulterous and the faithful;The sterile and the fruitful;
The earthly city and the heavenly city; The new city and the old city;
The secular city and the observant city. The Jewish city and the Arab city.

And also the city of the "no" and the "yes". On this, I would like to make a comment on the lectio of Pastor Antonio Adamo. If I understand him correctly, he does not refer to this dual and oscillating character of the city, but rather to the "no" of Jerusalem opposed to God's "yes". As if we should seek the "city of the yes" separately, above, the heavenly Jerusalem; as if it were not Jerusalem but rather the two towers of Babel, each one with "the same language, and the same vocabulary", one positive and the other negative. But Jerusalem, on the contrary, is the city of "co-presence", where this "yes" and this "no" alternate in time.

I insist on the paradigm of duality which is something different from the multiple. The number two is truly dramatic and expresses the most difficult of conflicts, the most pressing call to renewal. To be tete-a-tete, face to face, to say "we and they", represents a field of tensions much greater than in relationships with "many". Duality is the tragic figure in the biblical account: Cain and Abel, Ishmael and Isaac, Sara and Hagar, Jacob and Esau, Leah and Rachel, Joseph and his brothers, Israel and the Nations. Their conflict and their reconciliation is achieved in extreme tension.

Duality which is a paradigm of "created", is represented in a particular manner in the real history as in the symbolic history of Israel...Historically, the ."dual" is found in the oscillation between diaspora and the land of Israel, between settlement and exile, "territorial" and dispersion. Does Israel only exist when it is settled or also when it is not? It exists in both cases and that conforms to reality and to the divine promise: "I will be with you in exile", says the Lord. The nature of the biblical canon itself expresses this dual character: It is composed of documents coming from the land of Israel as well as from the exile. This is true not only for the narrative but also for the historical composition of the sources, the biblical text manifests the polarity and the oscillation between these two conditions belonging to every human being, the political and the existential: the state of being rooted and at the same time rootless, native and foreign in the world....

Before us there are two worlds: "this world" (clam haze) and "the world to come" ('olam haba). "This world" is the world of the promise that remains a promise, which is neither annulled nor fulfilled: it is a reciprocal promise between creatures and Creator, it is the substance of the covenant (beret). The "world to come' is the messianic world, of the promise that is fully achieved. The attempt to reduce these two worlds into one has always had tragic political consequences: realised utopias, theocratic or "ideocratic", have led to wild aberrations.
The split between the two worlds is implicit in the Ten words from Sinai: lo tirtzah, "you shall not kill" is a commandment for this world, and at the same time a prophecy, a promise that the time will come when we will no longer kill ("... they shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks" Is.2:4). The world to come influences this world because it introduces a tension, a hope and an action that ensues; and this world influences the world to come in the measure that it is its condition and premise. The "before" and "after" influence each other, as do also the high and the low, the divine and the human. The same goes for the heavenly and the earthly Jerusalem.

However, with regard to the relationship between the high and the low, I would like to raise a question which occurs to me when I hear the "Our Father". This prayer says "May your will as in heaven be done on earth" and "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors" (this is the translation which appears to me faithful both to the Latin and the Greek text of Matthew 6). I have been astonished on other occasions by the "as" (sicut... et). It says "as in heaven, so on earth": the "as" indicates that heaven is a model for the earth: that one would want what happens in heaven to come about on earth. But it goes on: "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors" and here the "as" goes in the contrary direction. God is invited to conform to human behaviour. It is not God's bountiful mercy that is invoked, but rather his justice which is linked to the degree of mercy that we have shown to our debtors. God is invited to act according to our standards. Thus the first "as" descends from heaven to earth (as in heaven, so on earth); the second ascends from the earth to heaven ("forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors"). Is there not something Jewish in this reciprocal movement? The high and the low each has something to say, as in the discussion between Abraham and God about the fate of Sodom (Gen.18:22-23) or that of Job, who by the way was not a Jew, or that of Moses saying to the Lord who was angry because of the Golden Calf: "Turn from your fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people"...”And the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do to his people” (Ex.32:12-14). Thus Moses corrected God, The one who was below served as a model for the one who was on high: Pardon, said Moses, as we pardon.

We find this non-univocal relationship between the high and the low in the Jewish notion of the heavenly and earthly Jerusalem; a notion which, it seems to me, is more mobile, turns more between the two poles of high and low, than is the case of De civitate Dei of St. Augustine and the subsequent Christian tradition which is totally turned toward the high. In the Jewish tradition, on the contrary, we have a double movement. "The heavenly Jerusalem was created before God created the world, when the idea of Paradise was born" (Tanhuma 34): the model is heaven. But it is also said that the heavenly Jerusalem is a reflection of the earthly one: "There is a Jerusalem above which corresponds to the earthly Jerusalem; God built himself one on high" (Midrash Tanhuma Pegude): "on earth as in heaven".

Do we not discover a Judeo-Christian resonance between these words of the "Our Father' and the reciprocity heavenly/ earthly Jerusalem? Unless with regard to the "Our Father" it is a question of a misunderstanding which has gone unnoticed for too many centuries.

The City that unites
We read in Isaiah 2:2
The mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established..
and many peoples shall come and say
"Come, let us go to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways..."

In this text we find the theme of the unifying force of Jerusalem.
Let us go back to the initial comparison: All the nations converge on Jerusalem. From the tower of Babel all the nations were scattered. The tower is the unity a priori which wanted to prevent dispersion, but ended up causing it. Jerusalem is the unity a posteriori of what was first dispersed: "restored city, where all are gathered".

But what is this unity? Is it to make one what was diversified? The interpretation on which I insisted is that to re-unite is more of a renewal than a reductio ad unum, a duality which is not antagonistic. In the name of Jerusalem, Ishmael and Israel will no longer fight over Abraham's inheritance, but they will recognize each other in it. We have the promise that the conflict will end in blessing, like in Jacob's struggle with the "angel" during the night. "He (the man) said. Let me go, for day is breaking. But Jacob answered: I will not let you go unless you bless me... and he blessed him there" (Gen.32:27-30). And this seems to me to be the most intimate meaning of the promise which does not say: "I do not allow you to build the tower of Babel now, but perhaps some day I will". On the contrary, it says that unity will be the ability to hold the two things face to face; it will be the ability to maintain brotherhood and the human condition...

* Stefano Levi Della Torre is a Jewish artist living in Milan.
This article, (slightly abridged and translated from the Italian), is taken from Jerusalemme patria di tutti, (Editions Dehoniane, Bologna, 1995). the Proceedings of the Third Session of "Ecumenical Readings of the Word" organised by the European Ecumenical Centre for Peace (near Madesino, Province of Sondrio) in September 1994.


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