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19: Yerushalayim

  • Rav Ezra Bick


And return with mercy to Yerushalayim Your city,

And dwell within it as You have spoken,

And build it shortly in our days as an eternal building,

And establish within it quickly the seat of David.

Blessed are You, HaShem, Who builds Yerushlayim.



A.  The Text


            Two shiurim ago, in the context of "birkat ha-minim," I quoted the beginning of the statement of the Yerushalmi which places certain themes together in the Shemoneh Esrei. "One includes (the blessing) of heretics and of sinners in 'subdues the iniquitous' ... and (the blessing of) David in 'who builds Yerushalayim'" (Ber. 4,3). The Yerushalmi combines what is for us the next TWO blessings, that of Yerushalayim and that of the restoration of the kingdom of David. (This obviously lowers the number of berakhot to eighteen, which is discussed by the Talmud ad.loc.). This is clear from the "chatima" of this berakha in the Yerushalmi (and in several midrashim, as well as several piyutim from Eretz Yisrael) - "Blessed are You, HaShem, the God of David and builder of Yerushalayim."


            Now, we do not follow this practice. The Midrash Tanchuma (Korach) states:


"Bear (our) sin and accept good (tov)" (Hoshea 14,3) -

Israel stated: Master of the World, when the Temple was in existence, we would bring a sacrifice and achieve atonement; now we have only prayer - "tov" has the numerical value of seventeen. But there are nineteen (blessings) in the prayers?! Do not count birkat ha-minim which was instituted in Yavne, and not the blessing of David, which was instituted because of "Test me, HaShem, and try me" (Psalms 26,2). (We will explain the verse from Psalms later).


            At some point, according to this midrash, it was decided to separate the berakha of Yerushalayim from the berakha of David. The question is - why should they be together in the first place? The difference between the themes of the two blessings seems clear - one deals with the Presence of God in the holy city, the other with political redemption. Yet, there seems to have been a powerful inclination to combine them. Now, you may argue that, after all, in the end they have been separated - so why am I belaboring an archaic version that has been superseded? But, in fact, the attraction of these two themes for each other is so strong that even though the berakhot were separated, we still insist on mentioning the "throne of David" in the blessing of Yerushalayim - "and establish within it the seat of David" is the last line of the blessing of Yerushalayim. In light of the fact that the very next blessing will be devoted totally to David, this insertion here indicates a deliberate refusal to agree to the divorce of the two themes.


            In fact, what we see here is that Jewish tradition refused to have a berakha about Yerushalayim without reference to the throne of David, but eventually decided to have a berakha about the restoration of the kingdom of David without inserting within it a reference to Yerushalayim. In other words, David is an essential element in understanding Yerushalayim, but not vice-versa. This shall be our starting point in understanding this week's berakha of Yerushalayim (and we shall examine the "independent" theme of "et Tzemach David" in the following shiur).


B. Spiritual Jerusalem and Political Jerusalem


            Our berakha opens with an appeal to God to "dwell within" Yerushalayim. Were indeed the two themes of Yerushalayim and David distinct and totally separated, we would have explained this in a simple manner. The first berakha deals with a spiritual development, "hashra'at shekhina," the indwelling of the Divine Presence in the world. Jerusalem is the seat of God's presence, which is a spiritual phenomenon, experienced mostly internally, a cleaving of the soul to God. "My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; when shall I come and appear before God?" (Ps. 42,2). This is Yerushalayim as the Temple, the place where Man meets God.


            The second berakha, on the other hand, has a political theme. David represents Jewish sovereignty, political independence, and national success. Kind David established the model of the Jewish kingdom, unified, powerful, and successful internationally. In other words, the first berakha is about God and His exile from Israel; the second is about the Jews, their exile from the land and their disfranchisement politically. In traditional Hebrew terms, the first is about "galut ha-shekhina," the second about "shiabud malkhiot."


            What, then, does the instruction of the Yerushalmi to include "David" in "Yerushalayim," and our partial following of this rule, mean? It implies that the concept of Yerushalayim itself is incomplete without political expression. The basic distinction between a spiritual sphere and a political one is false and misleading. If we ask for God's return to Yerushalayim and His resting His Presence there, the ultimate expression of that will be "and establish within it quickly the seat of David." The proper plane in which God's presence is manifested is not the internal, experiential sphere of the soul, but in society, in government, on the national level of the Jewish people. God is "present" among us not when we have a particular religious experience, but when Jewish political and social experience is fulfilled according to His will. The absence of Jewish sovereignty is, itself, the absence of the Divine Presence. One cannot divorce the Temple from Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish kingdom. Historically and halakhically, the Temple was built in Yerushalayim only after David made it his capital. While David did not build the Temple, the Sages stress that he laid out the plans and acquired the land, even building an altar on the spot.


            Here I wish to repeat the one-sided nature of the relationship between the two concepts. The concept of Yerushalayim cannot be expressed without "the seat of David" being established within it. The opposite is not true. The berakha dedicated to political restoration can be recited without mentioning God's presence (though only AFTER we have recited the berakha of Yerushalayim). Again, we shall discuss the "pure" notion of political redemption in the next shiur. Now I am claiming that a discussion of Divine presence, spiritual fulfillment, and "hashra'at shekhina" is basically misleading if it does not include - in fact, conclude - with a prayer for the political expression of that ideal.


