Lecture 46: The History of the Resting of the Shekhina - The Territory of Binyamin - The Territory of the Shekhina (Part I)

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy






            In the upcoming lectures, we will discuss the blessing that Moshe gave to Binyamin and analyze the significance of the fact that the territory of Binyamin is the territory of the Shekhina. We will begin with an analysis of the blessing itself, and especially the term "his shoulders," and then move on to the various meanings of resting the Shekhina in a low place. This lecture will complete our analysis of the topographical dimension of Jerusalem, focusing on its spiritual significance.





            In this lecture, we will explain the meaning of Moshe's blessing to Binyamin:





And of Binyamin he said, "The beloved of the Lord, he shall dwell in safety by Him; He shall cover him all the day long, and He shall dwell between his shoulders." (Devarim 33:12)





            In this blessing, Torah for the first time connects the resting of the Shekhina to a particular place in Eretz Yisrael – the tribal territory of Binyamin. Below, we will attempt to understand the location appearing in the blessing and its meaning. Why was the tribal territory of Binyamin chosen to serve as the territory of the Shekhina? How does this find expression? And what are its consequences?[1]










1)        The Order of the Tribes in Moshe’s Blessings and Binyamin’s Place in that Order





Parashat Ve-Zot Ha-Berakha (Devarim 33) records the blessings that Moshe gave each of the tribes shortly before his death. In order to understand the blessing given to Binyamin, we must first examine the order in which the tribes received their blessings: Reuven, Yehuda, Levi, Binyamin, Yosef, Zevulun and Yissakhar, Gad, Dan, Naftali, Asher (Shimon is missing).[2]





The last four tribes are the sons of the maidservants, and geographically they are located on the fringes of Eretz Yisrael (on the east bank of the Jordan and in the north). Zevulun and Yissakhar are Leah's last two children, and geographically their territory is in the north. The tribes whose place in the order requires explanation are therefore the first five tribes – Reuven, Yehuda, Levi, Binyamin and Yosef – for no single criterion accounts for this order. It seems to be some kind of a combination of their birth order and the geographical location of their tribal territories.





We understand why Reuven is first, for he is the firstborn of both Ya'akov and Leah. As noted above, Scripture skips over Shimon, which is certainly connected to Ya'akov's blessing.[3] What remains to be explained is the order of the other four tribes: Yehuda, the leader who is destined for the monarchy and is blessed after Reuven; after him Levi and Binyamin; and after them Yosef.





This order seems to have a chiastic structure. At the two ends we find the two main forces in the people of Israel at that time and for all generations: Yehuda, who is destined for the monarchy among the sons of Leah, and Yosef – Rachel's firstborn, the viceroy of Egypt, who merits a double portion in Eretz Yisrael (the tribal territories of Efrayim and Menashe). In the middle, between Yehuda and Yosef, are found Levi and Binyamin. Indeed, geographically speaking, the territory of Binyamin is found between the territory of Yosef (the territory of Efrayim, to be more precise) in the north and the territory of Yehuda in the south, and the tribe of Levi has no territory in Eretz Yisrael, God being his inheritance, because he served in the Mishkan (see Devarim 10:9; 18:2).





A question, however, still remains: Why is Binyamin, Rachel's younger son, blessed immediately after Levi, and thus before Yosef, her firstborn? The commentators discuss the issue, with Rashi writing as follows:





Because the blessing given to Levi referred to the sacrificial service and that of Binyamin to the Temple being built in his territory, he mentioned one after the other. He placed Yosef immediately after him, for he too had a sanctuary in his territory: the tabernacle at Shilo was erected in his territory, as it is stated: "And he rejected the tabernacle of Yosef" (Tehillim 78:67). Because the permanent Temple was more endeared to God than the tabernacle at Shilo, therefore he mentions Binyamin before Yosef. (Rashi, ad loc., s.v. le-Binyamin amar)





            According to Rashi, the fact that Yosef and Binyamin follow one after the other does not stem from their both being the sons of Rachel, but rather from the common denominator of these three tribes – that is, the resting of the Shekhina in their territories. Blessings were first given one after the other to Levi, who served in the Mikdash, and to Binyamin, in whose territory the Mikdash was built;[4] only afterwards was a blessing given to Yosef, in whose territory the Mishkan of Shilo stood, which was less dear to God than the permanent Mikdash.





