Why isn't Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) mentioned in the Torah? What does Yerushalayim mean to us? Memories, history, the capital of Israel? Or much more? What is it really?

Rabbi Shlomo Aviner

Judaism לבן ריק
לבן ריק
צילום: ערוץ 7
Why isn't Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) mentioned in the Torah? What does Yerushalayim mean to us? Memories, history, the capital of Israel? Or much more? What is it really?

Turning to the Torah for the answer, we face a puzzle. Nowhere in the Five Books of Moses does the word "Yerushalayim" appear. The center of Jewish life and thought is not mentioned in the Torah! It does appear, however, indirectly: "To the place which the L-rd your G-d will choose - from within all your tribes - to set His Name there; You shall seek His dwelling place and come there." (Deuteronomy 12:5) The "place" has been chosen, but is not named. In "Shirat Hayam", the song the Jewish People sang at the splitting of the sea, Moshe sings, "You shall bring them in and plant them on the mount of Your legacy, the place You have made for You to dwell in." (Exodus 15:17) There is a mount which is G-d's legacy, but the Torah does not reveal where that mount is.

Similarly, G-d directs Avraham Avinu: "Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father's house to the land which I shall show you." (Genesis 12:1) He does not tell him where he is supposed to go. In the same way, G-d commands Avraham to take his son Yitzchak and "Offer him up as a sacrifice on one of the mountains where I tell you." (Genesis 22:2) Here too, G-d does not at first reveal to Avraham exactly where that mount is.

When it comes to momentous decisions, we don't always know exactly where we're going when we start out. "If you have no faith, don't go." We must start out and only later will we understand where to. We must start out and then we will arrive. There are things that cannot be put into words, which are incomprehensible on an ordinary human level. Even if they are spelled out verbally, they remain incomprehensible. People may delude themselves into thinking they understand, but they don't. Therefore, it is pointless to even try to speak. Better not to reveal these 'secrets' until the time comes. Then, they will be understood.

Thus, when Avraham Avinu first starts out from Ur of the Chaldees, the name 'Eretz Israel' is not mentioned. Thus, the exact spot of Akedat Yitzchak is also kept secret. Thus also, the name Yerushalayim is not mentioned in the Torah, but only when the time comes for King David to conquer it. It was not easy for the Jewish People to reach Yerushalayim. Its king, Adoni-Zedek, was killed together with the other kings of the southern city-states (Joshua 10:1), but the city itself was not conquered: "And the Jebusites who dwelled in Yerushalayim - the tribe of Judah could not drive them out. And the Jebusites dwelled with the tribe of Judah in Yerushalayim until this day." (Joshua 15:63)

Neither was it simple for King David to conquer the city: "And the King and his men went to Yerushalayim to the Jebusites who dwelled in the land, and they said to David, saying, 'You shall not come here, unless you remove the blind and the lame,' saying 'David shall not come here.' And David captured the Fortress of Zion, which is 'The City of David.' And David said on that day, 'Anyone who smites the Jebusites and touches the Tzinor, and the lame and the blind whom David hates with all his soul,' therefore it is said, 'Neither the blind nor the lame shall come to the house.'" (II Kings 5:6-8)

This passage is unintelligible. Who are the " blind and the lame" and how do they prevent David from entering Yerushalayim? What is the "Tzinor"? Many interpretations have been offered, from military to political to allegorical.

The simplest explanation is that the city was so strongly fortified, and the Jebusites so sure it was impregnable, that they mocked David, saying that even if they were defended by the "blind and the lame," David would not be able to conquer the city. Finally, the city was conquered - David entering it through the "Tzinor", the water channel bringing water into the city. This is the simplest explanation (pshat).

Our sages interpreted the "blind and the lame" to be symbols of a peace pact between Avimelech, King of the Philistines [related or identical with Jebusites] and our forefathers: "If you lie to me, my great-grandson, or grand-son...." (Genesis 21:22-34) According to this interpretation, "the blind" is Yitzchak (who was blind in his old age), and "the lame" is Ya'akov (who limped after fighting with the angel).

Our sages were quite critical of this pact that Avraham and Yitzchak made, seeing its unfortunate consequences (see Rashi op. cit. and Pirkei D'Rabi Eliezer 36). David did not see himself as bound by this pact since it had been blatantly broken by the Philistines themselves for several generations. Therefore, he was free to conquer the Fortress of Zion.

