Lecture 47b: The History of the Resting of the Shekhina - The Territory of Binyamin - The Territory of the Shekhina (Part III)

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy





It seems to me that it is not by chance that Bet-El is located at the northern border of the territory of Binyamin and Jerusalem at its southern border. As we have seen in the past, Bet-El is the natural Mikdash of the patriarchs, whereas Jerusalem is the permanent Mikdash of their descendants. Both Avraham and Yaakov arrive in Bet-El,[2] but only Avraham comes to Jerusalem/Mount Moriya. But despite all of its special standing during the period of the patriarchs, Bet-El is not regarded as "the place which the Lord shall choose."[3] Below we shall survey some of the parallels between Bet-El and Jerusalem and try to understand their significance.




a) These are the only two places regarding which the Torah issues a command to an individual to go to a certain place and worship God there: Avraham is commanded to go to the land of Moriya and offer his son Yitzchak as a burnt offering; in the aftermath of the incident involving Dina, Yaakov is commanded to leave Shekhem, to go to Bet-El, dwell there, and fulfill his vow – "and make there an altar to God, who appeared to you when you did flee from the face of Esav your brother" (Bereishit 35:1).[4]


b)  In three places in the account of the tribal territories, Scripture joins Jerusalem to Bet-El or draws a parallel between them:


  • Scripture alludes to this in the seam between the description of the territory of Yehuda and the description of the lot of the children of Yosef by setting Bet-El, on the southern border of the children of Yosef, against Jerusalem, located on the northern border of the tribe of Yehuda:


As for the Yevusi, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the children of Yehuda could not drive them out: but the Yevusi dwell with the children of Yehuda at Jerusalem to this day.

And the lot of the children of Yosef fell from the Jordan by Jericho, to the water of Jericho on the east, to the wilderness that goes up from Jericho by Mount Bet-El, and goes out from Bet-El to Luz and passes along to the borders of the Arki to Atarot. (Yehoshua 15:63-16:1-2)


·        A parallel account appears in Shoftim 1. Verse 21 describes: "And the children of Binyamin did not drive out the Yevusi, who inhabited Jerusalem; but the Yevusi dwell with the children of Binyamin in Jerusalem to this day;" and immediately afterwards (vv. 24-26), an account is given of the unique conquest of Bet-El, which included spying on the city, uncovering its entrance, and its conquest.[5] Scripture sets Jerusalem, which had not yet been conquered by Binyamin and where the Yevusi were still living, against Bet-El, which the children of Yosef went up to and captured.[6]


        · One cannot ignore the clear parallelism between the description of the northern border of Yehuda and the southern border of Binyamin:


And the border went up by the valley of Ben-Hinnom to the south side of the Yevusi: that is Jerusalem. (Yehoshua 15:8)


And the border went over from thence towards Luz, to the south side of Luz, which is Bet-El. (ibid. 18:13)


Even without relating to the topographical meaning of these descriptions, we can see the complete literary parallelism between the verses: identical sentence structure – "to the side of… which is;" the word "side" (katef) and the direction "south;" and the is parallelism between Luz and Yevus, the Cana'anite names of the cities before they were captured, and between Bet-El and Jerusalem – the names that in the future would replace them.


Scripture seems to be trying to give expression to the absolute parallelism between the two borders of the territory of Binyamin – Bet-El, the ancient Temple of the patriarchs on the border between the sons of Rachel, Yosef (Efrayim) and Binyamin, and Jerusalem, the future Temple of the sons, on the border between the sons of Rachel and Leah, Binyamin and Yehuda – and to show that they constitute a single entity, the passage between its parts being in the territory of Binyamin.


c) There is a very interesting parallel between the revelation of the sanctity of Bet-El and the revelation of the sanctity of Jerusalem. At the first revelation at Bet-El, it is said about Yaakov, who becomes aware of the sanctity of the site:


And he was afraid, and said, "How dreadful is this place! This is no other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." (Bereishit 28:17)


            And when David understands that the threshing floor of Aravna the Yevusi is the site of the Mikdash, it says:


Then David said, "This is the house of the Lord God, and this is the altar of the burnt offering for Israel." (I Divrei Ha-Yamim 22:1)


            What immediately stands out is the shared emotional declaration made by Yaakov and David when they reveal the site: Yaakov when he wakes up from his sleep and from his dream, and David at the end of the angel's revelation to him in the wake of the census and the plague.


