The Inheritance of Binyamin ֠Portion of the Shekhina (Part II)

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Jerusalem in the Bible
Yeshivat Har Etzion

Shiur #17: The Inheritance of Binyamin – Portion of the Shekhina (Part II)

By Rav Yitzchak Levi



In the last part of the previous shiur we noted the significance of the relatively low-lying position of the Temple.  In this shiur we shall complete our discussion concerning the height of the Temple.


A. The Temple – rectification for the Tower of Bavel


The Tower of Bavel, as far as we can ascertain, seems to have been the most ancient manifestation of idolatry [1], and one of the most prominent idolatrous elements represented by it is the issue of height – "With a tower, reaching to the heavens" (Bereishit 11:4).  We shall try to show that in many senses, the Temple represents a rectification of the sin of the Tower of Bavel.


The initiative to build the tower is described thus:


"They said: Let us build ourselves A CITY, WITH A TOWER REACHING TO THE HEAVENS, AND WE SHALL MAKE OURSELVES A NAME, lest we be scattered over the face of the entire earth" (Ibid.).


The parasha illustrates the unity that prevailed among the builders of the tower:


"All of the land shared a single language and the same words" (Ibid. 1).

"God said: Behold, the people are one, with a single language for all" (Ibid. 6).


The result of God's descent to see the city and the tower was that the builders were scattered over all the earth, such that their construction ceased [2].


The commentators are divided as to the sin of this generation, which is not made explicit in the text.  However, it would seem that the message of the story is presented clearly in a Midrash of Rabbi Elazar in the name of Rabbi Shimon (Bereishit Rabba 38,7):


"'And it was, as they traveled from the east (mi-kedem)' – they distanced themselves from the Ancient One (Kadmono) of the world.  They said: We cannot live either with Him or with His Divinity."


Instead of gratitude, which would be a continuation of the example set by Noach when he built an altar to God, this generation (known as the "generation of schism") builds a city, and inside it a tower reaching to heaven, with the intention of making a name for themselves: "Thereby they revealed their view that they no longer relied upon God, Who had saved their forefathers and themselves from death and destruction; now they would rely only on their own power and strength… they took literally the advice of the serpent, 'You shall be like gods, knowing good and evil' (Bereishit 3:5), and thereby came to resemble the 'mighty men of old, men of renown' (Ibid. 6:4), whose actions brought destruction and desolation to the world" [2].


As stated, the plans of the builders of the tower emphasized height: "Let us build for ourselves a city with a tower reaching to the heavens."  As we discussed at length in the previous shiur, the construction of a city and a tower reaching to heaven is typical of idolaters, who aspire, by means of this height, to attain the place of the gods and to rule the world, based on the idea that physical height expresses superiority and strength.


It was for this purpose that people gathered together in a single city and began to build a tower that would reach the heavens.  God's response was to mix up their "single language" and to scatter them over the entire earth.  When the purpose of the unity amongst the entire human gathering is rebellion against God, and the same purpose maintains their "single language," the ultimate response is to abort the rebellion by mixing up their language and scattering the people.


Our principal hypothesis is that the rectification of the sin of that generation is a situation in which there is a city of Jerusalem with the Temple in its midst, both dedicated to having God's Name upon them (Devarim 12:5,11):  to be a resting place for God's Name in the world, to which all the nations may flow (see below), and thereby recognize God's Kingship.  This would bring future rectification for all the elements of the sin:

* The Temple is a tower, but it does not reach to the heavens; it is not the tallest of buildings

* It is not MAN, with his arrogance and self-confidence, that stands at the center of the Temple, but rather THE DWELLING OF GOD'S NAME.

* The unity of the human collective in the Temple aims towards self-nullification before the supreme reality of God's Kingship; thus, it leads not to divisiveness and scattering, but rather to peace (see below).


The fullest and most complete description of this rectification is perhaps to be found in Yishayahu's vision of the End of Days:


"It shall be at the end of days, that the mountain of God's House shall be established at the head of the mountains, and it shall be raised above the hills, and all the nations shall flow to it.  Many nations will go and say, Let us go and ascend to the mountain of God, to the House of the God of Yaakov, that He may teach us of His ways and we will walk in His paths.  For Torah shall come forth from Zion, and the word of God from Jerusalem.


