Praying for the Wholeness of Jerusalem

January 8, 2024

Jerusalem: City of Peace

The Hebrew word for “peace”, Shalom, is often misunderstood. Shalom does not mean “peace” in the sense of compromise or a lack of hostilities. This contemporary meaning of “peace” is the farthest thing from Shalom. Shalom comes from the Hebrew root shalem, meaning “complete” or “whole”. “Peace” is wholeness. Peace means that everything is complete and as it ought to be.

The word “Jerusalem” includes this Hebrew root as well. According to Jewish tradition, Jerusalem is made up of a combination of two words.

Yeru (Jeru) – will be seen

shalem (salem) – wholeness, peace

The first half of the word Jerusalem is a future tense conjugation of the verb to see. In other words, the name Jerusalem means “peace will be seen.” Jerusalem is itself a promise of a future of wholeness and peace. Those who love Jerusalem have faith in her future.

Jerusalem is, of course, the city of God. It is the city that houses the Temple Mount, home of the House of Prayer for All Nations (Isaiah 56:7). A beautiful and rebuilt Jerusalem is synonymous with the redemption of Israel and the Biblical promises of the end times.

The Difficult History of Jerusalem

Today, Jerusalem is being rebuilt as a beautiful modern city. The population of Jerusalem is greater than at any time in history. Millions of Bible-believing pilgrims visit Jerusalem every year to connect with God at the site of the Temple. It is easy for anyone who visits to fall in love with Jerusalem. But it was not always this way.

The peace of Jerusalem has been an elusive reality over the course of history. Jerusalem has been attacked 52 times. It has been conquered 44 times, besieged 23 times, and completely destroyed twice. In the last century, Jerusalem spent 19 years divided between two countries with a hostile border cutting the city in half. All the great empires that have swept the world have wanted to control Jerusalem. Rather than being a city that represents peace, it has been a center of conflict and human cruelty for centuries. If any city needs prayers for peace, it is Jerusalem.

From the 13th Century to Today

In the year 1267, a great rabbi from Spain named Moses Nachmanides fulfilled his life-long dream and arrived in Jerusalem after a long and arduous journey. He was the greatest scholar in the Jewish community of Spain and its undisputed leader. But he loved Jerusalem and longed to live out the end of his life in the Holy Land. When he arrived in Jerusalem, he wrote a letter to his son back in Spain.

“May God Bless you, my son Nachman, and may you see the good of Jerusalem. May you see the children of your children, and may your table be like the table of Abraham our father.

In the Holy city of Jerusalem, I write this letter to you. For – with praise and thanks to the Rock of my Salvation – I merited to arrive peacefully on the ninth day of the month of Elul and I stayed in her (Jerusalem) in peace until the day after the Day of Atonement, after which I am now planning to travel to Hebron, city of the graves of our fathers, to pray there, and to dig a burial site for myself there, with God’s help.

What can I tell you regarding the land? For there is much neglect and great desolation. The general rule is as follows: that which is holier is more destroyed. Jerusalem is more destroyed than anything else. Judea is more destroyed than the Galilee. But, Jerusalem, with all her destruction, is very good. It has approximately two thousand inhabitants. Around three hundred Christians among them, refugees from the Sultan’s sword. There are no Jews in her, for ever since the Tatars invaded, they fled from there and others were killed by their sword. Except for two brothers, dyers, they purchase the dyes from the magistrate. These two are joined by up to a quorum of ten for communal worship in their home on the Sabbaths.

Behold, I encouraged them, and we found a destroyed house, built with marble pillars with a beautiful dome and we took it as a synagogue. For the city is abandoned. Anyone who wants to acquire a destroyed building may do so. They volunteered to repair the house. They took the initiative and sent to Shechem to bring Torah scrolls from there that were from Jerusalem but were taken there when the Tatars invaded.

Behold, they have established a synagogue and there they will pray, for many people come to Jerusalem regularly. Men and women from Damascus and Aleppo and all the regions of the land to see the temple site and to cry over it.

He who granted me to see Jerusalem in its state of destruction will grant us to see it rebuilt and established when the Glorious Presence of God returns to it. May you, my son, and your siblings and the entire family – all of you – merit seeing the good of Jerusalem and the comfort of Zion.

Your worried and rejoicing father, Moses Nachmanides

P.S. Send my greetings to Rabbi Moses son of Solomon, your mother’s brother. I hereby tell him that I went up to the Mount of Olives which is opposite the Temple Mount and adjacent to it – only the Valley of Jehosaphat separates them – and there opposite the Holy Temple I read his verses with much weeping as he prophesied. May He who caused His name to dwell in the Holy Temple increase and expand your peace with the peace of your entire honored and holy community forever and for eternity. Amen.”

The journey from Spain to Jerusalem in the 13th century was extremely dangerous. Rabbi Moses Nachmanides knew that he would never see his family again. He arrived to find two Jews left in Jerusalem. No protective walls around the city. No synagogue. No Torah scroll. That’s how things looked in 1267. And yet, he wrote, “But, Jerusalem, with all her destruction, is very good.”

The synagogue that Nachmanides founded remained in use for centuries until the congregation moved to its present location, a few steps away from the original site. This congregation, still known as The Nachmanides Synagogue, continues to conduct daily services to this day in the Old City of Jerusalem. Nachmanides struggled to rebuild the Jewish community of Jerusalem because he knew the future. He knew that, just as Jerusalem’s name implies, to love Jerusalem is to be able to see the future of peace and wholeness. As King David put it in Psalm 122, those who love Jerusalem will be tranquil.

While we still must pray and work toward the complete rebuilding of Jerusalem with the Temple at its center, we must equally be grateful for what we have merited to witness in our times. Jerusalem is being rebuilt. It is becoming whole again. We must continue to see the future implied in Jerusalem’s name. When we pray for the peace of Jerusalem, we pray for the Kingdom of God. We pray for the peace of the world.

This article was taken from Rabbi Pesach Wolicki’s new book, Verses for ZionVerses for Zion offers a profound exploration of devotional Bible teachings, intricately woven around the land, people, and God of Israel. Each page is a journey through history and faith, illuminating biblical narratives with insightful interpretations and spiritual wisdom. Click here to order your copy of Verses for Zion now.

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki is the Executive Director of Israel365 Action and the author of Verses for Zion and Cup of Salvation: A Powerful Journey Through King David's Psalms of Praise. He is a frequent guest on Erick Stakelbeck's The Watchman and a regular contributor to and The Jerusalem Post.

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki is the Executive Director of Israel365 Action and the author of Verses for Zion and Cup of Salvation: A Powerful Journey Through King David's Psalms of Praise. He is a frequent guest on Erick Stakelbeck's The Watchman and a regular contributor to and The Jerusalem Post.


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