ACT TWO – The Jewish History of Jerusalem
Marty is sleeping in a chair, where there is a knock at the door. Marty jerks awake.
MARTY (tense): Who's there?
GHOST (wearing desert garb): I am the ghost of Jerusalem past. (pause) Boo.
Marty, frightened, picks up his phone to call 911
GHOST: Forget it – everyone knows you can't get cell reception in the BAYT.
MARTY (dropping phone): If you're a ghost, why are you knocking?
GHOST: I am a polite ghost. Also, East Jerusalem is not exactly the sort of place to walk into a room unannounced; you might not make it out.
MARTY: Well, you're not interrupting much here. You're welcome to come in and sit down, but I don't have a chair for you. I don't even have a bed, thanks to this cut-rate tour.
GHOST: I'm not here to sit, I am here to make sure your ancestors are heard. From off in the heavens I overheard your guide, Mahmoud, talking to you today, and I felt obligated to add another point of view - yours. To start with, I'm going to show you what the Bible says happened in Jerusalem, long ago. Look, over there. (points; he and Marty freeze or walk off to let the attention shift to the other actors)
KING DAVID approaches Aravnah haYevusi
ARAVNAH HAYEVUSI bows, then declares: My master, the king! When you conquered Jerusalem, you graciously permitted me, Aravnah of Yevus, to remain in possession of my humble threshing floor. Why have you now come to your servant? Have I offended you?
KING DAVID: Have no fear, Aravnah; I have come to purchase your threshing floor. True, I already control Jerusalem, but the prophet Gad has informed me that I must purchase your threshing floor and build an altar for HaShem there, in order to stop a plague which has befallen my nation as punishment for my sins.
ARAVNAH HAYEVUSI: But why my threshing floor?
KING DAVID: This is no mere threshing floor, but Mount Moriah, where Avraham offered his son Yitzchak to HaShem, indeed, where tradition states that Adam was created, where Kayin and Hevel offered up gifts to HaShem, where Noach sacrificed and HaShem pledged that He would no longer flood this world. Now, let me halt this plague.
ARAVNAH HAYEVUSI: Certainly – but there is no need for money, take it, it's all yours, and use my equipment for firewood and my animals for an offering!
KING DAVID: No, Aravnah, I must purchase it; please, take my 50 coins.
ARAVNAH HAYEVUSI accepts it.
(KING DAVID and ARAVNAH HAYEVUSI disappear)
GHOST: That is the story of Jerusalem past – some 3000 years ago, give or take. That event, and even earlier when Avraham offered up his son Yitzchak – I would act those out, too, but our cast is a bit thin. Nonetheless, this is when Jerusalem became holy for Jews, when we built a Temple there.
MARTY: That doesn't sound so different from the Muslim story. Muslims have Allah bring Muhammad to the place, Jews have Gd tell King David to build an altar at this place.
GHOST: True – but for Jews, at least, the holiness requires human beings. Gd chooses the site, but He says He won't be manifest there until we build a Temple. When Moses Maimonides describes the holiness of the site of the Temple, he records a list of human activities. He wrote, "Our tradition is that the site where David and Solomon built an altar, in the threshing floor of Aravnah, is the site where Avraham built an altar and bound Yitzchak. It is the same place where Noach built an altar after leaving the Ark. It is the same place where Kayin and Hevel brought offerings. It is the same place where Adam brought an offering when he was created..." So says Maimonides – the holiness is from our own deeds.
MARTY: But wait – If Gd hadn't picked the spot, all of those actions would still not have made it holy.
GHOST: True enough, it's a partnership. Look, in Judaism we have something called a bechor, a firstborn.
MARTY: Right – in the Bible it's his job to try to kill his younger sibling, right?
GHOST: We'll leave that aside for now. Right now, I'm talking about firstborn animals – and those are considered holy automatically, when they are born. And yet, the Torah says to sanctify them, and this is a mitzvah. Gd sets the stage, but we have an active role. This is our belief – the holiness of Jerusalem is something we create.
MARTY: That's heavy, doc.
GHOST: Listen, Marty – tomorrow, ask your guide, Mahmoud, what he can tell you about the religious meaning of the city of Jerusalem.