Introduction: The Essence of Jerusalem -Summary of Last Year's Lessons

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Jerusalem in the Bible
Yeshivat Har Etzion

IntroductioN: THe essence of Jerusalem

Summary of Last year's lessons

Rav Yitzchak Levi




            Last year, we dealt with various aspects of the essence of the city of Jerusalem: Jerusalem in the Torah, the topography of the city, the portion of Binyamin as the portion of the Shekhina, and the city in the period of the conquest and settlement. We concluded our lessons with an introduction to Jerusalem during the days of David, which dealt with the selection of Jerusalem and the Temple and the selection of the Davidic monarchy. This year we intend to deal in detail with the days of David, Shelomo, and Chizkiyahu, with the background to the destruction of the city and the Temple, and with the period of the return to Zion.


            I view this year's lessons as a continuation of last year's course, not only in the chronological and technical sense, but also in the essential sense: the history of Jerusalem over the course of the generations as a revelation of its essence alluded to in the Torah. Anyone joining the course this year and interested in a more profound understanding of the connection between the essence of the city in the Torah and its historical manifestation is advised to examine last year's lessons. At the very least, he or she should study the last four lessons, as well as the summation lecture, in order to understand the chapters dealing with David and Shelomo, with which we shall open this year's course.


            In this lesson, I wish to give a brief overview of the topics with which we dealt last year, and our main conclusions. This overview does not substitute for a deeper study of these issues, but it will allow for a basic understanding of the topics and provide important background for the understanding of the history of the city and its essence as they have manifested themselves from the days of David on.


A.                The Road to Jerusalem in the Torah


Upon entering the land, Avraham camped in Shekhem, then between Beit-El and Ai, and then in Hebron – and only in the end did he arrive in Jerusalem. When he returned from Charan, Yaakov Avinu also passed through Shekhem, Beit-El and Hebron. So too when the people of Israel entered the land, they passed by way of Mount Eival (Shekhem), Ai and then Hebron. I claimed that each of these cities has a spiritual essence, and thus the order of the entire process has spiritual meaning, in the sense of the principle that "the actions of the forefathers are a sign for the children."


We are dealing here with two routes: Shekhem-Beit-El on the one hand, and Hebron-Jerusalem on the other, and both reach the borders of the territory of Binyamin: Beit-El in the north and Jerusalem in the south. The northern route is the natural route; it passes through the land of Yosef, which expresses the primacy of the sanctity of the land and its "firstness." The southern route adds the selective path that passes through the territory of Yehuda, the tribe that expresses permanent possession of the land and the monarchy.


Shekhem is the firstborn city of the land and its northern gateway, and like every gate it has an inside and an outside, a curse and a blessing – and the choice between them. In Shekhem there is the primal encounter with the firstborn, natural and material dimensions of the land, and there the foreign gods are removed before arriving in Beit-El, the sanctuary of the Patriarchs, a more internal city. Thus there are two stations in the territory of Yosef: Shekhem – the first and external, and Beit-El – the second and internal.


Hebron, the place of permanent possession of the land, serves as the seat of earthly monarchy. It leads to Jerusalem, which connects the earthly kingdom and the kingdom of God, Yehuda and Binyamin, monarchy and selection with sanctity and "firstbornness." As part of the territory of Binyamin, Jerusalem unites Yosef and Yehuda, Mashi'ach ben Yosef and Mashi'ach ben David, Shekhem and Hebron. Beit-El in the north and Jerusalem in the south are the borders of the territory of Binyamin, the territory of the Shekhina.


B.                 Why is Jerusalem not Mentioned in the Torah by Name?


The Rambam relates primarily to the dimension of unity as a condition for reaching the city, and explains that the Torah's concealment of the identity of "the place that God will choose" prevented controversy among the tribes. The Sifrei emphasizes the idea of search and seeking as a necessary condition for the revelation of the place by the people of Israel. The Radak adds that the place will only be captured by one who will be king over all of Israel. These three explanations epitomize the essence of Jerusalem: the search and seeking, the unity of all of Israel and the joining of the earthly kingdom with the kingdom of God.


C.                  Avram's Encounter with the King of Sodom and Malki-tzedek and Jerusalem as the City of Justice


In the wake of his victory over the four kings, Avram met, apparently in the vicinity of Jerusalem, with two kings who conduct themselves in diametrically contrary manners: Malki-Tzedek, who owes Avram nothing, but nevertheless greets him with bread and wine and blesses him over his victory; and the King of Sodom, who owes everything to Avram – people and goods – but nevertheless not only does he show him no gratitude, but he demands the captives.


