The name, Jerusalem/Yerushalayim, evokes meaning beyond what the word can contain. Since ancient times, what sounds like the dual plural ending of her name—ayim—has suggested that she is, after all, two cities. She is real estate and also unreal, a pristine city above and a worldly city inhabited below.
Yerushalayim is two cities in a single word. Her name is a pronounced hope that the city above will one day be joined to the city below; joined in fact as they are joined in name.
How shall the two cities become one? Does one bring heaven to earth or earth to heaven? One ancient text asserts:
Said the Blessed Holy One: I will not enter the Yerushalayim that is above until I have entered the Yerushalayim that is below. And is there a Yerushalayim above? Yes, as it is written: Yerushalayim built up, a city knitted together (Psalms 122:3).
(Click here for the Talmudic text in Hebrew and English)
The Israeli poet, Yehuda Amichai, felt burdened by this interpretation of his beloved city’s name:
Why is Yerushalayim always two, one above and one below?
I want to be in the middle Yerushalayim
without banging my head above and without stubbing my toe below.
Why is Yershalayim always in pair language like hands/yadayim and feet/raglayim?
I want to be in a single Yerushal,
For I am merely I and not I-yim.
(Click here for the Amichai poem in Hebrew and English)
Amichai wanted to live in a city unencumbered by the stumbling blocks of history below and by the many idealized futures always hanging insistently and threateningly overhead.
The poet might say: Let the city be one in which I can live committed to each day, not to the earliest days or to the end of days. Would that not be heavenly enough?
Lovely. Poetry as supercommentary on poetry.
What is up to me, as I walk or remember the streets of Yerushalayim and the duality that exists there? To be able to see my own inner duality (mundane/spiriual continuum) reflected there and to become receptive to my responsibility to bring God’s sacred presence into the world through the compassion filled actions of my hands.
As Tisha B’Av approaches, one might actually pose the possibility that Yerushalayim is these days not merely two, but three–Yerushalayim of old for which we mourn, Yerushalayim of the present in whose existence we rejoice, and Yerushalayim of the future, which remains the stuff of Messianic dreams.