The Road to Jerusalem (part III)

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Jerusalem in the Bible
Yeshivat Har Etzion

The Road to Jerusalem (part III)

Rav Yitzchak Levi


In the previous shiur, as part of our attempt to understand the significance of the road to Jerusalem in the travels of the forefathers and the future generations of their descendants, we analyzed the inherent character of the cities of Shekhem and Beit-El respectively. In this shiur, we shall examine Hebron and Jerusalem, and then attempt to derive the significance of the process in its entirety.


A.        Hebron

1.  The sources

- Hebron is mentioned for the first time after Avraham separates from Lot; this happens upon their return from Egypt. Here there is an interesting change. Until now, Avraham kept moving his tent from place to place; in Hebron we read for the first time that he "dwelled" in Elonei Mamrei which is in Hebron (Bereishit 13:18). This implies a permanent dwelling.

- It is no coincidence that Hebron is the first place in Eretz Yisrael that is bought and fully paid for. The purchase is made for the purposes of burying Sara, and Avraham takes great care to ensure that the sale is complete and paid for in full (Ibid. 23:17-18).

- When Yosef is sent to investigate the welfare of his brothers and of the sheep, he leaves from the valley of Hebron (symbolizing, in accordance with its name, "connection" – 'chibur') and goes to Shekhem (a place of divisiveness) (Ibid. 37:14).

- Concerning the verse, "He came as far as Hebron" (Bamidbar 13:22), Chazal explain that the reference is to Kalev, who went to Hebron to pray at the graves of the forefathers (Rashi ad loc, in accordance with the Gemara in Sota 34b).

- The first city that is actually settled by Bnei Yisrael after the conquest is Hebron, which is given to Kalev ben Yefuneh as an inheritance in reward for carrying out God's will (Yehoshua 14:-13-14).

- In David's time we discover another aspect to the city.


The burial of Avner, of the tribe of Binyamin, in Hebron (II Shmuel 3:32), within the tribal boundaries of Yehuda (rather than in his own tribal inheritance) is most surprising. No less surprising is the burial of the head of Ish-Boshet, Shaul's son, in Avner's grave in Hebron (Ibid. 4:12).


Hebron also represents the beginning of David's reign. First he reigned there over Yehuda (Ibid. 2:1-4, 11), and thereafter all the tribes of Israel came there and accepted him as king over them, with great joy and with a forging of a covenant (ibid. 5:1-10; I Divrei Ha-yamim 11:1-3; Ibid. 12:24, 39-31). It is no coincidence that even the rebellious Avshalom establishes his kingdom first in Hebron (II Shmuel 15:10), using this as a platform to reach Jerusalem.


- It is interesting that the Midrash (Bereishit Rabba, Noach, 4) sees Hebron (as opposed to Yosef's land) as one of four condemned places in Eretz Yisrael. As Rashi writes (on Bamidbar 13:22) –


"Nowhere in all of Eretz Yisrael is as rocky as Hebron; therefore it was set aside for burying the dead."


- An interesting point to note is Hebron's precedence before Jerusalem. We find different references to this:

* In Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer (chapter 36) we read:

"Avraham forged a covenant with the inhabitants of the land. When the angels were revealed to him he believed that they were mortal guests, and ran towards them, wanting to prepare a great feast for them… and he ran to bring an ox. The ox escaped from him and he ran after it; he found Adam and Chava lying upon their beds, sleeping, with lit candles over them and a sweet smell, like incense, around them. Therefore he desired the cave as a burial ground.

He told the children of the Jebusites that he wanted to purchase Ma'arat ha-Makhpela from them with a full sale, for gold, with an immutable contract, as a burial possession. Were they indeed Jebusites? Were they not Hittites? They were called Jebusites after the city, Yevus… They said to him: We know that the Holy One is destined to give you and your descendants all of these lands. Make an oath to us that Bnei Yisrael will not inherit the city Yevus unless it is in accordance with the will of the children of Yevus… What did the people of Yevus do? They fashioned brass idols and placed them in the city square, and inscribed upon them Avraham's oath.

