Thinking of Yerushalaim (Naftali Kempeh)

July 28, 2023

A gutten Erev Shabbos Nachamu! We have just traversed the period of the Three Weeks of aveilus over the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, which, of course, culminated with the Nine Days and Tishah B’Av. However, we may be inclined to think that once the effects of Tishah B’Av “wear off,” we’ll be able to put aside those forlorn feelings – the pangs of agony and shame over this prolonged & painful golus – turn the music back on, and just “get back to normal.”

But in reality, these past Three Weeks were only a magnified microcosm of the deeply rooted legacy of love and longing for Yerushalayim Hab’nuyah that we as Yidden are meant to feel and express every single day of our lives.

The truth is, a Yid possesses a love of Eretz Yisroel because Hashem loves Eretz Yisroel. Eretz Yisroel is His beloved Land and the Bnei Yisroel is His beloved People. Hashem, in his abundant benevolence, arranged that the very first Jew – our great-great-great grandfather Avraham Avinu – be imbued with that same innate love and yearning for Eretz Yisroel, a yearning that was, in turn, bequeathed to Yitzchok Avinu, who instilled this loving bond in Yaakov Avinu, and, through an unbreakable, endless chain, into me and you.

Because of this inherent love, our daily davening consists of many direct and indirect references of Yerushalayim, as its mere mention enables us to tap into our collective core and convey our deepest desire to see its permanent revival. There are no less than five references found in the Shmoneh Esrei, with Mussaf containing an additional articulation in Mipnei Chatoeinu. On Tishah B’Av, we added Nacheim into our Mincha Amidah and beseeched Hashem to comfort those who mourn His city’s state of ruin.

Not only that, but whenever a Yid eats, he remembers Yerushalayim. Whether it’s after a light snack in Al Hamichya, or after we partake in a more substantial meal in Bircas Hamazon, we thank Hashem numerous times – in a variety of ways – for the Land that He made ours. We pray that He extend His constant mercy upon its holy ground, that He restore its glory of yore, and to finally rebuild His earthly home. On Shabbos we add Shir Hamaalos and R’tzei, revealing our heart’s true hope and dream – היינו כחולמים – as we appeal to the בעל הנחמות for the ultimate consolation: the rebuilding of Yerushalayim.

We began this journey three weeks ago with kapittal קל”ו, Al Naharos Bavel, which depicted the outset of our descent into exile. We listened as the levi’im cried out: “Eich Nashir?! How can we sing when the Shechinah no longer dwells upon Yerushalayim?!” We heard Yirmiyahu HaNavi lament: “Eicha?! How is it possible?! The proud majestic city of Yerushalayim, in ruins!?”

These heartrending statements forced us to reflect on everything that had happened to us – on how much we had lost. In response, we collectively called out, “Im eshkocheich Yerushalayim tishkach yemini! I would forget my right hand before I forget you, Yerushalayim!” When our words reached the heavens, Hashem replied, “Yisroel! You who have promised that you will never forget Me and My holy city of Yerushalayim, I, too, make a promise – that I will never forget you!”

It is impossible for a Jew to forget Yerushalayim. When he eats, when he prays, when he suffers, when he celebrates, when he weds, when he builds a home, and even when he dreams, he thinks of Yerushalayim. A Yid cannot forget Yerushalayim because he simply can’t live without it.

In one of the most iconic interludes in Jewish music, Shlomo Carlebach put these thoughts into a dramatic narrative in his now world-famous Im Eshkochech on his 1972 record called U’vney Yerushalayim:

There is no pain in the world which can make us forget Yerushalayim. There is no joy in the world which can make us forget Yerushalayim. For 2,000 years, whenever we prayed, and we prayed all the time, we directed our thoughts, our feet, our minds to Yerushalayim. If you would have stopped a little Yiddele on his way to the gas chambers, and you would ask him, “What are you thinking about?” He would answer, “I am thinking of Yerushalayim. I’m on my way to Yerushalayim.” If you’ll stop a little Yiddele on his way to Siberia, “What are you thinking about?” He will answer, “I’m thinking of Yerushalayim. I’m on my way, I’m on my way, to Yerushalayim.”

Thinking of Yerushalaim is Naftali Kempeh’s personal postscript to Carlebach’s passionate refrain. “This cry of R’ Shlomo has been in my heart for several years,” says Naftali. “I really wanted to turn it into a song, a Jewish anthem, to remind us what our real dream is, where our deepest thoughts are. The song was released as a single, and appears on the soulful singer’s 2021 album entitled Ke’malach.

Chosheiv al Yerushalayim is a hymn full of our hopes and dreams for our return home. That no matter where a Jew may be and no matter what a Jew does, he is always thinking of Yerushalayim and dreaming about Moshiach’s imminent arrival.

Look for Naftali’s highly-anticipated newest album, Libi, which is scheduled to hit the airwaves, iy’H, this motzei Shabbos.

Wishing all of you a solace-filled Shabbos Nachamu!

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