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Biblical Jerusalem - Summary of the Second Year

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Jerusalem in the Bible
Yeshivat Har Etzion





Rav Yitzchak Levi



            With this shiur we complete a two-year lecture series. It is only natural that we chose to focus on particular periods and minimized discussion of others. Had we treated all the kings of Yehuda in detail, the series would certainly have continued for yet another year. A year ago we summarized the previous year's shiurim, and now we wish to summarize the shiurim that were delivered this year.




In the shiur that served as an introduction to the entire series, we noted our underlying assumption: The spiritual essence of Jerusalem lies in the connection that it allows between the seat of worldly kingdom, the capital of Israel across the generations, and the seat of God's kingdom, the Temple.


To illustrate this point we chose to focus this year on three central characters: David, Shelomo and Chizkiyahu. We noted the various components of their kingdom in relation to the site of God's kingdom.


With respect to David, this connection first becomes evident when he brings the ark to Jerusalem (and not to the Mishkan in Givon), thereby connecting the vessel that serves as the resting place of God's Shekhina – the ark – to the site of God's kingdom in Jerusalem. Later this connection is manifest in David's request to build the Temple in his capital city and in his selfless dedication and grand efforts to do whatever he could do to further its construction (except for the building itself, which was forbidden to him): yearning for, seeking after and finding the site; buying Aravna's threshing floor and erecting the altar; preparing the plans, materials and workmen; and even establishing the watches that would serve in the Temple – and all this despite the fact that he had been explicitly told that not he, but only his son, would build the Temple.


The connection between the kingdom of Shelomo and the kingdom of God manifests itself in both an essential and a symbolic manner in the close connection between his own palace and the house of God: the two structures are built in very close geographical proximity, as a single unit located above the city, that embraced the Temple, and, below it and to its south, the royal palace; the building materials and plans are similar; and the dedication of the Temple takes place only at the end of the twenty year period of construction and after both structures are completed. This connection gives expression to a great prospect: the revelation of God's kingdom through a human king, in the sense of "And Shelomo sat on the throne of God as king" (I Divrei Ha-yamim 29:23). On the other hand, when the king violates God's will, this proximity (as well as the lack of proportions in the size of the structures) causes a desecration of God's name that is second to none. Yechezkel astutely noted the danger in this blurring (43:7-9), and came to a clear conclusion: "Now let them put away their harlotry, and the carcasses of their kings, far from Me, and I will dwell in the midst of them for ever" (ibid. v. 9) – as is exemplified in practice in the chapters dealing with the Temple in the book of Yechezkel.


Chizkiyahu begins his reign with a great spiritual revolution in which the Temple plays a central role: after it had been closed in the days of Achaz, Chizkiyahu reopens the Temple, and celebrates Pesach therein with the participation of the kingdom of Israel. Thus, the king proclaims his fidelity to God's command and his close connection to the house of God. Later in his reign, however, Chizkiyahu enters into an alliance against Ashur with Egypt, Bavel and other countries, and thus he abandons his mission to reestablish his kingdom based on the principles of justice and righteousness, and focuses on military and political struggles. When Sancheriv invades Yehuda, Chizkiyahu surrenders to him, hands over the Temple's treasures and cuts off the doors to the sanctuary and the pilasters that he himself had plated. After Ashur falls to the sword of no-man, Chizkiyahu arrogantly shows off all his treasures to the emissaries sent by Merodach Baladon, king of Bavel, and thus indirectly attributes the victory to himself. In the end, Chizkiyahu failed as well when he blurred the distinction between his own kingdom and the kingdom of God, and when he preferred political alliances over reliance on God and spiritual improvement of his kingdom. Paradoxically, it was precisely during the days of the righteous king Chizkiyahu that two exceedingly difficult prophecies were delivered: the prophecy concerning the destruction of the city and the Temple – "Therefore shall Zion for your sake be ploughed like a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps of rubble, and the mountain of the house like the high places of the forest" (Mikha 3:12), and the prophecy concerning the exile to Bavel – "Behold, days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have laid up in store to this day, shall be carried into Bavel; nothing shall be left, says the Lord" (II Melakhim 20:17).




            Following our treatment of this year's central topic – the relationship between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of man as it found expression among these three kings – we moved on to a brief survey of the roots of the destruction of Yehuda and the Temple. We started with Shelomo; we continued with Yo'ash, Uziyahu, Achaz, and Chizkiyahu; we discussed the difficult period that preceded the destruction – the days of Menashe, Yehoyakim and Yehoyakhin; and we ended with the days of Tzidkiyahu and the destruction itself.


            What stood out here as well was the blurring of the distinction between human kingdom and the kingdom of God, something, which among other ways, expressed itself in the various kings' attitudes toward the Mikdash (and in most striking manner, in Uziyahu's entering the sanctuary to burn incense) and in their use of the Temple treasures for political purposes.


            At this point we returned to another aspect of the essence of Jerusalem, which we had already dealt with in the previous year: Jerusalem's being the city of justice. We noted last year that justice is the inner content of the kingdom: the kingdom serves as a governmental framework the goal of which is to execute justice. Justice, then, is a fundamental element of the essence of Jerusalem. The cause of the destruction also testifies to the essence of the place. And indeed, we saw that in addition to the sins noted by Chazal as the primary causes of the destruction – idol worship, incest and bloodshed (Yoma 9b) – what characterizes the kingdom of Yehuda from the first prophecy of destruction to the destruction itself is the absence of justice, which stems from the moral corruption of all governmental institutions. This corruption continues during the reigns of Menashe, Yehoyakim, Yehoyakhin and Tzidkiyahu – to the exclusion of an island of justice in the figure of Yoshiyahu, as is attested to in Yirmiyahu's harsh prophecy to Yehoyakim:


