Tuesday, August 13, 2013

What an Orthodox Jew Taught Me About Zion

When coming home from Israel last year, I had an enlightening four-hour plane conversation with a young Orthodox Jew named David. After commiserating on our sadness on leaving Jerusalem, as well as the dating difficulties within our respective faiths, David then invited me to ask him any lingering questions I had about Judaism. When I asked him to tell me of his feelings about the temple, he naturally told me of his desire to have it rebuilt. His next comment, however, struck a chord within me, as he explained that every good deed a Jewish person did added a stone to the temple. And the opposite held true too: every poor action removed a stone.

I think that David's perception of rebuilding the Jewish temple easily applies to the Mormon doctrine of establishing a celestial community dwelling in love: Zion. Too often, I perceive Zion as a sort of utopia: an idealistic, if not unrealistic, place. It's hard for my telestial brain to imagine a place of "one heart and one mind" with "no poor among them."  However, the scriptures make clear that establishing Zion is indeed possible; it is only contingent upon the state of purity within our hearts. Like David, I would argue that every righteous action a member does adds to building Zion, and every poor action takes us further back from accomplishing this goal. Indeed Zion is a collective and not an individual endeavor. So, what do we have to do?

I find James 1:26 fascinating in answering this question, as he seeks to define "pure religion." Interestingly, when James explains this term, he does not mention prayer, reading the scriptures, or even going to church. Rather, pure religion is "to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction." Pure religion, then, is about our unselfish treatment toward others, especially those in dire need. If we work toward living a "pure religion," we move closer to achieving  a "pure heart," which, as Doctrine and Covenants 97:21 explains, is the prerequisite to Zion. I would argue  that "pure religion" and a "pure heart" are perhaps one and the same.

In the Book of Mormon, Alma's perception of living one's religion strongly mirrors James' description. When asking others whether or not they wish to be baptized in Mosiah 18, he reminds them that they are entering into a community of believers, and telling them to "mourn with those that mourn, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort." Like James, Alma understood that a follower of Christ must contribute to the building of Zion through treating fellow community members as the Savior would. Perhaps our treatment toward others is the necessary step for a  believer to "stand as a witness of God at all times, in all things, and in all places." (Mosiah 18:9).

Building Zion may seem like a distant--if not impossible--goal. But perhaps if we think of our own life as a stone that is part of "building" Zion, it may appear less lofty. Hopefully, we can progress from imagining what heaven must be like to concentrating our efforts on literally establishing a heaven on earth--right now.

Image by Amoruso.


  1. Great words. I really want to go out there some day to feel what you did.

  2. If each of us becomes a stone in the temple, then we just need to build a community of temple stones to build our own Zion. If each and everyone one of us is caring for each other and thinking more of our neighbor's needs than our own, then we have built Zion. Zion comes from within each person, rather than from without. Good article. Thank you.

  3. I miss Jeru!! 5 years, lets go back!!

    Love this post. 2 weeks I taught Sunday school about building Zion in Missouri and the issues of Jackson county. We need to build Zion within ourselves, wards and stakes. Of one heart and one mind and dwelling in righteousness.

    ps. this is Annalise. xoxox