A Pilgrim's Joy, a Pilgrim's Sorrow, and a Pilgrim's Prayer for the Future

I am currently in Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) in Yisrael (Israel) observing Pesach (Passover) and Chag HaMatzah (The Festival of Unleavened Bread).  This is a practice I took up a few years ago when I made teshuva (repentance) to Elohim and returned to the faith I had been delivered when I was 18 years young.  I had observed the Festivals in the past, but not in HaEretz Qodesh ("The Holy Land"), and though I had had it in mind to observe Sukkoth in Yerushalayim sometime in the future, I didn't see it as something I should do as often as possible.  That all changed when I made teshuva and began to realize that Yerushalayim was in fact the "place where YHWH had placed his name", as the Torah had stated, all those years ago.  And while Yerushalayim is not quite restored the way it needs to be, with the Heykal (Temple), and the Cohenim (Priesthood), it is in fact still the best place to observe the Chagim (Festivals) -- and as prophecies I've mentioned in a previous blog post state, it will be the site of future observances when Mashiach (Messiah) comes and establishes the Reign of Elohim over the whole Earth.

And I love coming here to observe the Chagim.  I really do.  I love being in the city, and I love seeing those like-minded brothers and sisters I've met here in the process, who either live here permanently or also come as often as possible to observe the Chagim.  I feel very blessed that I've been able to do this for every Chag in 2012, 2013, and 2014.  For two of those years, 2012 and 2014, I was able to observe all of the Moedim (Appointed Times) here, which includes Yom Teruah (The Day of Shofar Blasts) and Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement).  I hope to do this over this lifetime without fail.  I will certainly strive to do that if possible financially and circumstantially.

However, joy isn't the only emotion I experience while here.  I see a city litered with anger, with religious ideas that don't mesh with the Torah by those who really should know better.  Let me be clear here: I've met a great many very kind people who have went out of their way to treat me very well and even as something special to them.  Those who have treated me so well are like shining lights to me, and I love and appreciate them more than I can even humbly express; they are beacons of spiritual light and truth who represent their community better than I could ever represent my own.  But having said that, I cannot escape the fact that I feel a lot more ostracized here than I do almost anywhere else.  The Torah commands citizens of Yisrael to treat the stranger kindly, and it repeats it over and over again, but the time YHWH delivers this mitzvah (commandment) the most emphatically is here:
"And when a stranger (foreigner) sojourns with you in your land, do not oppress him.  Let the stranger who dwells among you be as the native born among you, and you shall love him as yourself.  For you were strangers in the land of Mitsrayim (Egypt).  I am YHWH." (Wayyiqra / Leviticus 19:33-34).
Unfortunately, tradition has relegated these verses by official interpretation to refer to smaller groups of individuals than the intended group of all foreigners dwelling in the land, such as the Orthodox Jewish tradition which excludes it to apply only to foreigners who convert to Orthodox Judaism, and thus the traditions of men have obfuscated what is rather obvious and straightforward in its intended meaning to something less complete and praiseworthy.  This avoidance of the clear meaning of the text applies to all groups, not merely to Jews but also to Christians, who share the Scriptures which contain that mitzvah, but don't seem to be any more concerned in its practice.  And while Moslems don't follow the same sacred texts, they do believe that this Torah was given to Yisrael through Mosheh (Moses, whom they call Musa), and they have similar edicts of their own which they reinterpret or outright ignore whenever it suits them.  This failure crosses ethnic and religious boundaries.