When Bnei Yisrael reached the land, they wanted to gather in the city of the Jebusites but were unable to enter, because of the sign of the covenant, Avraham's oath… And when King David wanted to enter the Jebusite city, they did not allow him to, as it is written (II Shmuel 5:6) "You shall not come here unless you remove even the blind and the lame" – referring to these idols, upon which the sign of Avraham's oath was inscribed… Later on, David purchased the Jebusite city for Israel with an immutable contract as an everlasting possession."


* The Zohar (Part I, page 79, ot 10) writes:

"'David said – where shall I go up? And He said – to Hebron' (II Shmuel 2:1)… Because David could not accept kingship until he had connected himself with the forefathers, who were in Hebron."


* There is a hint at this in Mishna Yoma (Chapter 3, Mishna 1):

"The person responsible (at the Temple) said to them: "Go out and see if it is time yet for the slaughter (of the daily sacrifice in the morning)." If the time had come, the person who saw it would say: "The dawn has arrived!" Matitya ben Shmuel said: "Has it illuminated all of the east, up to Hebron?" And he would answer, "Yes."


2. Significances

Hebron symbolizes permanent rootedness in Eretz Yisrael. This is the first place where Avraham made himself a permanent dwelling in Eretz Yisrael; here the first purchase of land in Eretz Yisrael was made, for the purposes of burial – itself an aspect of eternal possession. This was also the first city that Bnei Yisrael actually settled in the land, owing to the devotion and selflessness of Kalev, in the episode of the spies.


Hebron also symbolizes the Israelite kingdom. Here was the beginning of David's kingship – first over Yehuda, and thereafter over all of Israel. For this reason Avshalom, too, chooses to begin his reign here.


These two aspects – the establishment of possession and kingship – share a fundamental internal connection. Kingship is permanent reign, with the king succeeded by his son (as opposed to the period of the judges, when each judge came from a different tribe and there was no continuity between father and son (except for the case of Gidon and Avimelekh), and as the Beraita teaches (Horayot 12a):


"Kings are anointed only at a spring, so that their reign will be long, as it is written: "The king said to them: Take with you your masters' servants… and bring him to Gichon.""


The anointment of the king at a spring expresses continuity and eternity – like the continual flow of the spring.


In addition, Hebron is – as its name suggests – a place of attachment and unity; characteristics that are likewise clearly related to kingship. The role of the king, "whose heart is the heart of all the congregation of Israel" (Rambam, Laws of Kings, Chapter 3 Law 6), is to lead all of Israel and to unify them together under his royal reign. Thus it is understandable why Avner – who sought to unify the tribes of Israel and Yehuda under the leadership of King David – was buried in Hebron. Similarly, we can understand the burial of Ish-Boshet, Shaul's son, in Hebron. Ish-Boshet and Avner, both of whom should – by virtue of their tribal and familial lineage – have been buried in the inheritance of Binyamin, were both buried in Hebron; the symbolical significance of this is the joining of Binyamin and Yehuda and their unification.


According to the above analysis, then, Hebron is the city of Israelite royalty, where the unity of Israel is revealed with its aspect of permanence and rootedness in Eretz Yisrael.


The significance of the precedence of Hebron over Jerusalem is based, essentially, on the desire to connect with the root:

·           The Zohar (Zohar Chadash Rut, 79, ot 4) teaches that the entrance to the Garden of Eden is to be found in Hebron, while the Garden of Eden itself is at Mount Moriah. We also read in Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer (Chapter 20), "The gateway to the Garden of Eden is by Mount Moriah."

·           Avraham wanted to be buried close to Adam, the "firstborn of the world," with the intention of continuing his role.

·           David ruled first in Hebron, before he reigned in Jerusalem, in order to start his reign on the basis of a connection to the forefathers of the world and as a continuation of them.

·           Therefore the Temple service likewise begins with the illumination of the entire eastern side up to Hebron, in order to connect the service in the Temple with the forefathers.


Permanence means connection: connection to the land, to Eretz Yisrael, and an eternal connection to a good man who was buried in Hebron – Avraham. The road towards the complete revelation of the connection of mortal reign to God's reign begins in Hebron – the capital of earthly kingship.


B. Jerusalem [1]

As we noted in the first shiur in the series, Jerusalem is only hinted at in the Torah (in the reign of Malkitzedek, representing earthly kingship, and in the story of the 'Akeida,' representing Divine kingship). During the period of the conquest and settlement of the Land, it is likewise mentioned only in passing, with no focused attention.