Avram chooses to join himself to the righteousness of Malki-Tzedek, King of ShalemJerusalem – and reject the ingratitude of the King of Sodom. Thus the nature of Jerusalem is clarified, both as a city of justice and as the seat of monarchy, where the kings wished to crown Avram as their king.


The names of several kings of JerusalemMalki-Tzedek, Adoni-Tzedek, and Tzidkiyahu – include the word tzedek, "justice," because that is one of the names of the city and its essence. This is the reason that the first prophecy regarding the destruction of the city associates the decree with the moral corruption of the various ruling institutions: Jerusalem corrupts its ways like Sodom, its opposite.


Justice characterizes both the city and the Temple. This has many expressions: the connection between the Sanhedrin and the Mikdash; the status of the kohanim as judges; Jerusalem and the house of God as a hall of justice in the end of days; justice is a condition for nearness to God.


Thus, Jerusalem is established as a city of justice and monarchy: the monarchy is the ruling framework, and justice is the inner spiritual content of this framework. Thus there is significance in the connection between justice and monarchy in the kingdom of God, and in its wake also in the kingdom of flesh and blood. And indeed, it is in Jerusalem that the place of the Temple the place of God's kingdom on earth - unites with the place of the kingdom of man and the Sanhedrin.


D.                 Mount Moriah


Chazal offered many explanations of the name "Moriah": The place from which teaching/direction (hora'a) emanated to the world (an interpretation that points to the important connection between the Torah and the Temple); the place from which fear (yir'a) of God emanated to the world; the place that God will show (mar'eh) you.


For our purposes, however, the primary meaning is found in the story of the Akeida (the binding of Yitzchak), which intimates that the place of the Akeida will be the future site of the Temple. The story of the Akeida parallels the story of David's revelation of the site of the Temple in the threshing floor of Aravna the Yevusi and the story of the revelation to Yaakov at Beit-El, and it also alludes to the connection between Mount Moriah and Mount Sinai.


Here too we find an allusion to the difference between the natural Mikdash of the forefathers at Beit-El and the chosen Mikdash of their descendants at Mount Moriah. At the Akeida, God emphasizes that it is He who chooses the sacrifice and also the place of the offering. This is the significance of calling the place "God will see," in the sense of "God will choose." This designation clarifies the importance of the first sacrifice offered on the altar on Mount Moriah, which followed from the readiness for total self-sacrifice.


E.         The Name Jerusalem


Chazal see the name Jerusalem (Yerushalayim) as a combination of two qualities: the quality of fear (yir'a), as it was called by Avraham, and the quality of perfection (shalem), as it was called by Malki-Tzedek. The combination of these two dimensions gives expression to the perfection of Jerusalem – fear and perfection, and therefore the name Jerusalem has a keri and a ketiv – a way that the word is written and a way that it is read – that express the fact that the two aspects of the city are essentially one.


Many meanings have been attached to the combination of these two dimensions of Jerusalem. We have placed primary emphasis on the connection between the city of Justice and earthly kingdom, as was revealed in the meeting between Avram and Malki-Tzedek, and the city of fear and Divine kingdom – the place of the Temple, as was made manifest at the Akeida.


F.         "The Place that God will Choose"


Jerusalem is the only place that is chosen by God through a prophet. Throughout the book of Devarim, the future selection of the city is alluded to by the special formula, "The place that God will choose." In a certain sense, it may be argued that at the Akeida the special quality of the place was revealed (and so also through the creation of the world from that place, as stated by Chazal), but the choosing of the place occurs only after David's royal choosing of the city, following the unification of all the tribes and the establishment of the kingdom of Israel over them.


G.                  The Topography of Ancient Jerusalem


The borders of ancient Jerusalem were determined by three principal wadis: the Kidron in the east, the middle wadi in the west, and the Hinnom Valley in the south-west. We examined the factors favoring selection of the city, and concluded that David chose the city despite its topographic conditions. While the city is close to a source of water (the Gichon spring), and in great measure it controls the surrounding areas (with the exception of its northern exposure), it is not situated on the main highway, nor does it have agricultural areas in close proximity.


            we dealt with the various stages of the city's development and the halakhic and spiritual significance of its expansion. The city's unique proximity to the desert, in comparison to the surrounding regions, greatly emphasizes its dependence on rain – i.e., on God – and connects with the clear demand for justice in the city.