Sometimes, in fact, it is when a visitor is at his most vulnerable or victimized that he can find himself a target, as the perfect opportunity for someone to break the mitzvah and profit from his misfortune.  I have personally been the victim of some of several swindles since I've started coming here to worship when I was actually either wounded or in great distress.  Back in 2012 during Chag HaSukkoth (the Feast of Tabernacles), I decided to do the wall walk, which is a walk you take along the elevated walkways on top of the Old City walls, and while entering a doorway while doing this activity, I accidentally walked head-first into some very old yet very hard stones that were shadowed just enough to camouflage with the dark entrance.  I was knocked silly, saw stars, and thought I had possibly killed myself because of the incredible impact.  Once I gained my senses back, I realized I was bleeding, and I had to take my tallit katan (a religious four-cornered undershirt to which my tzitziyot are attached) off and use it to stop the blood while I frantically trying to find a way off of the wall.  Once I did, I found myself firmly in the Arab quarter.  Yes, an Arab man did attempt to help me,  but it didn't take long to realize that he was more interested in giving me a ride in his cab to the Emergency Room, even though I knew by that point that this is not what I needed.  There are clinics in the Old City, and I felt I could find one there.  His insistence clued me in to the fact that he saw this as a real money making opportunity.  On the way through the Arab quarter, a few Arab salesmen insisted that I come inside their store when they saw I was hurt, with one of them claiming to be a doctor and saying he could help.  I resisted, but I was practically pushed in.  Once inside, the "doctor" pulled out a charm and said that this "talisman" was blessed and would prevent me from being hurt like this in the future.  Though it had a high price tag associated with it, he assured me it was necessary for my survival.  I left emphatically, only to be blocked on my way out by another Arab telling me I must listen to the man selling me the talisman.  With some difficulty I left the store. As I left the Arab Quarter, I went through the Armenian Christian Quarter on my way to the Jewish Quarter.  The Christians in that quarter largely ignored me.  Most of them looked the other way the moment they saw that I was hurt, pretending not to see or not to notice what they had just seen.  A few of them were people who had tried to sell me something (with a very hard sell) on several other visits and had tried to do so again on this one, only now they were all too interested in pretending they had never seen me before, and weren't in fact, seeing me now.  Once I arrived at the Jewish Quarter, I saw some of the kind people I mentioned previously, who showed great concern, helped me, and then showed me where the clinic was.  I arrived at the clinic in the Jewish Quarter to see a doctor who wouldn't do anything to help me unless I could pay cash right up front.  He wouldn't even come to see how badly I was hurt, speaking only through his receptionist.  Thankfully I could pay right away: I handed his receptionist some bloody shekels.

I hate to say that this isn't my only experience.  There have been others, and even one from just yesterday.  I was trying to find a place to park my car near enough to the Dung Gate of the Old City, so I could enter in and pray at the Western Wall, something I've tried to do every day I am here during a Chag or Moed, though I haven't been completely successful in that.  I finally found a place which was a good distance away but close enough to walk and make my prayer to Elohim.  The place was a particular road leading to East Yerushalayim, a low road on the Mount of Olives.  This is a bit of a dangerous place to leave anything, as crime is more rampant in this part of Yerushalayim than it is in the rest of the city, but I was working on an abbreviated time table as I had plans to go somewhere outside of the city to see a religious site with some friends after I had finished praying, and the roads to the actual Dung Gate were blocked by police to control traffic.  I made it to the Wall and prayed, only to find that I could not locate my car afterwards at the spot I thought I had parked it.  I was sure I was on the same road, and came to the conclusion that the car had been towed.  I called the car rental agency, and they told me that it was more likely stolen, as cars are not usually towed in Yerushalayim, only tickets with very large fines are issued instead.  I was flabbergasted when I heard that my car might have been stolen.  My phone was dying so I could not communicate with the car rental company, so I had to get to my friends' apartment in the hopes that I could charge my phone there and complete this discussion with the rental agency.  I tried for a while to catch a cab, and after not having much luck with that, I finally found one willing to take me.  He was not happy that I was asking for a ride only to Central Yerushalayim, as cabbies in this city often aren't, but he took me when I explained the circumstance.  On the way, it finally dawned on me that I should ask him the price of this very short trip.  His reply?  150 shekels, or about $40 to $50.  This was, to put it plainly, a ridiculous price for a trip that might be two or three kilometers at most.  I was being heavily overcharged by a factor of 4 or 5, but I had little choice given the situation.  I paid, begrudgingly, but there is no way to escape the fact that this cab driver saw a perfect chance to take advantage of me, and he did so without the slightest weight on his sense of ethics.  It certainly put the front of all of his kind words into context: it was little more than something offered to help alleviate his conscience rather than help calm me down in what I perceived to be a major emergency in my life.  Thankfully, I finally found the car with the help of the police and the rental car agency.  I had parked on a different but very similar looking street, and I was so relieved when I realized that my car and the personal items within were not in fact stolen, but that incident certainly limited my sense of relief.  I forgave him once I prayed, and let the burden of it go, but it continues to bother me that this kind of activity is so common that it can be regularly anticipated.

