The Historical Consciousness of Jerusalem

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The midrash in this week’s parsha notes that the laws of human purity are only described in the Torah after the laws of pure and impure animals. This structural point becomes part of a broader discussion about how human beings are described in Tehillim as being created “at the end and at the beginning.” Here is one midrashic interpretation of this cryptic line:

Resh Lakish says: “at the end – this refers to to the final day and “at the beginning” is the first day… as the verse states ‘and the spirit of God hovered over the water’ – this refers to the spirit of King Mashiach. If a person merits, they say to him “you preceded everything” and if not “a gnat preceded you.”

In other words, the potential for the ultimate human being – King Mashiach was present from the beginning of time and preceded all other creations. However, as we know, man himself was created after all other beings. The message is if a person acts properly then he can be like Mashiach. Unfortunately, if a person does not act properly then he is less worthy than insects.

The Sefat Emmet comments that this midrash contains an important lesson for us as human beings and as Jews. The message of this midrash is that we are created with a historical mission. Each human being is part of a long story that stems from the beginning of creation all the way until Mashiach. 

Accordingly, it is not enough to just think about the present moment and my obligations from minute to minute. Rather, our mission is to help advance the entire story of the world and bring the entire cosmos closer and closer to the coming of Mashiach and the realization of the ultimate purpose of creation. It is only through cultivating this deep historical consciousness that we can truly fulfill our mission in this world.

One way of developing this mission-oriented historical consciousness is through a connection to Yerushalayim. Similar to human beings, Yerushalayim transcends the limits of the present moment and connects the beginning and end of history together. Pirkei DeRebbi Eliezer lists Yerushalayim as something that God thought about before creating anything else. And, of course, Yerushalayim will be God’s home when Mashiach comes and the ultimate reality is reached. Thus, thinking about Yerushalayim will help a person adopt a broader perspective on the purpose of life.

In addition, physically and spiritually advancing Yerushalayim is part of our mission to advance the world. If at the beginning of time Yerushalayim was an abstract idea and not a reality, part of helping create the messianic era is to build a magnificent Yerushalayim that is fitting to the home and capital city of God. May we merit to see such a Yerushalayim in actuality.

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