Jerusalem and the Jewish heart
Over the centuries of dispersion among the nations, Jews have turned daily toward the holy city of Jerusalem to pray for their return to Zion. The cry of the Jewish heart is heard in Psalm 137:1-5, especially in the fifth verse.
“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion. Upon the willows in the midst of it we hung our harps. For there our captors demanded of us songs and our tormentors mirth, saying, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’ How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? אם אשכחך ירושלים תשכח ימיני (im eshkachech Yerushalayim tishkach yemini)
If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget her skill.”
At the end of August 1897, the first Zionist Congress was held in Basle, Switzerland. Here the delegates adopted the “Basle Program,” which defined their goals. “Zionism seeks to establish a home for the Jewish people in Palestine secured under public law.” They established the World Zionist Organization as the political arm of world Jewry, naming Theodor Herzl as its first president.
Following the first congress, Theodor Herzl’s struggle to achieve worldwide public recognition of the program bore little fruit, but he continued to actively pursue the establishment of the Jewish homeland. Palestine was ruled by the Ottoman Empire at that time. The best the sultan could do was to assure Herzl that the Jewish homeland would remain under his sovereignty.
In the ensuing years, the Jews’ situation worsened. Many fled the persecution of the czars, uncertain as to where they should flee. Finally, in 1903, Herzl met with Joseph Chamberlain, Great Britain’s colonial secretary. The British offered the central African state of Uganda as a homeland for the Jewish nation.
In his concern over anti-Semitism and persecution, Herzl entertained the possibility, calling it a “night asylum,” convinced that it could serve as a temporary solution. But most of his fellow Zionists protested strongly: “Eretz Israel (the Land of Israel) with Jerusalem, or nothing,” they insisted. And once again, verse five of Psalm 137 hovered in the hearts of Diaspora Jewry.
The political situation gave birth to discussions among Biblical scholars as to what God was saying to His people in this verse. Numbers of scholars came to the conclusion that the word ‘tishkach,’ which is the second person masculine in the future tense, should be generally translated, “If I forget you, Jerusalem, you [God] forget my right hand, or my rights.”
Just as the Jewish people did not forget Jerusalem nor lose hope of returning to their city after almost 2,000 years, neither did God forget them. But, those who laid aside Jerusalem, no longer desiring to return there, also lost their connection to God’s promises for the future.
Those Jews who forgot Jerusalem and assimilated among the goyim (Gentiles) in the nations forfeited the promises. Losing hope in God’s promises, no longer treasuring their eternal value, makes us vulnerable to being overlooked, which may even annul the promises intended for us.
How do you stand on Jerusalem? Do you believe that Jerusalem belongs to Israel or is the whole question of little importance to you? Have you placed yourself outside the hope of God’s promises? You’d be wise to take stock while you still can.