Woe to him that builds his house by unrighteousness, and his chambers by injustice; that uses his neighbor's service without wages, and gives him not for his hire; that says, I will build me a wide house with large upper chambers, and he cuts him out windows; and it is covered with rafters of cedar, and painted with vermilion. Shall you reign, because you compete in cedar? did not your father eat and drink, and do judgment and justice, and then it was well with him? He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well with him: was not this to know Me? says the Lord. But you have eyes and heart only for your dishonest gain, and for shedding innocent blood, and for oppression, and for practicing violence. (Yirmiyahu 22:13-17)




            We closed our study this year with an examination of the principal characteristics of the return to Zion: the two separate time periods that it includes and the essential differences between them; the grand dream of restoring the Shekhina and kingship to Jerusalem against the great disappointment of the "day of small things" in all senses of the term. In conclusion we dealt with the fundamental differences between the first and second Temples: their most important characteristics and the spiritual essence of each one.




            As part of our overall examination of the essence of the city and to complete this summary, we wish to bring the words of Rabbi Kook and Rabbi Charlop regarding the relationship between Zion and Jerusalem.


Rabbi Kook explains that Zion expresses the kingdom of Israel, and Jerusalem expresses holiness. Together they constitute the joining of the monarchy and the Temple, the site of human kingship and the site of the kingship of God. And therefore, "Blessed be the Lord out of Zion, He who dwells at Jerusalem. Haleluya!" (Tehilim 135:21).


"Blessed be the Lord out of Zion, He who dwells at Jerusalem. Haleluya!" The two crowns which crown the people of Israel are a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. The nature of the kingdom stood out in Zion, the city of David. While it would appear that the kingdom stands on its own in Israel, as does the priesthood, that is only with respect to the personal status of those who bear those functions, the function of the priesthood and the function of the monarchy. But in essence and in its inner sense, the kingdom of Israel serves as a holy priesthood in the world. And therefore all of Israel as a whole and for all time constitute a priestly kingdom. Thus, the inner essence of the holy spirit of the nation stands out in its inner form precisely in Zion, the city of the monarchy. The dwelling place of holiness, the place where the foundation of holiness of all the worlds is reflected in our world, is surely Jerusalem, the site of our Temple, which works to bestow upon the entire priestly kingdom the name of holy nation. And the pure blessing of God emerges from Zion, and the holy dwelling place is surely Jerusalem. "Blessed be the Lord out of Zion, He who dwells at Jerusalem. Haleluya!" (Rabbi Avraham Kook, Olat Ra'aya, II, p.87)


Following Rabbi Kook, Rabbi Charlop explains that Zion symbolizes the material side, and Jerusalem, the spiritual side. Joined together, they form an entity that is material and spiritual, a place that joins heaven and earth.


Two tidings are necessary, one for Zion and one for Jerusalem. "You that brings good tidings to Zion, get you up into the high mountain; you that brings good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid, say to the cities of Yehuda, Behold your God!" (Yeshayahu 40:9). Zion symbolizes the material aspect, whereas Jerusalem symbolizes the spiritual aspect. To move Zion, it suffices to ascend the mountain, "you that brings good tidings to Zion, get you up into the high mountain" – but for Jerusalem, more work is required, "you that brings good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with strength." While the work is great and exceedingly difficult, there is no room for despair, "lift it up, be not afraid," until you reach the height of greatness, to say to the cities of Yehuda, "Behold your God." (Mei Marom, p. 92)


            Rabbi Kook discusses the absence of the monarchy and the Temple in Jerusalem while relating to the practical aspects and ramifications of this deficiency. Thus he writes in "Chibbat Yerushalayim," in his book "Chazon ha-Ge'ula":[1]


Two wonderful gifts were removed from Jerusalem, the city of the King's Temple: the majesty of holiness and the might of power. From the time that our city was destroyed, and our Temple was laid waste, and the glory was removed from our lives, these two luminaries became dark. The majesty of holiness no longer bestowed its force, the light of Divine prophecy became dim, the holy spirit ceased and in darkness did we wander among the nations. The might of power also ceased, our strength diminished and we became like walking shadows in foreign lands. These two Divine gifts, holiness and might, which are endless in their splendor and majesty when they are integrated together, were severed one from the other, and each one diminished more and more, until in the darkness of the contemptible exile, the uncleanness of heresy adhered to us in place of the majesty of holiness, and carelessness and fear in place of the might of power. (Chazon ha-Ge'ula, p. 36)


            Rabbi Kook sees in the "majesty of holiness" the practical translation of holiness in general, and in the "might of power" the practical translation of might. Rabbi Kook emphasizes that not only did each one of these diminish, but also the connection between them was severed. This means that the uniqueness of Jerusalem lies not only in its containing two fundamental values – monarchy and Temple, the might of power and the majesty of holiness – but also in the inner connection between the two and their combination: earthly kingdom comprising the basic level, upon which is built the level of the holy. The aspect of might strengthens the aspect of holiness, and the aspect of holiness refines the aspect of kingship. This connection between the kingdom of Israel and the kingdom of God, various dimensions of which we examined over the course of the last two years – is the essence of Jerusalem – and their detachment and severance brought to its destruction.




            Thus we have completed our study of biblical Jerusalem. Next year we will embark upon a new series that will deal with various aspects of the history of the resting of God's Shekhina, the essence of the Temple, its nature, and its various functions.


            May we be privileged to experience the fulfillment of the verse:


The Lord shall bless you out of Zion, and you shall see the good of Jerusalem all the days of your life. (Tehilim 128:5)


(Translated by David Strauss)

[1] "Chazon ha-Ge'ula" was published in a limited edition in New York, 1974.