The term “Zion” can refer to the Temple Mount, as when the Prophet Jeremiah mourned over the destroyed Temple, he said, “For this our heart was faint...for Mount Zion which lies desolate; foxes prowl over it” (Lamentations 5:18). Although the mountain of the Temple is Mount Moriah, the prophet gives it the poetic name, “Mount Zion.” (Talmud, Makos 24b)
”Zion” also refers to Jerusalem, as the Prophet Isaiah proclaimed to Jerusalem the following Divine message: “And they shall call you the city of the Compassionate One, Zion of the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 60:14).
In addition, “Zion” refers to the Land of Israel, as it is written, “For the Compassionate One will comfort Zion, He will comfort all her ruins; He will make her wilderness like Eden, and her wasteland like a garden of the Compassionate One; joy and gladness will be found there, thanksgiving and the sound of music” (Isaiah 51:3).
It is written in the Book of Psalms: “And of Zion it shall be said ‘this person and that person was born in her’ ” (Psalm 87:5). The word “person” is repeated twice in this verse, and the Talmud states that this repetition comes to teach us that both the one who was physically born in Zion and the one in exile who aspires to see Zion are considered to be Zion's children. Each one was “born in her” (Kesuvos 75a).
Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld cited this explanation of the Talmud in a halachic response to a question that came to him during the period when the British ruled over Eretz Yisrael – the Land of Israel. The British government had instituted a quota which severely limited the number of Jews that could immigrate to Eretz Yisrael; however, the quota restrictions did not apply to someone from abroad who was born in Eretz Yisrael. A Jewish man, who was born in the diaspora, had applied for an immigration certificate for Eretz Yisrael, and Rabbi Yosef Chaim was asked: “Could someone declare in court that this man was born in Eretz Yisrael, in order to circumvent the quota restrictions?” Rabbi Yosef Chaim was scrupulously truthful, and he constantly exhorted others to refrain from anything dishonest; nevertheless, in this case, he replied:
“It is certainly permissible, and even obligatory, to do so. There is nothing dishonest about it. The Talmud states explicitly on the verse, ‘And of Zion it shall be said this person and that person was born in her’ - both one who was born in her and one who aspires to see her. From this we can derive that any Jew who aspires to live in Eretz Yisrael is considered as if he was born there. It is therefore permitted to testify in court regarding this man who has submitted an application to enter Eretz Yisrael that he was born there. All who yearn to come to Zion are indeed natives of Zion.”
The story of Rav Yosef Chaim’s halachic decision had a profound effect on me. When people ask me where I was born, I no longer say that I was born in Brooklyn, New York City; instead, I say that I grew up in New York City. And if they insist on knowing where I was born, I tell them that I was born in Zion, but for some strange reason, I found myself as a baby in Brooklyn!
As we have discussed in this series, we were “born” in Zion not just for our sake, but for the sake of the world. Through fulfilling the holistic halacha of the Torah, we are to develop in Zion a model society which can also serve as a universal spiritual center when, “the mountain of the Temple of the Compassionate One will be firmly established as the head of the mountains, exalted above the hills, and all the nations will stream to it” (Isaiah 2:2).
Yosef ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
1. Rav Yosef Chaim’s halachic decision helped me to appreciate a statement of Shmuel Agnon, an Israeli writer who was committed to the halacha of the Torah path, and whose literature and poetry drew on our Torah sources, including halachic writings. In 1966, he won the Nobel prize for literature, and in his acceptance speech at the Nobel banquet in Stockholm, he said:
“As a result of the historic catastrophe in which Titus of Rome destroyed Jerusalem and Israel was exiled from its land, I was born in one of the cities of the Exile. But always I regarded myself as one who was born in Jerusalem.”
2. Shmuel Agnon, at the conclusion of his acceptance speech for the Nobel prize, offered the following prayer: “May a redeemer come to Zion, may the earth be filled with knowledge and eternal joy for all who dwell therein, and may they enjoy much peace. May all this be God's will. Amen.” This statement was inspired by various messianic prophecies which indicate that our physical and spiritual renewal in Zion is destined to benefit the entire world. For example, after our renewal in Zion, “the earth will be filled with knowledge of the Compassionate One” (Isaiah 11:9), and “nation shall not lift up sword against nation” (Isaiah 2:4).
3. In the following prophecy of Isaiah, the Compassionate One comforts Zion, who is mourning for her lost children, and He promises her that there will come the day when the nations of the world will help her children to return home:
“Behold I will raise My hand toward nations, and I will hoist my banner towards peoples, and they will bring your sons in their arms, and your daughters will be carried on their shoulders.” (Isaiah 49:22)
4. According to Jewish tradition, the nations of the world will merit to become the spiritual children of Zion during the messianic age. One source for this teaching is found in the Song of Songs - an allegorical love poem which describes the relationship between the Compassionate One and Israel. In this allegorical poem, there is a reference to the “daughters of Jerusalem” (1:5). According to an ancient teaching cited by the classical commentator, Rashi, the “daughters of Jerusalem” are the nations of the world. They are called the daughters of Jerusalem, because in the future, Jerusalem - the spiritual center of Israel - will also be the spiritual center for all the nations. Rashi adds that a similar metaphor is found in the following Divine promise to Jerusalem regarding the nations of the world: “And I will give them to you for daughters” (Ezekiel 16:61).
5. The above story about Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld appears in the book “Guardian of Jerusalem” - the Life and Times of Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld. The author is Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Sonnenfeld. Through this book, I developed a deeper connection with Mother Zion and all her children. For further information on “Guardian of Jerusalem,” visit: http://www.artscroll.com/linker/hazon/ASIN/GUAH