Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Churva Shul

The "Churva Shul" in Jerusalem, which was destroyed in 1721, rebuilt in 1864 and destroyed again in 1948, was recently rebuilt and dedicated (link). I received (with permission to post) what I believe is an excerpt from the introduction to the shortly forthcoming Citadel and Tower: Quest for Jewish Majesty, volume 6 by R. Meir Belsky, and old-time student of R. Yitzchak Hunter who was among the first graduating class (so-to-speak) of Chaim Berlin:

The first volume of 'Citadel and Tower' appeared in 1988. The introduction spoke of revelation.
These 'Essays' are about revelation. In a sense, revelation alone is Jewish majesty. We are the people to whom HaShem revealed majestic eternal truths. 'To you alone I revealed and made known... ' (Amos 3:2). And though we no longer live in a time of Prophets, we do remain the children of Prophets. The children of Prophets, too, reflect prophecy.

There are many ways to receive revelation. Some are knowable and direct. The Prophets clearly recognized HaShem's revelations and knew they could not suppress it. The Kings of Israel were able to discern prophecy and separate it from falsehood and malicious mischief (Kings 1,22:7). Revelation can also be indirect and not knowable. The children of Prophets receive no direction and can only sense revelation intuitively. This, too, is prophecy. In the absence of any directives, the Jew was still expected to know precisely what to do on Shabbos with his Korban Pesach and with his Shofar. The Gemarah notes that Hillel was 'asked if the knife needed for the Korban Pesach may be carried on Shabbos?' He answered, 'I once knew, but have now forgotten. But, no matter. Let us wait and see what the pe.ople will do. For, though they are not Prophets, they are the children of Prophets.' The next day, Shabbos, they observed the knife wedged in the wool of the lamb, and on the horns of the goat. Said Hillel, 'I now remember. This is precisely what my Rebbes taught...' (Pesachim 66a; Rosh HaShanah 29b). In a sense, the intuitive responses of Klal Yisroel to all the vicissitudes of history are this kind of revelation.

The Pachad Yitzchok discusses this: 'The Gemarah notes that Halachic decisions are issued by the courts, while the acts are by the community (Horiyos 5a). Clearly, the community acts upon, and follows, the decisions of the courts. There are times, however, when this order will be reversed, and the act itself will become the very basis for the court's decision. The courts will respond to the act. In the absence of the act there would be no decision. Know well that this is possible only because there is integrity in Jewish communal acts. The courts can rely on this integrity and legitimize such acts by their decisions. Such integrity is intuitive, without conscious awareness that a decision is being made. Klal Yisroel acts intuitively in accord with the will of HaShem. This must be so, for communal acts are not, nor can they be, Halachic decisions' (Pachad Yitzchok, Chanukah Maamar 14:3).

In a sense, Torah itself yielded to the intuitive integrity of Klal Yisroel. The Babylonians laid siege to Jerusalem for two years. 'On the ninth day of the fourth month (Tammuz) the walls were breached...' (Jeremiah 52:6). The Yerushalmi notes that the walls were really breached on the seventeenth of Tammuz, but the trauma of the tragedy brought such confusion that the date was distorted - 'and the Pasuk accepted their confused version rather than correct it' (Yerushalmi Tannis 4:5; Tosefos Rosh HaShanah 18b). The perception of Klal Yisroel became the very revelation ofthe Pasuk. (See also Rashi, Bereishis 2:2.)

And Jewish intuition will continue to express revelation until the end of time. Unknowingly and unconsciously. Certainly, the 'Company for The Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter in The Old City of Jerusalem' did not know why they left the Churvah Schul unfinished. The Company is disbanded and their work is completed. And the Churvah Schul, alone among all the public buildings in the Old City, is still in ruins, unfinished. They did replace its floor and reconstruct its magnificent arch. And then they stopped - because they, too, are the children of Prophets. Unconsciously. Let me explain.

There is a small Schul in the Old City of Jerusalem called the Prophet Elijah's Schul. There are many who scoffed at the pretentions of such a name and its suggestion that the Prophet attended there. These scoffers angered the Moroh d'Arah Yisroel, Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld. He insisted that all traditions are part of the historic legacy of Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the abode of the Shechinah, and all its traditions express its grandeur. If, indeed, there is a tradition that this is
the Prophet Elijah's Schul, then so be it.

In the thirteenth century the Ramban came to Jerusalem. He found the city desolate. In a letter to his son, he writes: 'Wherever there is great Kedushah, there is now greater desolation. Jerusalem has suffered more than other cities in Eretz Yisroel. .. I found a ruin suitable for a Schul, with marble columns and an attractive cupola. We appropriated it, since the entire city is desolate and abandoned. All buildings are for the taking... '. Thus began the Ramban's Schul - and it is down the street from the Prophet Elijah's Schul.

In the eighteenth century, Reb Yehudah HaChasid came to Jerusalem with a group of followers. He, too, began building a Schul, but it remained unfinished until long after his death. When completed in the l860s, it was the largest and most splendid Schul in the Old City. And - it was built on top of the Ramban's Schul. Its name, however, was to remain a mystery. It was always called The Ruin, even during the years of its splendor.. That was its name - 'The Churvah of Reb Yehudah HaChasid'. This prompted Jerusalem Rav Zvi Pesach Frank to suggest that the name reveals a legacy of sanctity.

On this spot stood the ruin the Tana Reb Yossi entered to pray, while the Prophet Elijah waited outside. The Gemarah describes the scene: 'I once entered one of the ruins of Jerusalem to pray. The Prophet Elijah appeared and waited at the door for me to finish ... He asked, 'Did you hear any sounds inside?' I told the Prophet that I heard sounds, echo-like, of moaning and sighing, 'for My children whose sins burnt My House, and brought exile and destruction upon them'. Said the Prophet: 'This sound is heard three times every day - I swear it' (Berachos 3a). Three Schuls were built on this spot, separated by centuries. All are rebuilt, except one. The Divine sigh continues to be heard from this spot - and Reb Yehudah HaChasid's Schul remains a ruin. We continue to be the children of Prophets.

It is now twenty years later - and the 'Churvah Schul' is nearing completion. It has been rebuilt. Rabbi Simchah HaKohen Kook has been appointed Rav. It is overwhelming in size and breathtaking in its beauty. Clearly, a new sound has been heard - and the moment to rebuild ruins has arrived. This, too, was revealed by the Prophet. "When Yisroel enter Botei Keneisiyos and Botei Midrash and proclaim, 'Yehei Shmai Rabbah / HaGadol Mevorach... ', HaShem nods and responds, 'Majestic is the King who hears such praises... ' " (Berachos ibid).

Ultimate re-building finds expression in Yom HaKippurim and 15 Av, when "the 'crown' will be returned". This is the moment of ultimate 'oneness' - when HaShem called Keneses Yisroel 'mother/Imo' (Shir HaShirim 3: II). It is also the moment of ultimate peace. "There are four Pesukim that suggest great/much peace – Rav Sholom..." (Pesiktah D'Rav Kahanah, end of Piska 18). Shem, son of Noach, saw peace rooted in Jerusalem. He was the first to call Jerusalem 'the city of peace' . "This shall always remain a part of its name - Shem, the Zadik, named it ..." (Midrash Shochar Tov, Mizmor 76).

Verily, we continue to be the children of Prophets ...

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