            In the future, on the other hand, fresh water will issue forth from Jerusalem and the Temple, irrigate the desert, and restore it to life. In this sense, the Garden of Eden – which Chazal identified with Mount Moriah – will spread out once again into the desert (as is stated in Yechezkel 47). Thus the unity of the world will be revealed. It will become clear that even the desert, which is far away from the Temple, draws its vitality from it; the duality will disappear, and the unity of God will become manifest; "The Lord shall be king over all the earth; on that day the Lord shall be One, and His name One" (Zekharya 14:9).


H.                The Inheritance of Binyamin – Portion of the Shekhina


The Shekhina clearly rests on Binyamin, and the borders of its territory constitute the shoulders between which God dwells.


The portion of Binyamin is lower in altitude in comparison to the portion of Ephraim to its north and the portion of Yehuda to its south. Jerusalem in particular is situated in one of the lower regions of the portion of Binyamin, and God chooses to dwell within it both on account of His humility and because His revelation is not limited by the low area – as opposed to idol worshippers, who only worship their gods in a high place. Only in the future "shall the mountain of the Lord's house be established on the top of the mountains" (Yeshayahu 2:2 and on), and will it be revealed to all that the highest topographical point is also the most important spiritual point. Thus the sin of the Tower of Bavel will be repaired: there the people wished to build a tower, whose top reached the heaven, in order to make a name for themselves, whereas the royal city, crowned by the Temple, is meant to cause the name of God to rest in the world.


There are many proofs that the inheritance of Binyamin is the portion of the Shekhina: the many holy places found therein; Shemuel and David's search for the site of the Temple in the territory of Binyamin (Zevachim 54b); Binyamin's portion in Eretz Yisrael replaces the tribe of Levi around the Mishkan. Chazal offer various explanations for the resting of the Shekhina in Binyamin – because of his humility and because he was born in Eretz Yisrael. In our humble opinion, however, the primary reason is Binyamin's unique ability to unite and join the two great forces in the nation Yosef and Yehuda. Thus, all of the tribes united when Binyamin arrived in Egypt, and thus Binyamin's portion in Eretz Yisrael is situated between Yosef (Ephraim) and Yehuda – between Mashi'ach ben Yosef and Mashi'ach ben David. The connection between Binyamin and Yehuda revealed itself in the guarantee that Yehuda gave for Binyamin's well-being in Egypt; in the guarantee that David, member of the Tribe of Yehuda, gave to King Shaul, member of the Tribe of Binyamin, during the battle at Emek ha-Ela; and in Binyamin's joining up with Yehuda when the kingdom became divided during the days of Rechavam.


It should be noted that while according to the plain meaning of Scripture, the city and the Temple are located in the portion of Binyamin, according to Chazal, Yehuda also had a hold on the Temple Mount, which teaches that earthly kingdom cannot be severed from the Temple.


I.                Status of Jerusalem During the Period of Conquest and Settlement


It is very interesting that the Israelite settlement of Jerusalem only began in the days of David, more than 400 years after the people of Israel had entered the land. This fact alludes to the high level of Jerusalem, which may only be reached after national and spiritual maturation.


Chazal explain that the Israelites failed to conquer Jerusalem until the days of David, either because of Avraham's promise to Avimelekh or his promise to the sons of Chet. According to the plain sense of Scripture, Jerusalem seems to have been well fortified (as has been demonstrated by archeological excavations) and difficult to conquer (as may be inferred from the reward promised by David to anyone who succeeds in conquering the city).


J.                   The Selection of Jerusalem and the Temple – Background for the Period of David


There were three stages to the selection of the city and the Temple. The first – human-royal selection of the city following David's installment as king over all of Israel in Hebron; the second – Divine selection of the place of the Temple (appearance of the angel in the threshing floor of Aravna the Yevusi); and the third – Divine selection of all of Jerusalem – the city and in it the Temple – in the days of Shelomo.


The first stage is achieved through the power of the David's kingship over all of Israel and his desire to unite the tribes in general, and the tribes of Yehuda and Binyamin in particular: two highly competitive tribes at the time, representing, respectively, the descendants of Rachel and Leah. For now, David left the threshing floor in the hands of Aravna, the Yevusi king.