            Evident also is the similarity in the structure of the two verses: Both verses are comprised of two clauses beginning with the word "zeh" ("this"). The first clause describes the site of the house of God and the resting place of His Shekhina: "the house of God" or "the house of the Lord God." The second clause deals with the site of the service: in the case of Yaakov, "the gate of heaven" – the ladder that joins heaven and earth; in the case of David, "an altar for the burnt offering of Israel." This structure expresses the two essential functions of the Mikdash: 1) the house of God, the site of the resting of His Shekhina, His revelation, His appearance, His providence, and His meeting with man; 2) the place to which people go to serve God in His house, the place to which people make pilgrimages and appear before God, and where people offer sacrifices, etc.[7]


d) In addition to the parallelism between the two aforementioned verses, there is a broad correspondence between the story of the revelation at Bet-El and the revelations to Avraham and David at Mount Moriya and at the threshing floor of Aravna the Yevusi. We discussed this issue in detail in the lecture dealing with the story of the akeida, and that discussion is relevant to the issue at hand. Here, I wish only to briefly mention the following points:


        · In Bet-El, Yaakov sees "a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it" (Bereishit 28:12). And at the threshing floor of Aravna the Yevusi, David sees "the angel of the Lord standing between the earth and the heaven, with a drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem" (I Divrei Ha-Yamim 21:16). The connection between earth and heaven which is mentioned in both places is part of the essence of the Mikdash.


        · In both places, there is a revelation of God and of an angel, the revelation of a place, fear of God, and calling the place by a name.


        · The difference between the blessing of seed given to Avraham, "as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is upon the sea shore" (Bereishit 22:17), and the blessing of seed given to Yaakov, "as the dust of the earth" (ibid. 28:14), and the differences between an altar and a pillar and between the offering of a sacrifice and the pouring of oil on the pillar were explained as differences between the natural and primal Temple of the patriarchs and the permanent and chosen Temple of their descendants.


e) In addition to the parallel between the revelation at the threshing floor of Aravna and the revelation at Bet-El, there is a fundamental connection between Yaakov, the founder of the patriarchal Temple, and the Temple of his descendants, which David sought out, revealed its location, and initiated its building. In his account of his yearnings until he discovered the site of the Mikdash, David mentions "how he swore to the Lord and vowed to the mighty God of Yaakov… until I find out a place for the Lord, a habitation for the mighty One of Yaakov" (Tehillim 132:2-5). In this context, the designation "mighty One of Yaakov" refers to God's revelation to Yaakov, establishing Bet-El as a sanctified place.[8]


This connection continues and reveals itself in the prophecy concerning the lofty standing of the mountain of the Lord's house in the end of days (Yeshayahu 2:2-3, and similarly the parallel prophecy in Mikha 4:1-3):


And it shall come to pass in the end of days, that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established on the top of the mountains and shall be exalted above the hills; and all the nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, "Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Yaakov; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths;" for out of Zion shall go forth Torah, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.


            In the end of days, the nations will stream to hear the Torah and teachings being taught on the mountain of the Lord's house – and the house on top of the mountain will be called the house of the God of Yaakov, rather than "the house of the God of David and Shelomo." When the future Mikdash stands in place, full expression will be given to Yaakov's efforts to reveal the Shekhina, and even though they took place in Bet-El, now they will be remembered in Jerusalem.


            The special connection of Yaakov to the Mikdash is reflected in the words of Chazal, according to which Yaakov was the first "who called it 'house:'"


And R. Elazar said: What is that which is written: "And many people shall go and say, 'Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Yaakov, etc.'" – the God of Yaakov, and not the God of Avraham and Yitzchak? Rather, not like Avraham who called it "mountain," as it is stated: "As it is said to this day, 'In the mount the Lord will appear'" (Bereishit 22:14), and not like Yitzchak, about whom it is stated: "field," as it is stated: "And Yitzchak went out to meditate in the field" (ibid. 24:63); but rather like Yaakov who called it "house," as it is stated: "And he called the name of that place Bet-El" (ibid. 28:19). (Pesachim 88a)


            The aspect of house relates exclusively to Yaakov. He is the founder of the family. It is in him that the process of the selection of the people of Israel is completed, and after him all of his descendants belong to the people of Israel and continue the house of Avraham. Yaakov begins this revelation at Bet-El, and as we saw earlier, already there he speaks of the basic reality of the Mikdash, a place that is, on the one hand, "the house of God," the site of the resting of the Shekhina, and on the other hand, "the gate of heaven," the site of human worship. When he returns from Charan, Yaakov returns to Bet-El and worships God there, and from that time the aspect of house accompanies the Jewish people until its permanent and perfect revelation in the days of Yaakov's descendants in the Mikdash in Jerusalem. And it will continue to accompany the people of Israel until the future building of the Temple, the house of the God of Yaakov, in the end of days.