            The Ibn Ezra (cited in note 2) explains that the blessings of Levi and Binyamin follow one after the other "because the Levites live in Jerusalem, which is between Yehuda and Binyamin." According to this approach, Levi and Binyamin follow one after the other not only because of what they shared regarding the resting of the Shekhina, but also because of their geographical proximity.





            2)         The Content of the Blessing





The wording of the blessing given to Binyamin raises several questions: Who is "the beloved of the Lord?" Who is the subject of the entire verse? What is the meaning of "he shall dwell in safety by Him" and "He shall cover him?" What is meant by "He shall dwell between his shoulders?" We will try, with the help of the commentators, to answer these questions.





According to the simple understanding, Binyamin himself is the beloved of the Lord. The Ramban, however, proposes the novel explanation that "the beloved of the Lord shall dwell over Binyamin," the reference being to God.[5]





The subject of the verse and its interpretation depend on the question who "the beloved" is. If the beloved is Binyamin, then the verse means that Binyamin shall dwell with God and that God shall cover him all the time and rest His Shekhina in his territory. According to the second understanding, the verse means that God shall dwell with Binyamin.





The words "chofef" and "shakhen" are clearly connected to the resting of the Shekhina. The word "chofef" alludes to the canopy (chupa) of glory. See, for example, Yeshayahu 4:5: "And the Lord will create upon every dwelling place of Mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for upon all the glory shall there be a canopy." The Ramban in his commentary argues that the words, "yishkon," "chofef," and "shakhen," allude to the three Temples:





He says regarding the first Temple, "He shall dwell in safety by him"… And regarding the second Temple, he says, "He shall cover him all the day long," for the Shekhina did not rest in it, but only covered and protected it [following Rashi's understanding that "chofef" refers to covering and protection], or else actual covering. "And He shall dwell between his shoulders" refers to the days of the Messiah…





            Rabbenu Bachye summarizes the matter, arguing that the blessing of Binyamin is "in honor of his elevated status, that he is host to the Shekhina… And we learn from all this that no other tribe is as blessed as Binyamin with the resting of the Shekhina, and with elevated status and with merit, and that he is superior to all the rest of his brothers."[6] In any event, what follows from here is the connection between the resting of the Shekhina and Binyamin.





            Regarding the words, "He shall cover him all the day long," Rashi cites the words of the Mekhilta: "From the day that Jerusalem was chosen [as the seat of the Temple], the Shekhina never dwelt anywhere else."










I wish now to shift our attention to the words, "And He shall dwell between his shoulders." Of course, our identification of the "dweller" and the owner of the shoulders will depend upon our understanding of the subject of the verse, as was discussed above. Let us open the discussion with the explanation of the Chizkuni:





"And between his shoulders" – his borders, as in "the eastward border (katef) of the Sea of Kinneret" (Bamidbar 34:11). "He shall dwell" – that is to say, Binyamin shall dwell between the borders of the Holy One, blessed be He; his territory is near the Temple.





            The Chizkuni's explanation is slightly difficult. At the beginning of his explanation, the shoulders are the borders of Binyamin's territory, but in the continuation, the borders are those of God.





            The Ibn Ezra also explains the term, "his shoulders," in the sense of border, but his explanation is slightly different: "And of Binyamin he said – For Binyamin, who is the beloved of the Lord, Binyamin shall dwell in safety by God, and God shall dwell between his shoulders."





            Indeed, of the nine instances where the word "katef" is used in a topographical sense, eight of them – to the exclusion of the example cited by the Chizkuni (Bamidbar 34:11) – appear in connection with the borders of the territory of Binyamin and the northern border of the tribe of Yehuda in the book of Yehoshua. Rav Yoel Elitzur assumes that the word "katef" is unique to this region.[7] According to him, the term was prevalent among the members of the tribe of Binyamin, and it was partially adopted by their neighbors in the northern region of Yehuda. According to this understanding, the blessing is given to Binyamin in a manner that expresses fondness for the tribe of Binyamin, with Moshe inserting an expression characteristic of the linguistic habits of that tribe.





