Even the secularists and antisemites are gripped by an intense feeling that when they think of the Holy City. They’re not sure what they mean when they use the term “holy”, but they know that Jerusalem is supposed to have an aura of specialness, a spiritual sanctity in every laneway and street, a religious emotion in every soul, a palpable sacredness in every stone and tree.
There are of course millions of tourists who come visiting, and some say simply, “It was a big disappointment. It did nothing for me. It turned out to be an ordinary city – buses, beggars, bakeries, supermarkets, street-cleaners, schools – just an ordinary city!”
Actually they’ve got it all wrong. The Torah reading of K’doshim would have prepared them for Jerusalem if they’d read it. It certainly starts off with the command, “Be holy people, because I the Lord your God am holy” Lev. 19:2).
But what does it say next? Not too much about prayers, temples, sacrifices or mystical raptures, but a great deal about the ordinary things of daily living – how to relate to the family, the working day, the people who live in your street, the shopkeepers and students, the mundane concerns that make up earthly life.
The place to be holy is not in an ethereal heavenly realm, but in the normal way of life in a regular setting. The way to be holy is to raise the quality of your relationships – not only to God, but to the fellow human beings who live, work and ride the buses beside you.
Jerusalem is holy because its people try to bring holiness into real life.