And He shall judge among the nations and decide among many peoples.  They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.  Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor shall they learn war any more…


The day of the Lord of Hosts shall be upon everyone who is proud and haughty, and upon everyone who is exalted – that he shall be brought low, and upon all the tall, exalted cedars of Lebanon and upon all the oaks of the Bashan, and upon all the tall mountains and upon all the exalted hills, and upon every tall tower and upon every fortified wall and upon all the ships of Tarshish and upon all delightful craftsmanship.  The loftiness of man shall be brought down, and the haughtiness of man shall be made low, and God alone shall be exalted on that day, and the idols shall be utterly abolished.  They shall go into the holes of rocks and into caves of the earth for fear of God and for the glory of His majesty, when He arises to shake the earth.  On that day man shall cast his idols of silver and his idols of gold, which he had made for him to worship, to the moles and to the bats.  To go into the clefts of rocks and into the crevices of boulders for fear of God and for the glory of His majesty when He arises to shake the earth.  Cease from man, who has breath in him, for what is he worth?" (Yishayahu 2:2-4; 12-21).


In this prophecy, Yishayahu describes a rectification of all aspects of the sin of the generation that built the Tower:


In the End of Days, the mountain of God's House will be at the head of the mountains and will be raised above the hills – not only in the spiritual sense - universal recognition of its importance - but also in the physical sense. It will be the tallest place, such that there will be no disparity between its spiritual significance and its physical appearance (we shall elaborate on this point at the end of the shiur).


All of the nations will flow to it in order that "He will teach us of His ways and we shall walk in His paths – for Torah will emerge from Zion and God's word from Jerusalem."


God's judgment of the nations will bring peace. The recognition by the world of God's Kingship, and self-nullification before Him, will bring about equality between all people and a renewed unity not in the service of self-glorification; on the contrary, it will flow from human recognition of the Holy One as the source of all powers.


Further on, the prophet describes the situation in which "God alone shall be exalted," and all tall peaks – trees, tall mountains, towers, walls, ships of Tarshish – will be brought low and humbled, physically, before God's Kingship.


This, then, is the full rectification for the sin of the generation that build the Tower of Bavel. People will no longer set as their target their own height, but rather God's word, which will be at the top of mountains, and the purpose of human assembly and unity will no longer be self-deification, but rather recognition by the whole world of God's Kingship.


In Jerusalem, which is called "city" (see Ketuvot 101b: "Any mention of 'city' refers to Jerusalem"), a Temple is built, reaching spiritually (but not physically) to the heavens. Instead of scattering people all over the earth, it becomes a "Talpi'ot" – a "tel she-kol piot (hill to which all mouths) are turned" (Berakhot 30a).  It is in this city that God chooses to make His Name dwell, and He also makes a name for David, in the form of an eternal dynasty that will eventually build the Temple and serve God.


The Beit Yaakov [4], in his commentary on Parashat Noach, draws a comparison between these two textual units:


"Rabbi Shimon began: "The Temple, in the course of building, was made of whole stones as they were brought there" (I Melakhim 6).  This introduction hints at the building of the Tower, which was a replica of the Temple in Jerusalem.  Since God began, at that time, to bring together the development of the family of Avraham – which represented the very beginning of the construction of the Temple, which itself is the pinnacle of sanctity, as explained in the Zohar (Bamidbar 117a), therefore there arose a corresponding desire among the nations to build a Tower, which would resemble the Temple in its external appearance.  The whole point of the Temple was the matter of unification of the nation of Israel, and it was built upon the Foundation Stone, from which all the earth was created; this was the place where the connection was tangibly clear in the world.


The Tower built by that generation was made from the waste gathered from the negative, as it were, of the sanctity of the Temple; they sought to create a city and a Tower in the form of David's Citadel and the city of Jerusalem, as taught in the Zohar on Noach (74b).


The Temple and the Tower of Bavel would seem to share the same purpose: to serve as the center for gathering, a place where all the scattered masses could come together as a single person, as described in Tehllim 122 – "Jerusalem rebuilt is like a city that is all joined together" - with each person seeking the good and the welfare of the collective, rather than his own personal interests.  But the generation of the Tower of Bavel was, at its root, the opposite.  The unity that pervaded the Temple came from the "world of togetherness" – to the extent that even inanimate objects played a role in it: every stone lodged in its place and joined onto its neighbor, as it is written, "The Temple, in the course of building, was made of whole stones as they were brought there" (I Melakhim 6).  The Tower, on the other hand, arose from the "world of division."  Admittedly, the intention behind the construction of the Tower was a response to what that generation had witnessed: the destruction of the generation of the Flood.  That generation had been wiped out because they had not known how to take care of the welfare of society, they had not felt connected to one another such that they would not oppose and accuse each other.  Rather, each individual had cared only about himself, seeking only to realize his own personal desires, to spread and enlarge his borders even within the bounds of others.  Thus the "earth was filled with violence," and in the wake of their fate the new generation that arose from Noach and his sons took note of the root of their failure and tried to correct this deficiency by gathering together in the land of Shin'ar, where the victims of the Flood were scattered, "she-sham nin'aru mitei mabul."


