A Taste of Torah in Honor of Shabbat
by Rabbi Avi Weiss
7 Elul 5758/ August 28-29, 1998
In this week's portion and elsewhere, Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) is referred to as "the
place where God will choose--hamakom asher yivhar Hashem." (see for example,
Deuteronomy 17:10) One wonders why the Torah speaks in such indirect terms?
Why isn't Yerushalayim ever referred to in the Torah by his name?
Dr. Abraham Joshua Heschel, in his classic work, "The Sabbath," notes that the
Torah places greater emphasis on sanctity of time than sanctity of place. Heschel argues
that the acquisition of anything material is surely a legitimate concern. But life
goes wrong when the acquisition of things becomes one's sole concern. For, "to
have more does not mean to be more."
From this perspective can it be suggested that in order to de-emphasize the
importance of land, even Yerushalayim, the holiest of places, is not referred to by name.
Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik on the other hand, points out that there are two types of
holiness of place. One--kedushat makom--is a holiness which is initiated by the
human being, i.e, a synagogue. In such cases, the place remains holy only as long as
human beings maintain its holiness. A synagogue which is bereft of spirituality
loses its sanctity.
There is however, another type of holiness of place. This holiness is created by God
himself--and hence called kedushat Shekhinah--the holiness of God's presence. Once
made holy, its sanctity lasts forever, regardless of what happens there. The place
of kedushat Shekhinah is Yerushalayim. As Rambam points out, "The
sanctification of the Temple and of Yerushalayim is because of the Shekhinah and the
Shekhinah can never be withdrawn." In other words, as God is eternal, so the
holiness which God establishes in Yerushalayim remains forever.
Perhaps for this reason the Torah, when referring to Yerushalayim, specifically uses the
phrase "the place where God will choose" to make clear that Yerushalayim's
holiness is chosen by God. Its holiness is everlasting, it stands above all.
Another thought comes to mind. Maybe we can understand why Yerushalayim is called
the chosen place by comparing it to the nation of Israel which is called the chosen
people. As Israel is chosen to be the light to the nations of the world,
Yerushalayim is chosen to be the light to the Jewish people. After all, the Temple, which
emits holiness is in yerushalayim; And the Sanhedrin (the Jewish High Court) which is the
centerpiece of justice, is also in Yerushalayim. Hence, Yerushalayim is the catalyst
that gives spiritual and
ethical direction to the nation of Israel.
Note the parallel. Israel's choseness does not mean that Jews are intrinsically
superior or inferior to others, rather we are chosen to redeem the world. Similarly,
the level of holiness of Yerushalayim depends in great measure on the light that shines
All this is an appropriate theme for these weeks preparing us for Rosh Hashanah and Yom
Kippur. The high holydays are days of teshuvah--return. Rav Avraham Yitzhak Kook
argues that the teshuvah refers to the hopeful return of the Jewish people to Israel and
to its eternal capital-Jerusalem. Whether we fully realize that return and develop
Yerushalayim as the capital of justice and holiness for ourselves and the entire
world--depends on us.
Taste of Torah
VISIT THE HIR'S WEB BAYIT
© 5758/1998. All
Rabbi Avi Weiss, Hebrew Institute of Riverdale
Comments to Webmaster