Rabbi Shlomo RiskinThe writer is the founding and Chief Rabbi of Efrata, Gush Etzion, as well as founder and Chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone Institutions, author of Torah Lights and other well known Judaic texts.
"Guard yourselves lest you forget the Lord your God…lest you eat and be satisfied… and your heart becomes haughty and you forget the Lord your God who took you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage” (Deuteronomy 8:11-14)
This week’s Biblical portion of Ekev is a magnificent paean of praise to the glories of the land of Israel, a land especially set aside for the Hebrews which will provide them with plentiful vegetation, luscious fruits and wealth producing natural resources necessary for their ultimate success as a nation. And at the precise center of this lyrical description of a unique land for a unique people, comes the commandment for the mother of all blessings, the Grace recited after meals: “And you shall eat and be satisfied, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you” (ibid. 8:10).
A careful study of this chapter, which contains exactly twenty verses, reveals three major Biblical concepts which parallel the three Biblical blessings of our Grace after Meals: firstly, that everyone lives not by bread alone but by what emanates from God, the Universal Sustainer (ibid. 8:2-3 with the first blessing thanking God “who feeds all”), secondly, that God has brought the Israelites specifically to this land which will sustain us (ibid. 8:7-10, with the second blessing thanking God “for the land and the sustenance”); and thirdly that God adjures us not to forget Him and His laws lest we be destroyed from off the land He has given us (ibid. 8:11-20, with the third blessing beseeching God for compassion towards His nation, Israel and Jerusalem, and thanking God “the builder of Jerusalem”).
Why are there two separate blessings, the second for the land and the third for Jerusalem? Jerusalem is the capital city of Israel just as Washington, D.C. is the capital city of the United States. Why not incorporate the restoration of Jerusalem with the restoration of the land of Israel, leaving two Biblical blessings for the Grace after Meals rather than three?
I believe that the Lord of Israel and the City of Jerusalem are two separate entities, two separate concepts, and two separate sanctities. Israel is a specific geographical location whose function is to provide nutrients and material benefits for the Israelite nation. And a nation-state requires a leader-ruler, who takes ministerial responsibility for the physical security and economic well-being of his citizenry. It makes sense that he live in a capital city, like Jerusalem which will also house other governmental agencies responsible for the smooth functioning of the commonwealth.
However, as chapter eight also makes clear, the land and the nation of Israel remain beholden to a Higher Leader, the ultimate Leader-Ruler of whoever may be elected or appointed to rule: He who is the Lord of all lords, the Universal King of all kings. He has inspired and in-spirited Israel with His message of compassionate righteousness and moral justice. He has revealed to Israel His demand for human freedom and ethical morality. He has commanded Israel to build for Him a House- on earth so that His teachings and values may dwell within humanity in this world.
This place of God’s dwelling is the primary Jerusalem, the expression of the true sanctity of Jerusalem. The mortal ruler whose throne is in Jerusalem, even King Messiah, is merely the representative, the spokesperson, for the true and universal Ruler of all rulers (see Deuteronomy 17:14-20). The Temple from whence God’s teachings of love, morality and peace will extend to all the families of the earth (Isaiah 2, Micah 4) is the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, in the City of God Jerusalem, in the City of Peace Jerusalem, in the City of Wholeness and Universalism, Jerusalem, where “My house will be a House of Prayer for all peoples” when “all the nations will call upon the Name of God to serve Him in united resolve”. (Zephania 3:9)
In order to distinguish between these two Jerusalems, the Jerusalem Capital City of Israel and the Jerusalem City of God, the Jerusalem of the Knesset and the Jerusalem of the Third Temple, the Jerusalem of today and the Jerusalem of our Messianic vision, it is most proper to refer to the later Jerusalem as Zion (see for example Psalm 132:13, “God has chosen Zion, a desirable dwelling place for Him”, or Psalm134:3, “May the Lord bless you from Zion”). And it is for this Jerusalem, which will be a light and a banner for all humanity, that we are praying in the third blessing of the Grace after Meals, especially as we mention, “Zion, the Sanctuary of Your Glory”.
On Tisha B’Av, when we recited the “Nahem” prayer in the Minhah Amidah and spoke of a city which has been laid waste, scorned and desolate…like a barren, childless woman, devoured by the (Roman) legions”, the words seem at best disingenuous and at worst ungrateful and blind to our present day miracle. I have adopted for my prayer and suggested for Efrat, the emendation of Rav Haim David HaLevi, who substituted the past tense (hayta - was) whenever the text is in the present tense. However, in light of this commentary I adopted this year the emendation of Rav Nahum Rabinowitz, Rosh HaYeshiva of Birkat Moshe, Maaleh Adumim, who substitutes “the mountain” for the “the city” which is now laid waste. If the subject of the prayer is Har Habayit, the Temple Mount, Zion rather than Jerusalem, then unfortunately, the prayer remains exceedingly relevant.