It was for this reason that the Tower was built in a valley, rather than atop a mountain – to show that they wanted to draw permanence for their endeavor by virtue of the power of sanctity, which they believed that they could control.  The Temple, symbolizing the acceptance of the yoke of God's Kingship, is built at the (spiritually) highest point: Eretz Yisrael is higher than all other lands, Jerusalem is higher than anywhere else in Eretz Yisrael, and the Temple Mount is higher than all of Jerusalem.  This hints at the fact that in that place all of Israel will nullify their will before the will of God.  The Tower, in contrast, was built in the land of Shin'ar, which is the lowest (spiritually) of all lands, and in a valley; this hints that they sought and worshipped their own power; i.e., to conquer, as it were, the power of sanctity, to subdue it and subjugate it so that they could use it in a way fundamentally opposite to its source in sanctity.  The Tower of Bavel initiated by Nimrod, and the graven image created by Nevukhadnetzar, and the cities built by the Pharaohs, all stem from the same idea. All of these leaders sought to draw power from sanctity and subjugate it by force, since they did not want to subjugate themselves to sanctity.


In essence, what the Beit Yaakov is saying is that the sin of the generation of schism is the reciprocal image of the building of the Temple.  The Tower was built at the same time as the earliest consolidation of sanctity of the house of Avraham, and it was built from the waste of the reverse side of the sanctity of the Temple.  The great difference between them is that the Temple aspired to total inclusion and unity, including even the inanimate world, with the aim being to connect all of reality with its Creator, while the builders of the Tower gathered together for a purpose fundamentally opposed to the idea of sanctity, because they did not want to subject themselves to God.


B.  Revelation at Sinai – rectification for the Tower of Bavel


In his book "Li-Netivot Yisrael," Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook presents the revelation at Sinai as the opposite of the Tower of Bavel:


"The standing at this mountain, worked its own effect on its unique level: "When Israel stood at Mount Sinai, their pollution left them" (Shabbat 146a).  Just as "the air of the tower [of Bavel] brings forgetfulness" (Sanhedrin 109a), because of the attempt to "make a name," in contrast to the great Name of the living God, King of the world, so standing at that place – appointed from on high by God for the purposes of giving the Torah – halted the human folly and lifted the constraints of its pollution, and established the psychological basis for the initial penetration of exalted closeness to God, Who gives life to all of us today.  The essence of this level is expressed in a negation of foreignness, a statement of Israelite identity as opposed to the nations of the world, and the principle of constant, internal Divine remembrance, as opposed to the nations, who are "the forgotten ones of God" (Tehillim 9:18).  And "had He brought us close before Mount Sinai and not given us the Torah, this would have been sufficient" (Haggada of Pesach).  There is significance to the very act of standing in-and-of-itself, creating the characteristic that prepared their ears to hear the Voice that was revealed from within the "light clouds (arpelei tohar)."  You have dug open my ears," "the ear that heard at Mount Sinai" the command of the Divine Freedom. (Li-Netivot Yisrael, part I, p. 139).


As opposed to the confused thinking of those people, who sought to make themselves a name, as they spread over the whole earth, in their journey from "kedem" – "from the Ancient One (kadmono) of the world," as though not motivated by the heavenly infusion of blessing that is Divine, infinite, eternal, illuminating the world and all who dwell in it and sustaining them, but rather by constructing – from the bottom upwards – their earthly tower, limited and constrained; in contrast to the severance from heaven and from their supreme and faithful Source, in contrast to this came the standing at Mount Sinai, born of the (physically) lowly stance of "those borne on wings of eagles," the remembrance of the covenant forged with the ancient ones, called "adam" in the full sense of the image and form, this is parallel to the revelation in "light clouds" that aims directly at the Illumination of the Source of Life and Fortress of Salvation.  As opposed to the dullness of the atmosphere of that forgetful tower, that causes the Great Name and the Exalted Remembrance to be forgotten, blurs the clarity of man's true impression, and therefore the nations who had forgotten God were dispersed – the purity of the atmosphere and the cleansing of the spiritual filth of the standing at the mountain, with its fragrant delicacies and magnificent jewels, develops the viewing of the sounds and the hearing of the things, illuminates the Inspiration of the Great Name, which is called upon his chosen people; and fixes through it (the standing), and the there characteristic aspect of cleaving to the Divine Life, the power of remembering all His wondrous deeds and uniqueness of His being. (Ibid. 156-157).


