Stretch forth your mighty scepter from Zion, O Adonai! (110:2)

When producing a flat map of a globe, the mapmaker has to choose how to center the world on the paper. Typically, world maps sold in the United States depict North America in the center. A similar map sold in Germany places Europe at the center just as an ancient map of China is centered on China. The most interesting projection might be a world map sold in Australia which (not surprisingly) places Australia at the center, but for a better projection of the continents, sometimes places south at the top of the map, causing the world to appear upside down!

The traditional Jewish view of the world sees Jerusalem as the center of the world, sometimes described as the navel of the world. From the point of view of the Zohar, the central Jewish work of Kabbalah, the Divine umbilical cord providing nourishment to the world is attached to the rock on the Temple Mount, Mount Zion, on which Abraham was told to offer his son Isaac.

There is no right way or wrong way to orient a map, and there is no right or wrong way to center a map. If the Biblical Israelites had produced a map, they probably would have placed east at the top and west at the bottom (see Genesis 13:9, where the Hebrew words for left and right denote north and south). The published map reflects the common world view of the expected audience.

In the same way, there is no right or wrong way to number years. The western world has chosen to use the birth of Jesus as point ‘0’ on the number line. The Jewish world has chosen a different starting point, the year of creation according to a midrash written nearly 2000 years ago.

Even though I live in the world of CE and BCE, my filing system organizes files by the Jewish year. Even though I know that there is no place devoid of God’s presence, I think of Jerusalem as God’s home base. If references to time and space are nothing more than a convention, I’m going to choose the convention that reinforces my chosen religious identity.