            The question now arises: What is the significance of the parallels mentioned thus far? Several meanings can be suggested.


            First of all, this parallel confirms and strengthens our assumption[9] that Bet-El is the site of the natural Temple of the patriarchs.


            Second, the connection between Bet-El and Jerusalem explains Bet-El's being replaced by Jerusalem. Bet-El is a primal site of worship, which Yaakov introduces during the patriarchal period on the border of the sons of Rachel.[10] Indeed, Bet-El reflects the primal natural reality, but not the permanent and stable reality of later generations. Nevertheless, its significance is so great that the prophets speak of the house of the God of Yaakov even with respect to the permanent structure of the house of God in the days of David, and even in Yeshayahu and Mikha's vision of the end of days. The second story of the Mikdash, which was revealed in the wake of a search carried out on the border between Binyamin and Yehuda, expresses the fixed and perfect reality of the combination of the kingdom of man with the kingdom of God.


            A third point that must not be overlooked is the fact that both places are situated on a border of the tribal territory of Binyamin: Bet-El on the northern border, facing the sons of Yosef, and Jerusalem on the southern border, facing the tribe of Yehuda. These two places express, as it were, the perfect entity of the territory of Binyamin: the territory of the Shekhina that spreads out from Bet-El to Jerusalem, from the sons of Yosef and the Messiah who is the son of Yosef, until the sons of Yehuda and the Davidic monarchy. The early holy site of the patriarchs and the site of the fixed sanctity of their descendants – both of them are part of the territory of Binyamin, and they even define it. The original, natural Temple and the fixed Temple – both of them are part of the territory of Binyamin.


            This understanding well accords with the words of Chazal in Sifrei Devarim (352), according to which the resting of God's Shekhina in the tribal territory of Binyamin will never cease, but will remain eternal, just as the sanctity of Jerusalem is eternal:


"He shall cover him all the day long" – this is the first Temple.

"All the day long" – this is the last [second] Temple.

"And he shall dwell between his shoulders" – built and perfected for the future…


            And similarly:


"And he shall dwell between His shoulders" – whether it is in ruin or it is not in ruin.


            This isan interesting parallel between the resting of the Shekhina in all of the territory of Binyamin – "between his shoulders" according to one understanding of the verse – and the resting of the Shekhina in Jerusalem and the Mikdash. The eternality and permanence of the resting of the Shekhina in Jerusalem and the Mikdash is very clear in the Rambam:


And why do I say regarding the Temple and Jerusalem that the original sanctification was meant to be valid forever… Because the sanctity of the Temple and Jerusalem is on account of the Shekhina, and the Shekhina is never removed. And surely it says, "And I will bring your sanctuaries to desolation" (Vayikra 26:31). And the Sages said: Even when they are desolated, they remain sanctified (following Midrash Lekach Tov, Kedoshim, sec. 55). (Hilkhot Bet ha-Bechira 6:16)


            Just as the resting of the Shekhina in Jerusalem and the Temple is eternal, so too the resting of the Shekhina "between his shoulders" in the territory of Binyamin is eternal.[11]


            It seems that in addition to the stations of the Mishkan mentioned above, the resting of the Shekhina in Binyamin began with the fixing of the borders of its territory, as is described in the book of Yehoshua (18:11-28). And as it is understood by the Rambam and other Rishonim, it continues in the city of Jerusalem and in the Mikdash to this very day.


(Translated by David Strauss)


[1] We already discussed various aspects of this relationship in the lecture dealing with the road to Jerusalem; what was stated there should be joined to what is stated here.