The first biblical figure to pay specific attention to Jerusalem and to choose it is King David; he does this immediately upon his coronation over all of Israel. In other words, David wants his reign over all of Israel to be revealed and established in Jerusalem, and based on unity. Jerusalem is located on the boundary between Yehuda and Binyamin, arises from David's desire to bring about unity between these two tribes. The text testifies to hostility between them at that time – "A lengthy war was waged between the house of Shaul and the house of David" (II Shmuel 3:1). Binyamin and Yehuda represent the children of Rachel and Leah, respectively, "who built, both of them together, the house of Israel" (Ruth 4:11). As king over all of Israel, David wants to express the unity of Israel. Therefore he chooses not to establish his capital in Hebron – where he went by God's word, preferring Jerusalem instead: a super-tribal capital that is supposed to belong to Binyamin, but which Binyamin has not yet possessed and has therefore remained, meanwhile, a non-Jewish city.


But David does not suffice with the capital city of his earthly reign. He immediately wants to turn the capital of Israelite sovereignty into the focus of God's Divine sovereignty [2], and therefore his first act – after establishing himself in Jerusalem and conquering the Philistines – is to have God's Ark brought up to Jerusalem, thereby publicizing the aim of his kingship: the establishment of a Temple in the royal capital.


David wants to build a Temple, and when this is refused him he devotes himself wholeheartedly to doing whatever he can to prepare for it. He seeks the appropriate site, finds it and pays for it with communal funds from all of Israel; he prepares the plans, the materials and the artisans; he even draws up the rosters and positions to be served in the Temple when it is built. David expends such efforts towards the building of the Temple that our Sages teach, "In any matter for which a person exerts himself and devotes himself completely, the Holy One does not hold back his reward… Shlomo built the Temple… but because David devoted himself completely to the future Temple that would be built… the Holy One did not hold back his reward, but ascribed it to his name, as it is written: "A psalm of song at the inauguration of David's Temple" (Tehillim 30:1); the verse does not read 'Shlomo's Temple,' but rather 'David's Temple.'" [3]


David's vision was one of bringing together city and Sanctuary: a joining of [earthly] Israelite sovereignty and Divine sovereignty in the same place. This is the uniqueness of Jerusalem – the combination of both elements.


This reality matches and is reflected in the location of the city: in between the tribe of Yehuda, representing earthly kingship, and the tribe of Binyamin, representing the abode of the Divine [4]. This also explains the location of the royal palace during Shlomo's reign: close to the Temple, as a 'bridge,' as it were, between the Temple and the rest of the city.


C. The Significance of the Route as a Whole


Our hypothesis is that the progression from one city to the next according to a certain order (Shekhem, Beit-El, Hebron, and finally Jerusalem) expresses a certain spiritual reality. Each of the cities represents a spiritual point on the road towards Jerusalem.


This progression has several aspects. One aspect, which we addressed at length in the first shiur, is the process of the entry into the land. We noted that Avraham was the only figure to complete the route in its entirety, as an "act of the forefathers that is a sign for their descendants." He visits Shekhem, Beit-El and Ai, Hebron, Jerusalem, and eventually the site of the Temple. His descendants covered only parts of this complete route: Yaakov covered the stations of Shekhem-Beit-El-Hebron, while Bnei Yisrael, upon entering the land, reached Ai and Mount Eival, but also stopped at Hebron. It was only when David arose that the final stage – from Hebron to Jerusalem – was completed.


Another aspect that should be kept in mind in this context is the significance of the cities in the tribal division of the Land. Shekhem is located on the border between the children of Yosef – Ephraim and Menasheh; Beit-El is on the northern border of the portion of Binyamin – between the tribes of Binyamin and Ephraim; Hebron is the capital of Yehuda and sits at the heart of that tribe's inheritance, while Jerusalem – as explained – is on the border between Binyamin and Yehuda, i.e., on the southern border of the portion of Binyamin, which is also the portion of the Divine Presence [5].


If we bring the two aspects together, we note immediately that the development as a whole is comprised of two processes, representing two ways of approaching the inheritance of Binyamin. The first is from the north, from Shekhem to Beit-El; the other is from the south – from Hebron to Jerusalem.