            This point, that the fulfillment of God's presence on Earth is bound up with the political success of the Jewish kingdom, has often served as a source of confusion for those trying to understand Judaism, and even, for some Jews, as a point of embarrassment. The separation of the spiritual from the temporal is a deeply rooted idea in Christianity, and many modern Jews have also attempted to divorce the two. Political power and aspirations were seen as too base to be part of the eschatological hope. Judaism not only unabashedly avows political hopes, but, as we have seen in this berakha, sees them as part and parcel of the spiritual fulfillment of the Shekhina. We are not ashamed that we yearn and hope for the "flowering of the plant of David" for its own, political benefits, but, even more openly we affirm that it will be the fulfillment of God's kingdom as well. God's presence IN the world is OF the world as well. To put it bluntly, if God is truly king, then David's seat must be established. The kingdom of Israel IS the kingdom of God.


C. The Whole Berakha


            Reading from the beginning, we can now clearly see the progression.


1. RETURN to Yerushalayim;

2. DWELL within it;

3. BUILD it as an eternal building;

4. ESTABLISH the seat of David.


1.         The root cause of what is lacking in Yerushalayim is the absence of God. God has left, exiled Himself from Yerushalayim. Based on a series of visions in the prophet Yechezkel (Ezekiel), the Sages state that the Shekhina left Yerushalayim in ten stages (Rosh HaShana 31a). This does not mean that God does not watch over the world, or that Divine Providence is not at work. It means something more spiritual - that the world does not reflect the kingdom of God. It is hard to translate this metaphor into something which can be understood in everyday terms. We believe that there is a difference between God ruling from afar and being within our midst, but this difference is not expressed in God's limited ability to act when He is far off. The difference is in the personal expression and bonding between ourselves and God.


2.         If God returns to Yerushalayim, we pray that not only a closeness be established, but that Yerushalayim, our world, our city - a real city where real people live on this earth - be "His home." The day that King Solomon finished the Temple, he asked the obvious question:


I have built for You a house to dwell in, a settled place for You to abide forever....

Can it be, that God shall dwell on the earth? Behold, the heavens and the heaven's heavens cannot contain You; how much less this house that I have built! (I Kings 8,13;27)


            If King Solomon, the wisest of all men, knew not the answer to that question, then I shall not presume to even try. In some sense, it is true. It is God's will that this world, in all its imperfections, be the seat of His glory. He "dwells" among us.


3.         But if that is true, then we do not mean this as a poetic metaphor. The world which reflects the glory of God looks different because of it. If God is to dwell in Yerushalayim, it shall be built, because the whole point of the mysterious union of God and the world is that the world in its physicality can be the abode of the Shekhina. Of course, God's majesty is not dependent on bricks or stones. But all too often, theologians' insistence on the spirituality of the kingdom of God is meant to convince us of its detached transcendence - they are trying to convince us to not try and establish God's kingdom in this world but to wait for it in another. By definition, Man, flesh and blood, works also in bricks and stone. There is spiritual meaning in bricks and stones, just as there can be God within the four walls of the Temple. Perhaps it is true that the angels make a better neighborhood for God - but God has chosen to dwell with us. The "city of man," bricks and all, IS the city of God.


4.         If God dwells in the city of man, then He rules a city ruled by man. For we do know that it is not the architecture of the city that is the basis of the Shekhina, but the society of the city, the fellowship of men, the social structure where men transcend their egocentric loneliness to share and work together. Society is man transcending himself, and therefore worthy of supporting the transcendent God. When man first joined with another, the Sages said: If there be peace between man and woman, the Shekhina is between them. Jewish society is two things: men in union and fellowship, and God's law to guide them. That, aside from the benefits it confers, is first and foremost the ultimate abode of God.


D. Me'ein Chatima


            There is a halakhic problem with this berakha. As we learnt at the beginning of the series, the structure of a berakha requires that there be "me'ein chatima samukh lichatima." The line before the conclusion must sum up the theme expressed in the conclusion. When the two berakhot of Yerushalayim were joined, the chatima was also a combined one - "elokei David u-bonei Yerushalayim." If the two had truly been separated completely, the last line about David would have not existed, and the previous line would have been only "and build it shortly in our days as an eternal building," which would have been "me'ein chatima." But by our adding the line about David to a chatima that is only "bonei Yerushalayim," we seem to be transgressing the rule. Indeed, Nusach Sefarad reverses the order of the last two requests, presumably for precisely this reason. The great scholar, R. Yoel Sirkes (the Bach), however, argues that the building of Yerushalayim is directed to being the seat of the throne of David, and this too is "me'ein chatima (Bach 118). This is exactly the point I have tried to express.


E. "As You Have Spoken"


            "And dwell within it as You have spoken." Why do we remind God that this is HIS plan? With a little bit of work, I am sure we could find Divine promise for most of the things we ask for in the Shemoneh Esrei. I believe the answer is what I have written above. On my own, I am not sure why it should be expected that God should dwell in Yerushalayim, on earth. Were I asking for something for myself, my mandate to do so would be based on my need. I need food, so I ask for God's support. But by what right do I ask for God to dwell among us, where human logic states that He does not belong, nor can possibly be contained? The answer is - I do not know, but You have said that it is to be, that this is Your desire; and hence, it is also my desire. I ask for this thing BECAUSE You said it is the purpose of creation, because You have promised it.



            Blessed are You - You who build Yerushalayim, who builds His home among men, who chooses to rest His presence in our midst, within our society, in our city, the seat of David.