Chag Sameach From Efrat,
"If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget her cunning. May my tongue cleave to my palate, if I ever think not of you, if I ever set not Jerusalem above my highest joy." [Psalm 137]
In a published feature story in the weekend supplement of one of the most popular Israeli newspapers, Amos Oz -- probably the most widely-read Israeli contemporary novelist -- declared that for him Jerusalem was "Hutz l'Aretz" outside of Israel, more representative of Jewish exile than of the Israeli state! Since the Intifada, many of the Gush-Dan (Tzfoni) Israelis have ceased to visit Jerusalem at all.
How is it possible that the pledge of the Psalmist is being forgotten by so many Jews! Especially at a time when its future sovereignty is under discussion, it is important to attempt to understand the significance of Jerusalem in Jewish tradition.
It is interesting to note that our Grace after Meals contains three blessings which are considered Biblical in origin: thanksgiving for the meal, to the Almighty, the Universal Provider of sustenance; thanksgiving for the Land of Israel; and a request for the restoration of Jerusalem. Apparently, the land of Israel and the city of Jerusalem are seen as two distinct and separate concepts. What is the fundamental difference between the two?
The biblical portion of Behar, commanding us to work the land in Israel for six years and to allow it to rest on the seventh provides an interesting key. What strikes even the most casual reader is the parallel to the six days of physical creativity and the seventh day of rest. The Mishna (Shabbat 7:2) outlines the 39 forbidden categories of work on the Sabbath, ordering the prohibitions by first cataloging the processes of bread manufacture, then garment and leather manufacture, and finally building structures. Rabbi Judah HaNassi, transmitter of the Mishna, is clearly indicating that although it is necessary and even praiseworthy to occupy ourselves with the pursuit of food, clothing and shelter six days a week, the Shabbat must be dedicated to G-d and Torah, the life of the soul. And what the Sabbath is to the days of the week, the sabbatical year is to the cycle of the years. For six years the land must be tilled and harvested to provide necessary sustenance, but the seventh year must be dedicated to G-d and Torah.
From this perspective, the blessings of the Grace After Meals assume a deeper meaning. We begin by logically expressing thanks to G-d for nourishing the entire world with food and material sustenance. But it is the next blessing for the land which is the very biblical source for the Grace After Meals: "And you shall eat, be satisfied and praise the Lord your G-d for the good land which He has given you." Apparently, the Torah believed that although G-d may have provided the entire world with the farming ability to sustain itself, so long as the Jewish people don't have their own land, the very food they eat will depend upon the mercy of governments under whose sovereignty their presence is suffered. A sympathetic government will grant them farming rights, but a despotic government could make them starve. Therefore sustenance for the Jewish people is ultimately linked to possession of their own land. If it's not your land, you can never guarantee the acquisition of food!
But we see from the Sabbath of the week and the Sabbath of the land that physical sustenance is not sufficient. Enter Jerusalem, corresponding to the Sabbath day and the Sabbatical year; the land of Israel is the source of our physical security and the City of Jerusalem is the fount of our spiritual rootedness and inspiration. One without the other is incomplete and abnormal for us as a "holy nation and kingdom of priests."
Hence, the identification of Jerusalem with the Divine Presence. Whenever the Torah speaks about "the place (HaMakom) that G-d will choose," the reference is to Jerusalem. Maimonides rules that the sanctity of Jerusalem is eternal, because its sanctity is based upon the metaphysical presence of the Divine on the Temple Mount. Regardless of the devastation that the rest of the land may have undergone as a result of foreign conquest, no enemy has the power to destroy or nullify the Divine Presence, which never leaves Jerusalem and can never be nullified (Laws of the Chosen Place, 6:16).
As the seat of the Sanhedrin, Jerusalem is also identified with Torah, the Wisdom and Teaching of G-d. After all, the Torah was interpreted and expanded by the Supreme Court of 71 judges, whose chambers were next to the Holy Temple. This is the source of the universal aspect of Jerusalem as well. The G-d of Israel is the G-d of the world , and the Torah of ethical monotheism must come forth from Jerusalem to the entire world (Isaiah 2). Hence, the commandment for the Jews to ascend to Jerusalem during the three major Festival of the year, where they would experience an intensive rendezvous (mo'ed) with G-d and Torah, where they would see and be seen by the Divine Presence. And it is eminently logical that the Almighty would choose Jerusalem as His special place and as the source for His teaching; after all, it was at Mt. Moriah (lit. instruction) that Abraham demonstrated his ultimate commitment to G-d at time of the Akeidah (binding of Isaac).
A similar connection between the land of Israel and the ideal of Jerusalem is to be found in the thrice-daily Amidah prayer.
It's interesting that the ninth Amidah blessing is the blessing for the land of Israel, and is also our prayer for physical sustenance: "Bless this year on our behalf, O Lord, our G-d, and all kinds of its produce, and grant blessing on the face of the land and satisfy us from its bounty, "mituvAH", the land's goodness, which is the preferred reading of the text.
Following this blessing of prosperity and physical sustenance from the land, the next blessing is for the ingathering of the exiles. Scattered throughout the four corners of the world, history has proven again and again that there is only one possible haven for the Jews which can best provide our physical security, and that is the land of Israel.
But the journey doesn't end with a four-room apartment and a view of the Mediterranean under the protection of the I.D.F. After securing physical well being, we must continue to seek the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the spiritual goals the City of Peace represents.
"Return in mercy to your city Jerusalem, and dwell in it as you have promised; speedily establish in it the throne of David, and rebuild it soon, in our days, as an everlasting structure. Blessed are you G-d, Builder of Jerusalem."
Here Jerusalem is defined as G-d's city, the home of the Divine Presence. It is also clearly established as the seat of Jewish sovereignty, the house of the throne of David, the one king who represents the cultural distinctiveness of the Jewish people. After all, it was King David who ecstatically danced before the Holy Ark when it was liberated from Philistine captivity, and it was King David who authored the Psalms of praise and supplication to G-d.
And the King of Israel is also meant to symbolize the King of Kings; Jewish sovereignty is seen by our tradition as the first step in guaranteeing the continuity of our spiritual message to the world which is the ultimate purpose for our physical nationhood. And so the following blessing in the Amidah is our prayer for the Messiah, herald of universal peace and redemption: "Speedily cause the shoot of David to sprout forth... we await your salvation..."
It is probably because we recognize Jerusalem as the seat of the Divine Ruler of the Universe that after the Six Day War we immediately announced the inviolate right of followers of every religious denomination to worship at their respective Jerusalem shrines. Once Jewish rights are secured, the universal dream of humanity worshipping the Divine Lord of Peace, each religion in its own way, can begin to be realized (Micha 4). May this year see our celebration of Jerusalem and its ultimate goal realized.
Click HERE For Rabbi Shlomo Riskin's Jerusalem Post Column
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