All of this is disappointing, but it should not be very surprising that strangers and foreigners are often mistreated when the precedent is already set with how one treats his own countrymen, his neighbors.  YHWH also issues the following mitzvah in the Torah, only a short few verses before what I just quoted:
"Do not seek vengeance nor bear a grudge against the children of your people.  And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.  I am YHWH." (Wayyiqra / Leviticus 19:18).
I'm not just talking about the big things, the incidents that hit the news channels and stay there for long periods of time, like the kidnapping and murder of children claimed to be on behalf of Elohim but which rather has its firm origins in the filth of the human mind, I'm talking about the constant oppression of smaller offenses as well, which even more resolutely pervert a culture.  I've witnessed and heard of several attempts of financial cheating and overcharging while I've been here not only against foreigners, but by Israeli citizens against other Israeli citizens.  Again, not everyone does this and I hope I do not paint the picture to make it seem that there aren't kind people here, but certainly this kind of thing seems far more common here than in other non-third-world countries.  Stories about people cheating other people abound.  Sometimes, those relating the stories are not merely recounting as a third party observer of the events, but bragging about what they themselves did.  And once again, this behavior crosses ethic boundaries:  Jews cheat Arabs, Arabs cheat Jews, Christians cheat and are cheated by both, etc.

Besides these spiritual woes, I see a lot of spiritual warfare and spiritual pollution all through the land that cannot help but fill the heart of one in covenant with YHWH with sadness.  This is a land covered with shrines to foreign gods and counterfeits of the One Elohim of Yisrael.  The other day as I left my car parked in East Yerushalayim at the Mount of Olives, before the incident when I thought it had been stolen, I saw some examples which brought this to mind and snapped some quick pictures of just the kind of thing that I am talking about:

The image of a polluted Yerushalayim and a polluted HaEretz Yisrael (The Land of Israel) is hard to overlook, even when you know there is nothing you can do about it.  It's a heart-rending shame to me!  When a pilgrim comes to see the land of YHWH, the land He chose for his people Yisrael, he doesn't envision it cluttered, even littered, with domes to Shamash, minarrets to Yerach, temples to Asherah and Tammuz, and similar icons and structures dedicated to all of their variants over the centuries that were adopted by new nations and given different names, or even falsely associated and/or identified with the One Elohim.  The first time he sees it though, he will always remember it.

I know we live in an era of religious tolerance, and in most ways I thank Elohim for that.  I don't want a repeat of the Middle Ages in Yerushalayim, for certainly any of us could be the new targets in such an environment, but as someone who knows the One Elohim, the Elohim of Yisrael, my heart cannot help but be saddened.  Yeshua identified the two greatest mitzvot (commandments) of the Torah as follows:
"But when the Pharisees had heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they assembled together.  Then one of them who knew Torah asked testing him, 'Teacher, which Commandment in Torah is the greatest?'  And Yeshua said to him, 'That "You should love Master YHWH Your Elohim with all of your heart and with all of your soul and with all of your might and with all of your mind."  This is the first and the greatest Commandment.  And the second is like it.  That "You should love your neighbor as yourself." On these two commandments hang Torah and the prophets.'" (Mattityahu / Matthew 22:34-40)
Basically, neither of the two greatest mitzvot of the Torah are foundational to life in HaEretz Yisrael today.  And I know that there is no permanent solution that any of us can provide for the problem.  We won't have such a solution until the Mashiach (Messiah) brings one when he brings about the Olam Haba (the World to Come).  However, that's no excuse for any of us not to observe them ourselves.  Whether we make it into this new age will depend a lot on how each of us, individually, behaves in the here and now.  If we want to be in that great Sefer Zikaron (Scroll/Book of Remembrance) before Elohim, the Sefer HaChaim (Scroll/Book of Life), then we must make teshuva (repentance) before YHWH, the Elohim who keeps that record, and to do that we must observe these mitzvot (commandments) right now.  We must avoid becoming part of the pack of sheep led astray, no matter how large it becomes.

Until the Olam Haba is established by HaMashiach, when all things are restored, the children of Elohim are revealed, and Elohim rules the entire Earth, we must endure the joy somewhat eclipsed with sorrow over the state of this City, the City of the Great King, and this land, the Land of the people of Elohim, and this Earth, for the whole Earth is His, and even the Shamayim (Heavens), for "the entire creation is hoping and waiting for the development of the Sons of Elohim." (Romiyim / Romans 8:19).  As Yeshua once told us to do when he gave us the Avinu Prayer (meaning, the "Our Father" prayer, but often called "The Lord's Prayer) as an example of how to pray and what to pray about, one specific portion stands out in relation to this subject: "May your Kingdom come, may your Will be done, on Earth as it is in the Shamayim (Heaven)." (Mattityahu / Matthew 6:10).  As I go to the Western Wall to pray tonight in the heart of the Old City of Yerushalayim, I will certainly not forget to make that request.  A renewed Yerushalayim, a renewed Yisrael, a renewed Shamayim and a renewed Earth: those constitute this pilgrim's prayer for the future.

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