No matter which interpretation you choose, it is obvious that conquering Yerushalayim was not simple, strategically and/or politically. So, too, we did not succeed in holding Yerushalayim in the War of Independence in 1948, despite all the effort expended and numerous attempts made. We had amazing victories all over the country, but the battles in Yerushalayim were accompanied by bad luck and mishaps all along. Not until 20 years later, in the Six-Day-War, did we enter the gates of the city. Yerushalayim is rooted in the deepest level of the Jewish People's experience, and is not easily acquired. This complexity makes it necessary for the Torah not to prematurely discuss Yerushalayim.

There is however, one place in the Torah where Yerushalayim does appear: "And Malki-Zedek, King of Shalem...." (Genesis 14:18) Shalem is Yerushalayim. There are many ways to prove this: "And His succah was in Shalem, and His dwelling place in Zion." (Psalms 76:2) In this verse, "Shalem" is obviously "Yerushalayim". There is also "Adoni-Zedek, King of Yerushalayim." (Joshua 10:1) "Zedek" is the title of the king of Shalem-Yerushalayim, just as the kings of Egypt are Pharoahs and the rulers of the Philistines, "Avimelech".

Returning from the battlefield after rescuing his nephew Lot from the four kings, Avraham met an outstanding individual, Malki-Zedek, King of Shalem: "And Malki-Zedek, King of Shalem brought out bread and wine, and he was a priest of the most high G-d, and he blessed him, saying, 'Blessed is Avraham of the most high G-d, Possessor of heavens and earth, and blessed is the most high G-d, Who has defeated your enemies through your hands.'" (Genesis 14:18) At this meeting, Avraham Avinu encountered a hospitable individual. Until now, he had always been the one to give to others, while they attempted to steal from him; now finally, someone offered him something - bread and wine. And this man blessed him in the name of "the most high G-d." He was a monotheist who believed in one G-d, Creator and Ruler of the world.

This man was "Malki-Zedek" - "King of Righteousness" - a title which expresses the ideal of the man and of his city. The bread and wine here are symbolic, just as Pharoah's ministers, key figures in the story of Josef, were the chief wine-bearer and the chief baker, and they dreamed about bread and wine (Genesis 40; see also Psalms 104:15). Likewise, offerings of meal and wine are offered on the altar (Rambam, Hilchot Ma'ase HaKorbanot 2:1). These are the staples of material and spiritual life. Malki-Zedek is a "priest of the most high G-d" - the spiritual leader of his time. Our sages identify him with Shem, son of Noach, as is written, "Blessed is G-d, the L-rd of Shem." (Genesis 9:26) At this meeting, Malki-Zedek presented the 'bread and wine' to Avraham; according to our sages, this was a symbolic transfer of spiritual leadership to Avraham (Nedarim 32b).

What did Malki-Zedek see in Avraham that caused him to abdicate his position of leadership in Avraham's favor? Possibly, it was his readiness to fight and to sacrifice all he had for his ideals (Iturei Torah, Genesis, p.102, in the name of Rabbi J. B. Soloveitchik). Perhaps it was also the noble, unselfish way he behaved during and after the battle. Making war did not turn Avraham into a cruel, greedy person, as happens so often to the best of men.

In any case, Malki-Zedek realized that Avraham was a greater leader than he, and ceded the spiritual leadership of the priesthood to him. Noach was also a righteous person. But when G-d warned him that there would be a flood, he accepted it silently and did not protest. When G-d told Avraham that he was about to destroy Sodom, Avraham argued, "Shall the Judge of the whole world not do justice?" (Gen. 18:23-33) His sense of responsibility for mankind did not allow him to accept the decree passively (see Zohar 58:67b; Igrot HaReiya II, p. 188). Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk made the following analogy: When you are cold, you have two choices: you can put on a fur coat, and warm only yourself, or you can light a bonfire, and provide warmth for many. Noach was the "tzadik with the fur coat" and Avraham, the one who lit a fire. He taught everyone, cared for everyone. His ideal was to redeem all of mankind from its physical and spiritual ills. Avraham was the biological father of the Jewish People, but the spiritual father of the universe. Therefore, he was named "The father of a multitude of peoples," (Genesis 17:4-5) and all nations are blessed through him (Genesis 12:3). Thus, he is worthy of receiving the priesthood from Malki-Zedek, King of Shalem, the city of justice, when Yerushalayim is still unknown, its significance not yet revealed in the world.