The northern route is the more natural one, the path of the forefathers. This route matches the natural course of events – a progression that is symbolized by the land of Yosef, the firstborn of Rachel, expressing the beginning of the settlement in Eretz Yisrael [6]. This region expresses the sanctity of the Land and its primacy. Just as Shekhem, in its "firstness," represents the "firstborn" city, so Yosef – the firstborn of Rachel – expresses the sanctity of the body – the material blessings of the earth and the continuation of the path of Yaakov (an aspect which will find later expression in the leadership of Mashiach ben Yosef).


From this perspective, the arrival is up until Beit-El – the natural Sanctuary of the forefathers; a place that is entirely holy. This primal aspect is expressed, inter alia, in the monument that Yaakov places there (Bereishit 28:18). Rav Shimshon Rephael Hirsch explains that a monument symbolizes the sanctity of nature: Divine service performed with natural stone expresses something that is primary, temporal and natural, firstborn and holy.


The southern approach, leading from Hebron to Jerusalem, complements the natural route of the forefathers and adds an element of uniqueness. This route is revealed at a later stage, and its essence is royalty – mortal kingship and Divine kingship – and the permanence and eternity of the possession of the Land and of the kingship. The level of kingship is built, in essence, on top of the natural layer laid by the forefathers, just as Mashiach ben David replaces Mashiach ben Yosef. This path – like kingship in general – is the path of inherent uniqueness, arising from below and not necessarily following the natural route. Yehuda was selected for leadership and royalty even though he was not the firstborn. Likewise his inheritance is not of "firstborn." character: it is rocky terrain, and its natural conditions are not as fertile as those of the inheritance of Yosef. Yet it is specifically in this inheritance that the future and eternal leadership of Am Yisrael dwells.


In between the inheritance of Yosef and that of Yehuda, we find the inheritance of Binyamin and, within it, Jerusalem, which is meant (like the entire inheritance of Binyamin) to unify in its midst the primal, natural firstness and sanctity of the children of Rachel along with the aspect of inherent uniqueness, kingship, and eternity of the children of Leah.


The order of the cities visited by the forefathers Avraham and Yaakov, by their descendants in their conquest of the Land, and finally by King David, creates a gradual progression leading up to the city that unifies all of the tribes, subjecting them – by virtue of this unity – to the kingship of Israel and the Kingship of God:

·           Shekhem is the firstborn city, the northern gateway, a border city. The place brings whoever enters the land into an immediate encounter with the body of the Land – its "firstborn," natural, physical and primal aspect; the place where foreign gods are left behind before one proceeds further inward.

·           Beit-El is the natural place of sanctity, the Sanctuary of the forefathers, establishing the connection with God and the ways of serving Him in relation to His revelation.

·           From Beit-El one may continue on to Hebron and dwell there permanently – expressing the eternal possession of Eretz Yisrael. This is the place of earthly unity and kingship; a place that is arrived at out of choice, not just a station somewhere along a natural path. Here the world of the spirit prevails over the material world, as in the figure of Yehuda, the "ba'al teshuva" (Bereishit 38).

·           Only at the end do we reach Jerusalem, which joins earthly kingship with the Kingship of God; Yehuda and Binyamin; kingship and inherent uniqueness with sanctity and firstborn status; a leveling place which, as part of the inheritance of Binyamin, brings together and unifies within itself both Yosef and Yehuda, both Shekhem and Hebron.


The transition from Shekhem to Beit-El is reminiscent of the proper way of entering a synagogue, as described by Rav Chisda:


"A person should always enter two doorways in the synagogue… and only thereafter begin to pray" (Berakhot 8a).


There are two doorways that are necessary in order to embark in the proper way on prayer. At the outer doorway – the point of transition between the outside and the inside – we remove our external aspect, but it is only when we pass through the inner doorway that we really come inside and pray. The same applies to the entry into the Land. First we pass through Shekhem, leaving behind – on the outside of the gateway – the foreign gods; only afterwards do we proceed inward to Beit-El, the place of natural sanctity.


The fact that Hebron precedes Jerusalem on the second layer may be understood as a desire to connect with the root of the world – Adam, the firstborn of the world, and to the forefathers who were buried there after him, and by virtue of this connection to establishing kingship. The connection to the root is what allows us – as arising from permanence and kingship – to ascend towards the holy.