            The topographical meaning of the word "katef" is an elevated plain with a steep slope; when used in this sense, the word is always accompanied by a notation of the direction. From the account of the borders of the territory of Binyamin, we see that there are:





        ·          Three shoulders along the northern border of the territory of Yehuda, the southern border of the territory of Binyamin (Yehoshua 15:8-11): the shoulder of the Yevusi to the south, which is Jerusalem; the shoulder of Mount Ye'arim to the north, which is Kesalon; and the shoulder of Ekron to the north.





        ·          Two shoulders along the northern border of the territory of Binyamin, the southern border of the territory of Efrayim (Yehoshua 18:12-13): the shoulder of Jericho to the north and the shoulder of Luz to the south, which is Bet-El.





        ·          Three shoulders along the southern border of the territory of Binyamin, which is the northern border of the territory of Yehuda (ibid. vv. 16-19): the shoulder of the Yevusi to the south; the shoulder over against the Arava to the north; the shoulder of Bet-Chogla to the north.





We shall not deal in this framework with the precise topographical identification of each of these shoulders, but clearly we are dealing with a tribal entity surrounded on all sides with shoulders that precisely define its borders: to the south – the shoulder of the Yevusi; to the south-west – the shoulder of Mount Ye'arim and the shoulder of Ekron; to the south-east – the shoulder over against the Arava and the shoulder of Bet-Chogla; to the north – the shoulder of Luz; to the north-east – the shoulder of Jericho.





We see, then, that according to this understanding, what Scripture means is that God chose to dwell between the clearly-defined borders of the entire territory of Binyamin, which is the territory of the Shekhina, and that the very selection of this territory and the resting of the Shekhina in it distinguishes the tribe of Binyamin from the rest of the tribes.





Rashi proposes another explanation of the words in question:





"And He shall dwell between his shoulders" – The Temple was built on the highest spot of his [Binyamin's] land, except that it was twenty-three cubits lower than Ein-Eitam, and originally, indeed, David's intention was to build it there, as it is stated in [chapter] Shechitat Kodshim (Zevachim 54b): People said to him, Let us place it a little lower, because it states: "And between his shoulders [which are lower than the head] shall He dwell" – and you have no finer part of an ox than his shoulders.[8]





            Rabbenu Bachye (ad loc.) expands upon this explanation in the same direction:





The reason [that he said] "between his shoulders," and he did not say "on his head" – because the Temple is not actually on the highest point of the mountain, but rather a little bit lower…





            According to the understanding of Rashi and Rabbenu Bachye, the words "between his shoulders" refer not to the territory of Binyamin in its entirety, but rather to the site of the Temple, which is not built on the highest point on the mountain, but rather at a lower point "between the shoulders;" at most, it is a reference to the city of Jerusalem (see Rashi, s.v. kol ha-yom).





            In similar fashion, the Abravanel (ad loc.) writes: "Therefore the providence of God and His blessing will always be upon Jerusalem. As it is stated: 'And My eyes and My heart shall be there perpetually' (I Melakhim 9:3)." This wording implies that the verse is dealing with Jerusalem itself.





            It may be summarized, then, that, geographically speaking, the words, "He shall dwell between his shoulders," may refer to one of three regions: the entire tribal territory of Binyamin, Jerusalem, or the Temple. Regarding each of these areas, we must clarify what "the shoulders" are.[9]





            Regarding the entire tribal territory, we already demonstrated above that it is possible to relate to the shoulders as the borders of the territory, and we noted that topographically the term "shoulder" refers to a precisely defined area: an elevated plain with a steep slope. To this we should add the more general observation that the regions surrounding the tribal territory of Binyamin are higher than the territory itself (to the north and to the south). That is to say, the territory of Binyamin as a whole is lower than the territory of Efrayim to its north and the territory of Yehuda to its south.[10]





            With respect to Jerusalem and the Mikdash, the shoulders are the mountains that surround Jerusalem: to the east and to the north – the Mount of Olives and Mount Scopus; to the west - the western hill (the area of Mount Zion and today's Jewish and Armenian quarters); and further west – the area of Mishkenot Sha'ananim.





