The Poet Alcharizi in Jerusalem

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Books
17 May 2007
History

Land of My Birth – Rabbi Yehuda Alcharizi was born in 1170. He was the last poet in a long and distinguished line of Jewish poets in Spain, and nobody as great as he rose up afterwards. He had an impressive appearance: He was tall, with white hair and a handsome face. At first, he lived a good and wealthy life, but as time went on he lost his fortune. Like Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra, he spent his time wandering, and he depended on wealthy supporters for his livelihood. He was also a commentator and a language expert, and he excelled in sharp writing and satire. Like Rabbi Yehuda Halevi, Alcharizi expressed his longing for Eretz Yisrael through poetic liturgical writing, as in the following:

“My soul yearns for Zion, from its exile in Spain it rose up from the depths to the heavens… The Almighty will yet seat it in a canopy, it will return to its greatness after being downtrodden… Shalom to the city of peace, whose beauty is concealed, those who look at her ask where she is/ Every day I will weep for her dust, it brings about the sickness of my soul and my pain… My soul and my spirit yearn for Zion, to be there all my life and for my rest… I will weep about her dust constantly, until it leaves a mark on my forehead…”

Alchaziri started on his long journey in Toledo, Spain, traveling by ship to Alexandria, in Egypt. He visited Cairo and continued on to Eretz Yisrael. He entered the land through Azza and hurried straight to Jerusalem. In the year 1216, he managed to satisfy part of his yearning. He was not able to settle in Jerusalem, but he was at least able to visit. Here is how he described his arrival in the holy city:

“When I entered within its boundary, I kissed the ruins and I played in its dust/ And when I finished mouthing my worthy thoughts before my King, I rose up from bowing on my knees… And I lifted my eyes and saw the site of the Temple and the courtyard, from which the holy Menorah was removed because of our sins, to be replaced by a foreign flame.”

At that time, a change for the better was taking place in the city, after a long period of ruin and destruction. The Christian government, which was fanatic and cruel, was replaced by the tolerant conqueror Salah A-Din, who encouraged the Jews to return and settle in Jerusalem. This was also a short time after the “great Aliyah” of 300 rabbis who came from France and England. The influx caused the city to begin to recover, and several new synagogues and yeshivot were established. But conditions were still difficult, and most of the rabbis returned from where they came.

In order to get a view of the Temple Mount, Alcharizi ascended the Mount of Olives, and looked from above at the site of the Temple. His heart throbbed at the site of the Gentile houses of worship that had been erected at the site of the Temple, and he wept, as follows:

“Soon afterwards, our yearning pulled us to rise up on the Mount of Olives/ and to pray to the Maker of Wonders, to bow down to the King, the G-d of Hosts/ Our eyes were filled with tears, and our souls were sad/ Looking at the site of the courtyard, which was transformed into idol worship/ And we hid our faces, so as not to look at the site of the great glory, where G-d`s dwelling place was at first/ Where the Shechina rested in ancient times, and was now covered by a cloud/ All that was left of the buildings were painful signs that brought memories, and anybody who looked would burst out in tears.”

In Jerusalem too, Alcharizi did not find a place to rest. Perhaps this was caused by the disputes and arguments of the Jews in the city, which upset him and put him in despair. Or perhaps it was due to his adventurous nature, which made it difficult for him to stay in one place for very long. Perhaps the two features worked together. He continued wandering, going to Tzefat, Damascus, Chaleb, Charan, Mussul, and Baghdad, finally reaching Botzrah, in the Persian Gulf. He then returned to Chaleb, where he died, while his lips declared, “If I forget you, Jerusalem…” [Tehillim 137:5].


Source: Moshe David Gaon, “Jews of the East in Eretz Yisrael”; Chaim Shirman, “History of Hebrew Poetry”. Reprinted with permission from Zomet Institute (www.zomet.org.il).

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.