Reaching Jerusalem means connecting Yosef and Yehuda in the inheritance of Binyamin, the unifying tribe, which is the portion of the Divine Presence [7]. All of the divisions that are revealed in Shekhem, Beit-El and Hebron, and in the divided kingdoms – all of these are reunited in Jerusalem, which allows for the perfected revelation of all potential.


To complete the picture, let us take note of three more points:


* The four cities that we have discussed may be divided into two groups; two circles. There is an outer circle, with two capital cities corresponding to one another: Shekhem, the capital of the children of Yosef, and Hebron – the capital of Yehuda. Then there is the inner circle, including the two border cities of the inheritance of Binyamin, Beit-El and Jerusalem – the Sanctuary of the forefathers and the Sanctuary of their descendants. The progression is from the outer circle towards the inner one; from Shekhem to Beit-El and from Hebron to Jerusalem – with all the accompanying significance, as discussed above.


* In our context we should make mention of Chazal's teaching in Bereishit Rabba (79, 7):


"…This is one of three places concerning which the nations of the world cannot accuse Israel and say, "You have stolen them." And these are the places: Ma'arat ha-Makhpela, the Temple [Mount], and the burial place of Yosef."


In other words, three central sites along the mountain range are an eternal possession of Am Yisrael for all generations: Hebron, Shekhem, and Jerusalem.


* All in all, Avraham built four altars: in Shekhem, between Beit-El and Ai, in Hebron, and on Mount Moriah. In other words – in the same four places whose significance we have been discussing. Chazal (Bereishit Rabba 39:16) note the substance of the construction of three of these:


"Rabbi Elazar taught: [Avraham] built three altars: one in honor of the promise concerning [the inheritance of] the Land, one commemorating its acquisition, and one – [with the prayer] that his descendants would not fall."


The altar in Shekhem was built in honor of God's promise concerning the inheritance of the Land; the altar in Hebron commemorated Avraham's purchase of a portion of Eretz Yisrael. The altar between Beit-El and Ai was a monument to his prayer for the safety of his descendants. What we have said above, then, matches Chazal's teachings – both concerning Shekhem (the promise of Eretz Yisrael), and concerning Hebron (the acquisition of Eretz Yisrael).


In this sense, Jerusalem is a leveling element between Shekhem and Hebron; hence, it does not stand with Beit-El parallel to Shekhem and Hebron, but rather stands alone.



[1] Since this course as a whole focuses on Jerusalem, we shall bring here only the essence of our conclusions as to its essence. This subject will be discussed at length in these shiurim throughout the year.

[2] There are many sources that prove that the Temple is the place of God's kingship; they will be addressed in detail in future shiurim.

[3] Tanchuma (Buber edition), Parashat Naso, siman 20

[4] Especially in light of the Sages' description of the border (Yoma 12a; Megilla 26a), according to which a strip extends from the portion of Yehuda and protrudes into the portion of Binyamin, such that the Sanctuary itself is located in the portion of Binyamin, while the adjacent chambers – including the "Chamber of Hewn Stone," the seat of the Sanhedrin – are located in the portion of Yehuda; thus, the earthly kingdom is bound up with the place of God's kingship.

[5] This is especially in light of the verse, "To Binyamin he said: the beloved of God shall dwell in safety by Him; He shall cover him all the day and He shall dwell between his shoulders" (Devarim 33:12). We shall elaborate on this in a future shiur that will be dedicated to this subject.

[6] In Divrei Ha-yamim (I 7:21-24) we find evidence of a very early arrival of the tribe of Ephraim in Eretz Yisrael, and the building of cities within Ephraim's inheritance: "Lower- and Upper- Beit-Choron, and Uzen-She'era."

[7] The fact that the inheritance of Binyamin is the portion of the Divine Presence, unifying the tribes, will be proven in one of our future shiurim. Here we shall note only that just as the moment when Binyamin presents himself before Yosef in Egypt is what ultimately brings about the reunion between Yosef and his brothers, so Binyamin's portion also sits in between the portion of Yosef and Ephraim in the North and the portion of Yehuda in the South; this gives rise to Jerusalem's status as the city that unifies all of Israel.


Translated by Kaeren Fish