Later, at Akedat Yitzchak, Avraham Avinu comes to Mount Moriah and calls it "'[Hashem Yireh] G-d will see', as it is said to this day, 'In the mount G-d will appear.'" (Genesis 22:14) On this mount, we see G-d, and He sees us. The Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple) has two functions - our service to G-d, and His revealing Himself to us (see Rambam, Hilchot Beit HaBechira 1:1). This special place enables us to reach a higher spiritual level than anywhere else.

Thus, the first half of the name Yerushalayim - "Yireh" - derives from the Akeda experience of Avraham and Yitzchak; the second - "Shalem", from "Malki-Zedek, King of Shalem" (Breishit Raba 56:14). Malki-Zedek, spiritual father of the universe, and Avraham Avinu, father of the Jewish People, meet in Yerushalayim, and it is called after both of them. It is the capital of the Jewish People, but also a "House of Prayer for all nations" - center of Israel and of the whole world as well.

Christianity holds Jerusalem sacred. It doesn't matter to them if Jews settle Tel-Aviv, but Jerusalem? The basis of Christian faith is that the Chosen People were rejected, as they killed god. Jews are relegated to being merely "Israel of the flesh," while Christians are now the true "Israel of the spirit," followers of the New Testament, and it is they who should return to Jerusalem. [This replacement theology is not universal, but is widespread in Christian theology. - ed.]

Today, we, not they, have returned to Jerusalem, and this is a fatal blow to Christianity. Thus, their tremendous opposition to Israeli rule over Jerusalem. In like manner, Moslems consider Jerusalem a holy city and universal spiritual center. Shortly after the Six Day War, a theological congress was held at El-Azhar University in Cairo and a resolution was passed to fight to the last drop of blood for Moslem rule over Jerusalem, not on political or strategic grounds, but for religious reasons. This city is holy to them, and they see themselves as possessors of the true faith.

Notwithstanding the above, for the Jewish People, Jerusalem is "Yerushalayim, built as a city that is joined together," (Psalms 122:3) which our sages explain is a city "which joins all of Israel in friendship." (Yerushalmi, Chagigah 3:6) This has halachic implications (see Tosaphot to Pesachim 49), but basically it means that all of the People of Israel join together in this city. "Yerushalayim was not divided among the tribes," (Yoma 12a) but rather belongs to the whole Jewish People. Here, everyone meets on festivals, and especially at the Hak'hel ceremony, held at the end of Shmitta, once every seven years (Deuteronomy 34:23; 31:10-13). Everyone comes to "see" G-d, each on his own spiritual level, and all are seen by G-d. We all see each other, too, and this encounter enriches and unites all individual members of the People of Israel - in Yerushalayim - the city "which joins all of Israel in friendship." The city of love and peace.

There is a famous story of two brothers, one poor and the head of a large family, the other well-to-do, but alone. In the middle of the night, the brother with a large family brought stacks of wheat over to his brother's field, saying, "My poor brother is all alone; let him at least take joy in his bountiful harvest." The other brother did the same, thinking, "My poor brother has so many mouths to feed; he needs much more than I do." They met that night in the middle of the field - and on that spot the Beit HaMikdash was later built.

There are those who talk about peace, meaning peace with the nations of the world. When the Torah talks about peace, however, it means peace among the members of the Jewish People. Clearly, one does not preclude the other, but peace "within our household" must take precedence.

Avraham Avinu received the priesthood, the responsibility for the spiritual welfare of mankind, from Malki-Zedek, King of Shalem, the city of justice. As "The father of a multitude of peoples," Avraham bears universal responsibility. As the children of Avraham, the redemption we experience today has universal significance. We are called upon to build a just society, which will serve as an example for the whole world. Despite our failures in the past, we, with our 'Jewish soul', are capable of doing this, and will eventually fulfill our mission.

Today, we are still in the middle of the process; it is not yet time to build the Beit HaMikdash (see Rambam, Hilchot Beit HaBechirah 1:1-2). First, we must establish a sovereign Israel; i.e., a strong, wealthy, well-developed state. Then it will be time to build the Beit HaMikdash. When the time is ripe, we will also understand how to do it. As we work our way up towards our goal, that which is today still a mystery will become clearer and clearer, until Yerushalayim finally becomes the universal center of justice

[From Rabbi Aviner's Tal Chermon, vol. II.]