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Next Year

Well, and Passover is over and the special dishes have been packed into the attic for another year. It’s my favorite holiday, and I enjoyed it this year, but as with every year by the time it’s over, I’m glad.

At the end of the seder, the ritual dinner that opens the holiday, we say (and sing) “Next Year in Jerusalem!” It’s always a bit of a problem for me, and I assume it is a bit of a problem for most American Jews of my generation. Even for the Zionists (which is most of us, tho’ not YHB) there’s the simple fact that we have chosen not to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem this year, and that we will again have the opportunity next year and will not take it. Jerusalem is in our hands, and there isn’t anything particular holding us back—the price of a plane ticket, sure, but is that enough to stop us? Is that what’s holding back the completion of the seder?

I tend to interpret what’s actually going on in the ritual is that we are speaking (as we so often do during the seder in the character of a member of the Exodus generation. Earlier in the night we say ha lachma anya, which reads in English: Now we are here, next year may we be in the Land of Israel. Now we are slaves, next year may we be free. We aren’t actually slaves now, and we aren’t going toward Israel. Not us, not our generation. So we aren’t actually promising ourselves a trip to the Holy Land in twelve months. Not us, not our generation, but who?

Or, as I generally talk about Jerusalem as not being the earthly geography but the spiritual Presence that shares a name with the city where our center of government was. Next year in that Presence. But aren’t we in that Presence now? In what way are we hoping or promising to be in that spiritual Jerusalem next year?

I should make clear the distinction between my idea of a spiritual Jerusalem and the Christian idea of a Heavenly Jerusalem which more or less corresponds to the Rabbinic idea of the World to Come. Well, corresponds enough for a blog. For me, though, I am neither talking about a reward after death or in the endtime but something like what happens in Midrash during the story of Jacob’s Ladder, which allows the altar he makes out of the rock pillow to be on the site of the Temple by an act of miraculous translocation; the Divine wanted the event to happen in Jerusalem, so it did, despite his not having lain down in Jerusalem nor woken up there. This is the Divine’s Holy City, the one that is not tied to the Land but to the People.

I’m not sure why, but for some reason this year, as I was packing up the passover dishes, I had Jerusalem going through my head. Now, it’s hard for us Americans to really think about the poem or the song without laughing, as we mostly came across it through Monty Python references or other silliness without any sort of positive context, but give it a try:

And did those feet in ancient time.
Walk upon England’s mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On England’s pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England’s green & pleasant Land

William Blake is starting from a story about Jesus actually visiting England, but the point he is making is that whether or not those feet actually walked in Glastonbury, whether the actual geographic location is there, surely the Divine Countenance is here—and if we are not in Jerusalem because of that, then it is not our job to sit by the river Bavel and weep, but to build Jerusalem here where we are. You don’t have to believe the myth to find that moving; you don’t even have to believe in the Lamb. You just have to believe that Jerusalem does not have to be in Jerusalem, but can be anywhere.

With that idea in mind, and that responsibility that entails, let me say: Next Year in Jerusalem!

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


What an awesome interpretation of it. Next year, in Jerusalem!! :)

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