[2] More precisely: Yaakov arrives in Bet-El itself, whereas Avraham arrives "east of Bet-El" (Bereishit 12:8) or "between Bet-El and the Ai" (ibid. 13:3), but not to Bet-El itself. This is connected to the fact that Avraham established Mount Moriya as the Temple, whereas Yaakov established Bet-El as the Temple. In addition to the proofs that we adduced regarding this matter in the lecture dealing with the road to Jerusalem, we can add Onkelos's translation of the verse: "And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God's house; and of all that You shall give me I will surely give the tenth to You" – "… I shall worship at it before the Lord…" My colleague Itamar Nitzan argues in his article, "Le-Ma'amada shel Bet-El ad Bechirat Yerushalayim," Alon Shevut 162 (Nissan, 5763), p. 112, that it is possible that Avraham sanctified "the Mikdash of Yehuda" in Mount Moriya, whereas Yaakov sanctified "the Mikdash of Yosef" in Bet-El. See his discussion there.

[3] We explained this principle in lecture no. 43, "The Place Which the Lord Shall Choose," note 12.

[4] There is also an interesting connection between the two stories regarding "seeing/appearing:" Avraham calls Mount Moriya "The Lord will appear" (Bereishit 22:14), and in Bet-El God appears to Yaakov (ibid. 35:1). It is also possible that the places to which they are commanded to go, in addition to their primary purpose, were intended also to highlight the obligation to separate themselves from the inhabitants of the land.

[5] It is interesting that Bet-El is described in these verses, as is Jerusalem, as a place that must be seen. As is stated with respect to Mount Moriya, "And he saw the place from afar," so too it is stated with respect to Bet-El: "And the scouts saw a man come out of the city, and they said to him, 'Show us, we pray you, the entrance into the city, and we will deal kindly with you.' And when he showed them the entrance to the city, they smote the city with the edge of the sword; but they let the man and all his family go free" (Shoftim 1:24-25).

[6] Attention should be paid to the fact that here, too (Shoftim 1), Jerusalem is presented in the middle, between the tribe of Yehuda and the sons of Yosef. In verses 19-20, it says: "And the Lord was with Yehuda; and he drove out the inhabitants of the mountain… And they gave Hebron to Calev;' in verses 22-26, it says: "And the house of Yosef, they too went up against Yehuda: and the Lord was with them;" and in the middle in verse 21, it says: "And the children of Binyamin did not drive out the Yevusi, who inhabited Jerusalem; but the Yevusi dwell with the children of Binyamin in Jerusalem to this day." God is found both with Yehuda, who capture the mountain and Hebron, and with the house of Yosef, who capture Bet-El; but between them, in the middle, Jerusalem is still a foreign city, which the sons of Binyamin do not capture.

[7] This issue requires separate consideration. I wish merely to note that the place from which the world was created is identified by Chazal with the "even ha-shetiya" in the Holy of Holies (Tosefta, Yoma 2:4), whereas the place from which man was created is identified with the outer altar (Yerushalmi, Nazir 7:2). These are the two dimensions of the Mikdash – on the one hand the house of God – the entire world, which began in the Holy of Holies, and on the other hand, the place where man serves God – the altar. The structure of the Mikdash reflects this matter: The Holy of Holies contains no vessels used in the service, but rather only the ark, the cover to the ark, and the keruvim, and from the time of Yoshiyahu and on these are hidden away and the chamber remained empty, with no replacement until the end of the second Temple period, according to the Gemara in Yoma 21b: "In the days of the second Temple there was no ark, cover, or keruvim, etc." The Holy is the place of the inner service – the incense altar, the table, and the candlestick. And the Temple courtyard is the site of the outer service – the outer altar.

[8] It is interesting to note that this designation appears in Yaakov's blessing to Yosef: "By the hands of the mighty God of Yaakov; from thence from the shepherd, the Stone of Israel" (Bereishit 49:24). The Mikdash in Bet-El is located on the border between Yosef and Binyamin.

[9] This assumption was expanded upon at length in lecture no. 35, and we will not go into all the details here.

[10] The special relationship between Yaakov and Rachel, and afterwards between Yaakov and Yosef, does not require any explanation.

[11] We chose to bring a proof here from the Rambam because his formulation on the matter is clear and unequivocal, and he clarifies that the eternality of the sanctity of Jerusalem directly follows from the Divine selection. The mishna in Megilla 1:11 states: "The sanctify of Jerusalem – after it there is no allowance." This statement relates primarily to the allowance of bamot. That is to say, after reaching Jerusalem, it was never again permitted to offer sacrifices in any other place. The mishna does not serve as absolute proof for the eternality of the sanctity of the site of the Mikdash, but it constitutes a very strong statement regarding the sanctity of Jerusalem. This issue requires great expansion on the halakhic level, but this is not the forum for such expansion.