            Since the mountains and hills surrounding the Temple and the city are higher than they are themselves, the Temple protrudes between the shoulders that stand out around it, like a head that protrudes from between the shoulders. Rashi (cited above) and other Rishonim cite the words of the gemara (Zevachim 54b), which explains the slightly lower altitude of the Mikdash based on the verse that is the focus of this discussion:





Rava expounded: What is meant by that which is written: "And he [David] and Shmuel went and dwelt in Nayot… in Rama" (I Shmuel 19:18)? What is Nayot doing next to Rama? Rather, they were sitting in Rama and occupied with the beauty (noy) of the world. They said: It is written: "Then you shall arise, and go up to the place" (Devarim 17:8), teaching that the Temple is higher than all of Eretz Yisrael, and Eretz Yisrael is higher than all the countries. They didn't know where it was, [so] they brought out the book of Yehoshua. Regarding all of them it is written, "it went down," "the border went up," "the border descended." Regarding Binyamin, it is written, "it went up," but it is not written, "it went down." They said: Infer from this that here is its [the Temple's] place. They thought to build it at Ein-Eitam, which was high. They said: Let us place it a little lower, as it is stated: "And between his shoulders [which are lower than the head] shall He dwell" (Devarim 33:12).





            The words of the gemara accord with the words of the Sifrei (Devarim, sec. 354): "Just as an ox has no finer part than its shoulders, so, too, the Temple is higher and finer than the rest of the world." That is to say, an ox's shoulders are its highest part, and its head protrudes from between them, and so too the Temple.










Now that we have seen that God chose to rest His Shekhina in the territory of Binyamin, and we have identified its topographical uniqueness, I wish to examine the spiritual significance of the low elevation of the city and the Temple in relation to the hills and mountains that surround them.





The following three issues were discussed at length in last year's lecture series,[11] and here I wish to briefly summarize our main conclusions.





The Location of Jerusalem





            We suggested three main ways how to understand the relatively low elevation of Jerusalem:





1)              The relative lowness of the city expresses its vulnerability and its dependence upon God, and magnifies God's revelation in it.





2)              The relative lowness of the city symbolizes God's modesty and humility.





3)              The city's relative lowness expresses the fact that "there is no place void of Him." That is to say, no place is void of the presence of God. Even a low place, and perhaps precisely a low place, highlights this point.





The Location of the Temple





            In last year's lecture, we suggested the possibility that the Temple's relatively low elevation is meant to repair the sin committed by the builders of the tower of Babel. For there seems to be a similarity between the two structures: both structures were built to make "a name." But while the tower-builders' intention was to make a name for themselves, the objective of the Mikdash is to make a name for God. The location of the two structures emphasizes the reverse parallelism: while in both cases there is a high tower, the first was built at the top of a mountain, whereas the second was built in a relatively low place. This point emphasizes the fundamental difference between the two structures.










Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook[12] views the revelation at Mount Sinai as a repair of the sin committed by the builders of the tower of Babel. The tower-builders' desire to make a name for themselves made them forget to make a name for God, whereas the people of Israel's standing at the foot of Mount Sinai led to the negation of their foreignness. The people of Israel stand at the foot of the mountain, whereas the tower-builders stand at its top, and with its help they wish to climb up to heaven.





In the Future Jerusalem and the Mikdash Will Be in a High Place





            In this section, we tried to demonstrate that in the future, the mountains will collapse, but Mount Zion will remain set and stable. We saw that various prophecies relate to the future when the mountain of the house of God and the Mikdash will be in a very high place. The significance of this difference is that in the future there will be no gap between spiritual and physical reality: the physically elevated place will also be the most important spiritual place, and vice versa. In the future, there will no longer be duality in the world, and the unity of God will become manifest to all.





(Translated by David Strauss)






[1] Cassuto connects this verse to the Temple in Bet-El in his article, "Yerushalayim Ba-Torah, in Eretz Yisrael III (5714), p. 17.

[2] Here is the gist of the words of the Ibn Ezra (Devarim 33:6) (which deserve closer examination) regarding the order of the tribes: "He started with the firstborn, for that is proper. And he didn't mention Shimon because of [the sin involving] Ba'al Pe'or… And out of respect to Aharon, his tribe hung from him… And after Reuven, he mentioned Yehuda, who had a banner… And afterwards Levi, and after him Binyamin, because the Levites lived in Jerusalem, which was between Yehuda and Binyamin… And afterwards Yosef, so that he not delay him after having already mentioned his younger brother. And afterwards Zevulun… And afterwards Yissakhar… And when the sons of the wives came to an end, he began with Gad, who was part of the banner of the sons of the wives…"

Rabbenu Bachye (ad loc.) also relates to the order: "Reuven… since he was the firstborn, therefore he applied to him in his blessing the law of the firstborn. And Yehuda was the first one after him, because he was the first to take possession in the land… And after Yehuda he blessed the sons of Levi, because they camped in Jerusalem together with the sons of Yehuda. And after the sons of Levi, he blessed Binyamin, whose inheritance was together with the sons of Yehuda, and the city of Jerusalem and the Temple were between Yehuda and Binyamin, and the Levites camped with both of them. And after Binyamin there was Yosef, so that he not delay him…."

