The Heroic Builders of Jerusalem

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The Mishna in Pirkei Avot teaches us about the definition of strength and heroism:

Who is strong? One who overpowers his inclinations. As is stated, “Better one who is slow to anger than one with might, one who rules his spirit than the captor of a city.”

The one who is self-disciplined enough to control his emotions is greater than the captor of a city.

The Avodat Yisrael adds a Chassidic twist to this Mishna. He explains that the unidentified “city” at the end of the Mishna refers to the city of all cities – Yerushalayim. Our goal is that the Jewish people should “conquer” the city and bring it to its ultimate state of being a home for God. Generally, when one thinks of “conquering” a city, images of heroic soldiers conducting a military offensive are conjured in one’s mind. 

Regarding Yerushalayim, though, this is not the case. The true rebuilding of Yerushalayim will be accomplished through the heroes who conquer themselves and gain self-mastery. Each good deed that they do is another brick in the supernal Yerushalayim that will eventually be meshed with the terrestrial city.

Such a relentless pursuit of good deeds to rebuild Yerushalayim requires constant motivation and focus. The Avodat Yisrael explains that this is the purpose of the mitzvah of tzitzit which appears at the end of our parsha. The tzitzit have two qualities that make it a special mitzvah in this regard. First, it surrounds a person, reminding him that all of one’s limbs should be dedicated to God. Second, tzitzit are a constant companion. They are always there to remind us to dedicate our total selves to God.

In this way, tzitzit play an important role in developing the self-mastery that is the foundation of a heroic life. Becoming such a strong person will lead to laying of more bricks in the heavenly Yerushalayim. Eventually, the entire city will be “captured” and Yerushalayim will become the known to all as the meeting point between heaven and earth. 

To conclude with the stirring words of the Avodat Yisrael:

“And a person should constantly continue in this path until the Creator, blessed be he, will cause the evil forces to become subservient and God will be the king on the entire world and Yerushalayim will be rebuilt – may it happen speedily in our days.”


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