Yeshua asked the synagogue attendant for the Isaiah scroll; it was handed to him. He opened it and read this section to the congregation:
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn. (Isaiah 61:1-2)
Then he rolled it up and sat in the teacher’s seat. “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).
Isaiah came to comfort all who mourn. So did Yeshua: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). However, this line about mourning seems a little odd. Ashrei, the word for “blessed,” is a term of congratulations. Mourning is a natural reaction to loss—hardly a reason to congratulate anyone. Should someone really be glad that they are mourning?
But considering the Isaiah passage, we can see that Yeshua is not talking about mourning for loved ones who have died. Look at what Isaiah says about mourners:
To comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion—to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified. They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations. (Isaiah 61:2-4)
In the passage above, the pronoun “they” refers to the mourners in each case. It is the mourners who will be called “oaks of righteousness.” Those who mourn in Zion shall build up the ancient ruins.
Isaiah is speaking about those who mourn over the destruction of Jerusalem. (Zion is a poetic term for Jerusalem.)
A few chapters later, Isaiah repeats this imagery:
Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her. (Isaiah 66:10)
An example of this lament over Jerusalem can be found in Psalm 137: “By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion” (Psalm 137:1). The psalm reminds us how important it is to keep Jerusalem in our consciousness: “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill!” (Psalm 137:5).
The Heart of the Earth
Why care so much about a city? Our mourning over Jerusalem is not simply sadness over a city in ruins. Jerusalem is the heart of the earth, the focal point of God’s interaction with his world. Jerusalem’s condition reflects the current state of the world.
Even though Jerusalem was populated in the time of the New Testament, Yeshua still mourned over it because, under Roman occupation, all was not as it should be. The same is true in our current time. Israel faces constant security threats, and the shrine of a foreign religion sits exactly where the Temple of God should be.
An ancient Jewish saying is based on this verse: “Whoever mourns over Jerusalem will merit to see its joy.” This sheds light on what Yeshua meant when he said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” In other words, those who mourn over the condition of Jerusalem will be comforted by seeing its restoration.
It is important to grieve properly when we lose loved ones. Yet, it is also important that we not lose sight of the bigger picture. The suffering and grief that we endure now are due to the fallen state of the world. When the kingdom of God comes, our mourning will come to an end. That’s why Yeshua taught us to “seek first the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33).
The book of Revelation envisions the complete restoration of Jerusalem:
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21:4)
May it be soon.
- b.Bava Batra 60b.