Thursday, November 6, 2014

Spiritual Compass

Today, November 6, brings us to yet another odd, seemingly random, holiday that has grown out of the internet age. Today is “Marooned without a Compass Day.” While the name of the day may seem quaint and benign, the concept highlights the importance of always knowing where one is and where one is going.

In Jewish life, knowing one’s direction - one’s spiritual direction is always important. Whereas a geographic compass is calibrated to point “due north,” the spiritual compass of Jewish life is calibrated toward our spiritual epicenter - Jerusalem.

The sages described the centrality of Jerusalem thus: “The world is like a human eyeball. The white of the eye is the ocean surrounding the world, The iris is this continent, The pupil is Jerusalem, And the image in the pupil is the Holy Temple” (Talmud - Derech Eretz Zuta 9).

Since Jerusalem is the spiritual focal point of the world, it is not surprising that throughout the millenia, Jews have faced Jerusalem when reciting the Amidah, the central prayer of each prayer service. This custom goes back to the very first exile: “[The prophet Daniel] went into his house--now his windows were open in his upper chamber toward Jerusalem--and he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime” (Daniel 6:11).

An interesting custom related to facing Jerusalem involves the direction in which the dead are buried. In many communities, the deceased are buried with their feet facing Jerusalem so that they might go there more quickly in the end of days, upon the arrival of the Messiah when the dead will be revived. Some other communities, however, have the opposite custom, and bury their dead with their heads toward Jerusalem to be closer to the holy city.

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