Afterwards, David wanted to make the city of Jerusalem the place of the Temple. For that purpose, he brings the Ark to the city of David and seeks permission to build the Temple. After he is told that he will not be able to build the Temple, he does whatever he can possibly do for the sake of the construction: he searches for the site; he finds it, after having been prepared to pay for it with his life; he builds the altar; he prepares the plans, the materials, the workmen, and even the mishmarot and ma'amadot that will serve in the Temple after its construction. The only thing that David fails to do is the actual building, which had been forbidden to him.


During the second stage, God chooses the site of the Temple, both by way of the prophet Gad who points to the place of the altar in the threshing floor of Aravna the Yevusi, and by way of the fire that descends from heaven and consumes the sacrifice that David offered on the altar in the threshing floor.


The third stage only takes place in the days of Shelomo, when the Temple was already standing in the heart of the city. At that point, God chooses the entire city of Jerusalem, as a city that joins the place of God's kingdom, the Temple, and the place of the earthly kingdom, the city of Jerusalem.


This process of selection parallels the allusions to the selection of Jerusalem in the Torah: David's arrival in the city and his selection of it "from below" by virtue of the unity and the kingship parallels Avram's meeting with Malki-Tzedek, King of Shalem, when the kings wanted to install Avram as king over them; and God's selection of the Temple parallels the Akeida with respect to the revelation of the place and its purpose.


            This process also parallels the return to Jerusalem in our generation, both with respect to the long period of time that passed before the Zionist movement reached Jerusalem, and with respect to the return to the entire city by virtue of the wonderful unity that revealed itself during the Six-Day War, and the leaving of the place of the Temple in the hands of the present-day Aravna the Yevusi – the Muslim Wakf. Today we are standing at the foot of the mountain, and in order to return to the mountain itself, we need unity and total dedication, the likes of which were found in the days of David.


            The selection of Jerusalem and the Davidic house is an eternal selection, both conceptually and halakhically. The selection of the city and the selection of the king are parallel processes that attest to the Divine selection of the Davidic monarchy and the city of Jerusalem as two sides of the same coin, joining the kingdom of flesh and blood to the kingdom of God.


K.                  Summary


In all of our shiurim, we tried to demonstrate that the essence of Jerusalem is the connection between the place of earthly kingdom and the place of the kingdom of God. The name of the city joins Avram's connection to the city in his meeting with Malki-Tzedek and the Akeida. David chooses the city as the place to join the Tribe of Yehuda, which was responsible for the kingdom of flesh and blood, with the Tribe of Binyamin, the tribe that was chosen as the portion of the Shekhina, in which Jerusalem and the Temple are found. Shelomo expresses this connection when he builds the king's house above the city and at the foot of God's house. So too we saw also in the words of Rav Kook, who connects the name Zion to kingdom, and the name Jerusalem to the Temple. So too regarding the understanding of the overall process of the road to Jerusalem: from Shekhem to Beit-El – a natural process of the sanctity of the land, that is revealed through the Patriarchs; and from Hebron to Jerusalem – a process of kingship, that is revealed through their descendants.


In this sense, there are two selections: the selection of the city "from below" through David by virtue of the unity among the tribes and by virtue of the kingdom of David over all of Israel, and the selection of the city and the Temple as a single unit in the days of Shelomo through God. We pointed out the significance of the famous dictum, "The actions of the forefathers are a sign for the children," in the context of the allusions to the essence of Jerusalem in the Torah and their fulfillment in the days of David and Shelomo.


We related to the connection between topography and spiritual meaning: the low altitude of the territory of Binyamin in general and that of the city of Jerusalem in particular, between the two neighboring portions, Ephraim in the north and Yehuda in the south: Mashi'ach ben Yosef and Mashi'ach ben David, and Jerusalem in between them.


We also discussed the significance of Jerusalem's proximity to the desert, both with respect to the direct dependence upon God, which stands out in a place which requires full observance of justice, and with respect to the possibility that in the future Jerusalem would repair the desert with living water issuing forth from it, which will turn the desert into a paradise that receives its vitality from the Temple.


And finally, we tried to show the connection between the essence of Jerusalem and the road leading to the city and our own period, especially with respect to the relationship between the stage of kingdom and unity and the revelation of holiness.




We have briefly surveyed that which had been discussed at length last year. In the next shiur we will begin our analysis of Jerusalem in the days of David, beginning with David's capture of the city.


(Translated by David Strauss)


Last year's shiurim can be found on our website at: