Long before the tale of Hansel and Gretel with their genius trail of breadcrumbs, God told the people of Israel to mark their path to ensure their way of return.
“Set up road signs; put up guideposts. Set your heart toward the highway. Come back again, virgin Israel; return to these your cities.” (Jer 31:21)
Interestingly enough, the Hebrew word for these markers is “tziunim.” This is the same Hebrew root that appears in the word “Tzion,” or Zion as it is known in English. It is as if the Almighty was telling His people that they must put down small pieces of Tzion as they go into exile to eventually guide them back to “True North” – Tzion.
Over the past decade, ancient Biblical Jerusalem – the true location of Tzion itself – has been sharing these tziunim, these reminders, to show us the way Home and to encourage us that we’re on the right track. Fearlessly facing organizations like UNESCO, which willfully denies any connection to the Jewish heritage and history, even the simple Biblical connection to Jerusalem, the City of David unearths empirical archaeological proof on a daily basis that refutes these malicious claims.
These breadcrumbs are invaluable markers – each one with the DNA of Zion embedded at its very core. They range from massive landmarks to minute, frail relics. But within each and every one, there is specific message about our way of return.
The Final Ascent to the Temple Mount
A massive road, in some places up to 12 meters in width, that leads from the Shiloach Pool to Temple Mount, was discovered in 2004 following the discovery of the Shiloach Pool. Excavation of the road started in 2005. This road was built during the final years of the Second Temple period and was used by pilgrims to reach the holy site. Today, it is again being cleared of stones in the current excavation work, just as the prophet Isaiah foretold: “Build up, build up, prepare the road! Remove the obstructions out of the way of My people” (Isaiah 57:14).
The Shiloach (Siloam) Pool
In 2004, a sewage pipe burst on the southern slope of the City of David. What seemed to be just an inconvenience became the catalyst for a massive discovery of Biblical proportions. The Shiloach pool once played a key part in the ritual immersion of pilgrims, who purified themselves before approaching the Temple. The pool receives its water from the legendary Gihon spring. Isaiah was referring to this very spring when he said: “You will draw water with joy from the springs of salvation.” The spring itself was the place where, with the exception of David, all the Judean kings were anointed. The sages teach that it is the king who brings salvation to his people. The concept of “drawing water with joy” refers to the water drawing ceremony that took place here during the festival of Sukkot. “How was the water libation ceremony performed? He [the priest] would fill a golden flask holding three logs [a liquid measure] with water from the Shiloach…” (Mishnah Sukkah 4:9). It is described as one of the most joyous events that humankind ever witnessed, as pilgrims danced with the priestly delegation all the way from the Shiloach Pool to the Temple, where the water libation took place. The prophet Zechariah speaks of a future time when the Jewish People will have already returned to their land. At this time, all of the nations will come to pay tribute to God in order to receive rain for their countries (Zechariah 14: 16-17).
The Menorah Engraving
A small menorah, engraved on a stone, was retrieved from the backfill from the rain drainage tunnel underneath the Pilgrims’ Road during excavations. It gave great insight into the structure of the menorah, especially regarding the base. Archaeologists speculate that someone that visited the Temple compound got a glimpse of the menorah and then made an engraving in order to explain what he saw. The menorah plays a pivotal part in the ritual Temple service and is connected to the God given mission of the Jewish People to return and again become a Light unto the Nations.
In 2011, a small golden bell in the shape of a round ball was found during excavations of the rainwater drainage channel under the Pilgrim Road. It had a loop at the top, apparently to make it attachable to some piece of jewelry. Being that it was found very close to the foot of the Temple Mount on the road where the High Priest would have walked, especially during the water libation service of the Sukkot festival, archaeologists deduced that it might be one of the bells that adorned the hem of the garment of the High Priest himself. (See Exodus 28:33-35) When Eli Shukron, the overseeing archaeologist, shook the little ball, it rang like a bell. Research later revealed that it had a bell clapper inside. The Golden Bell once played a pivotal role during the Temple service protocol. The prophet Ezekiel (see Ezekiel 44) speaks of the holy garments that will be used once again after the Third Temple is built.
This period is known as the seven weeks of consolation, a time to console Jerusalem and to remind her that she is back on the path of hope and restoration. During the Hebrew month of Elul, the Jewish sages teach that the “King is in the field.” It is a time when God comes even closer to us in preparation for the days of Judgement (Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur).
During this month, we hear the Shofar – the ram’s horn, blown each day. It is shrill blast reminding us that the time of judgment is drawing near. A call for preparation. A call for correction. A call to return.
For the Jewish people, “return” is not just a physical concept. It is a spiritual path in which we constantly come closer to our Maker. Yet, the physical and spiritual ALWAYS go hand-in-hand. And after 2000 years of exile, Jerusalem is eagerly revealing its markers to beckon her children to return – confirming that the Jewish people’s hope and belief in God’s promises that they would ultimately return were not only a dream, but a certain reality.