Rav Tzvi Yehuda sees the standing at Mount Sinai as the rectification of the sin of the generation of schism.  The desire of the builders of the tower to make themselves a name is a diversion from and replacement of the making of a Name for God.  Bnei Yisrael standing at the foot of the mountain, in contrast, brought about (along with the removal of the pollution of idolatry from them) the negation of foreignness.  It is also interesting to note the contrasts between the stance of Bnei Yisrael "at the foot of the mountain" (Shemot 19:17) receiving the Torah and the climbing of the builders of the Tower to the heavens; also, between the air of the Tower that brings forgetfulness and the pure air of Sinai, which facilitated "seeing the sounds" [5].


We shall see, further on, that some of the prophets describe a future situation in which the mountain of God's House and the Temple will be in a very high place.  The significance of this change is that, in the time to come, there will be no disparity between the physical and spiritual reality.  The place that is physically highest will also be the most significant spiritually, and vice versa.  In this future reality the duality of the world will be erased, and Divine unity will be revealed.  Obviously, reality does not limit God in any way, but the actual situation of having the mountain of God's House at the head of the mountains will be the actualization of the prophecy, "God alone shall be exalted on that day" (Yishayahu 2:17).


C.  In the future, the mountains will be flattened, but Mount Zion will stand tall [6]


The vision of the "end of days" describes the mountain of God's House standing tall at the head of the mountains (Yishayahu 2:2; Mikha 4:1) – in contrast to the collapse of the other mountains, as described in several sources in Tanakh, e.g. "For behold, God shall emerge from His place and descend and tread upon the high places of the earth.  And the mountains shall melt under Him, and the valleys shall be split like wax before the fire, like water poured down a slope" (Mikha 1:3-4); "He stands and shakes the earth, He sees and causes the nations to tremble, and the everlasting mountains are shattered, the eternal hills bow, His ways are as of old" (Chavakuk 3:6); "He shall cause them to skip like a calf, Levanon and Siryon like a young ox" (Tehillim 29:6); "The mountains skipped like rams, the hills like young sheep" (Ibid. 114:4); "He Who moves mountains without them knowing, Who overturns them in His anger" (Iyov 9:5); see also Tehillim 46.  The fall of the mountains symbolizes the breaking of idolatry: God tackles the pagan worship of the gods of the nations.


Mount Zion, in contrast, will remain upright, and its exaltedness – as described in the prophecy in Yishayahu 2 – therefore arises from the lowering of the other, pagan mountains by God, Who dwells on Zion.  Similar descriptions of the stable, upright position of God's mountain appear elsewhere, too: "A song of ascents: Those who trust in God are like Mount Zion, which will not be removed; it shall remain forever" (Tehillim 125:1).


Since God's mountain will not be toppled, Jerusalem – which sits atop it – will likewise remain, unlike the other cities that are built on mountains.  Thus, we read in the Book of Yoel: "You shall know that I am the Lord your God, Who dwells in Zion, My holy mountain; and Jerusalem shall be holy, and strangers shall no longer pass through it… Egypt shall be desolate, and Edom shall be a desolate wilderness… but Yehuda shall remain forever, and Jerusalem – for all generations" (Yoel 4:17-20), and in the Book of Zekharya: "On that day God shall defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem' (Zekharya 12:8); "People shall dwell in it and it shall no longer be utter destruction; and Jerusalem shall dwell secure" (Ibid. 14:11).


In summary: the description of the future reality points to a clear contrast between the mountains, which will be flattened as part of the Divine war against idolatry, and Mount Zion, which shall remain upright and shall not be removed.  This contrast expresses the eternity of the place of God's service, and the temporariness of the places of idolatry.


D.  In the future, the Temple will rest in a high place


From the words of the prophets a clear picture arises of the future Temple dwelling in a high place, as part of the central place that it will occupy as the earthly home of the Divine Presence, with its greatness and power.  Thus, for example, we find at the beginning of the description of the Temple in Yechezkel: "In the visions of God He brought me to Eretz Yisrael, and set me down upon a very high mountain, and upon it something like the form of a city from the south" (Yechezkel 40:2).