Shadal offers a different explanation of the order of the tribes, but we will not expand upon it in this framework.

[3] "Shimon and Levi are brothers; instruments of cruelty are their swords. Let my soul not come into their council; to their assembly let my honor not be united. For in their anger they slew a man, and in their selfwill they lamed an ox. Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce, and their wrath, for it was cruel. I will divide them in Yaakov, and scatter them in Israel" (Bereishit 49:5-7). Levi repaired his sin through his conduct in the aftermath of the sin of the golden calf, and therefore his dispersion was in holiness, in the levitical cities. Levi's fate stands in opposition to that of Shimon, who was swallowed up in the tribe of Yehuda, but this is not the forum in which to expand upon the matter.

[4] So writes Ri Bechor Shor (ad loc.): "Since the sons of Levi served in the Mikdash, which was in Binyamin's portion, the blessing of Binyamin immediately follows upon the blessing of Levi." And similarly the Chizkuni (ad loc.): "Because Levi's work was in the Temple, which was in the portion of Binyamin."

[5] In Yeshayanu 5:1, the term "yedid" ("beloved") refers to God, and so is it explicitly stated in the Sifrei (ad loc.).

[6] The Sifrei (Devarim 352; see also Menachot 53a) connects various instances of the word "yedid:" "Six are called 'beloved.' The Holy One, blessed be He, is called 'beloved,' as it is stated (Yeshayahu 5:1): "Now will I sing to my beloved.' Binyamin is called 'beloved,' as it is stated (Devarim 33:12): 'The beloved of the Lord; he shall dwell in safety by him.' Shlomo is called 'beloved,' as it is stated (II Shmuel 12:25): 'And he called his name Yedidya, and the Lord loved him.' Israel are called 'beloved,' as it is stated (Yirmiyahu 12:7): 'I have given the dearly beloved of My soul into the hand of her enemies.' The Temple is called 'beloved,' as it is stated (Tehillim 84:2): 'How beloved are Your dwelling places.' Avraham is called 'beloved,' as it is stated (Yirmiyahu 11:15): 'What had My beloved to do in My house.' Let the beloved [Shlomo] come and build the beloved [the Mikdash] in the territory of the beloved [Binyamin] for the sake of the beloved [God], and let the beloved [the people of Israel], descendants of the beloved [Avraham} come."

[7] Rav Y. Elitzur, "Mahu Katef Ve-Hekhan 'Katef Yam Kinneret Kedma,'" Al Atar 4-5, pp. 41 and on. The essence of what he says is mentioned in the body of this lecture.





[8] We shall not enter into a discussion in this framework of the identification of Ein-Eitam. Its location and elevation require considerable discussion.

[9] Our proposal regarding the identification of the shoulders is based to a great extent on the midrashim, and to a certain extent on topographical reality. It is also possible, however, that the very fact that the Torah did not precisely define the geographical meaning of the shoulders allows us to understand that there are several circles of sanctity that can be defined as shoulders – the innermost being the Mikdash, the larger circle being the city of Jerusalem, and the largest being the borders of the entire territory of Binyamin.

This understanding accords with the mishna in Keilim 1, which describes ten circles of sanctity issuing forth from the Holy of Holies, expanding to the Sanctuary, the Temple courtyard, the Temple Mount, Jerusalem, and all of Eretz Yisrael. But this is not the forum to expand on the matter.

[10] Of course, the territory becomes lower toward the east and toward the west - in the direction of the Dead Sea and in the direction of the Mediteranean Sea.

[11] Lecture no. 13 in last year's series: "The Generation of the Dispersion and the Tower of Bavel as the Opposite of the Mikdash" - http://vbm-torah.org/archive/mikdash/13mikdash.htm.





[12] In his book, Li-Netivot Yisrael, pp. 156-157.