In the vision of the end of days, which we discussed above, the prophet Yishayahu (as well as Mikha 4:1-3) describes the centrality of the Temple for all nations:


It shall be at the end of days that the mountain of God's House shall be established at the head of the mountains, and it shall rise up from among the hills, and all the nations shall flow to it.  And many peoples shall go and say, "Let us go and ascend to the mountain of God, to the House of the Lord of Yaakov, that He may teach us of His ways, and that we may walk in His paths, for Torah shall emerge from Zion and the word of God from Jerusalem" (Yishayahu 2:2-3).


Many of the commentators understand the expressions "at the head of the mountains" and "rising up from the hills" as referring to the spiritual, moral status of the mountain of God's House, as a central place whose supremacy and importance will be universally recognized, and to which everyone will ascend for judgment.  However, from the latter part of the same chapter it seems that we should not rule out the interpretation that focuses on the physical aspect:


For the day for the Lord of Hosts shall be upon all who are proud and lofty, and upon everyone who is lifted up, that he may be brought down, and upon all the tall, exalted cedars of Lebanon, and upon all the oaks of the Bashan, and upon all the tall mountains, and upon all the exalted hills, and upon every tall tower and every fortified wall and all the ships of Tarshish, and upon all beautiful craftsmanship.  And the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of man brought low, and God alone shall be exalted on that day, and the idols shall be utterly destroyed" (Yishayahu 2:12-18).


The prophet clearly connects physical height and spiritual importance, and therefore it would seem that we should understand the first part of the prophecy in a similar light. The mountain of God's House will be established in height, at the head of the mountains, in the physical sense, too.


In light of this, we should consider the possibility that the splitting of the Mount of Olives, in Zekharya's vision of the end of days (Zekharya 14:4), will also cause Mount Moriah to be raised, and from this high place the living waters will emerge to the "Sea of the East" (the Dead Sea) and to the "Last Sea" (the Mediterranean) (Ibid. 8) [7].


We shall conclude this section with the words of the Tosefta in Berakhot (1,15) which connects the Destruction with lowliness and the return of the Divine Presence with height:


Similarly, "His Tabernacle shall be in Shalem, and His dwelling place in Zion" (Tehillim 76:3): why does the text refer to it [Jerusalem] again by its former name? It is written, "This city has been a provocation of My anger and My fury" (Yirmiyahu 32:31) – perhaps now, too, the city is a source of anger and fury to God? Therefore we learn, "The mountain that God desired as His dwelling place' (Tehillim 68:17).  Hence, it is beloved and desired – meaning that God has made atonement for its destruction.  How do we know that the Divine Presence will not return to it until it becomes a mountain? We learn, "His Tabernacle shall be in Shalem, and His dwelling place in Zion."  When it is complete and whole ("shalem"), it is called "mountain," hence the Divine Presence returns to its midst only when it becomes a mountain, as it is written, "Avraham called the name of the place Hashem Yir'eh, of which it shall be said this day upon the mountain God sees" (Bereishit 22:14), and it says "Remember, God, to the children of Edom the day of Jerusalem" (Tehillim 137:7).  When is this? When they uproot its foundations from it: "Who say, raze it, raze it to its foundations" (Ibid.).


In the next shiur we shall return to the dwelling of the Divine Presence in the portion of Biniyamin. We shall examine the proofs for this assertion, and the significance of the parallel between Beit-El and Jerusalem.



[1] This issue is discussed at length by Rav E.Samet in his Studies on the Weekly Portion, Jerusalem 5762, pp. 21-30 [Hebrew].

[2] It is not our intention here to discuss the substance of the story of the Tower of Bavel.  We mention only a few aspects that relate this story to the Temple.

[3] From the summary of the story by Yehuda Keel, Da'at Mikra, p. 292 [Hebrew].

[4] By Rabbi Mordekhai Yosef of Izbitzche, Warsaw 5650.

[5] There is considerable room for elaboration as to the relationship between Mount Sinai and Mount Moriah in the matter under discussion, but we shall not be able to address this in the framework of the present shiur.

[6] Nachum Avraham addresses this topic in his article, "The Development of the Motif of Jerusalem, the Eternal City, in Biblical Literature," Al Ha-Perek 10, 5756, pp. 7-14.  The article also brings together several sources related to our discussion, some of which are quoted above.

[7] This may be viewed as a return of the future reality to the primal reality of Creation, for the Garden of Eden was in a high place, and rivers emerged from it to irrigate the world.


Translated by Kaeren Fish