SALT - Motzaei Shabbat, October 21, 2017


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  • Rav David Silverberg
            Parashat Lekh-Lekha introduces us to the mysterious figure of Malki Tzedek, the king of Shalem, who is described as being “a priest to the Supreme God” and who greeted Avraham and his men with food and drink upon their return from battle (14:18). 
            Rashi, based on several sources (including Targum Yonatan ben Uziel, and Nedarim 32b), identifies Malki Tzedek as Noach’s son, Shem.  The city of Shalem, over which Malki Tzedek ruled, is identified by the Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 56:10) as the city which would later be called Jerusalem.  The Midrash tells that Shem gave the city the name “Shalem,” whereas later, after the incident of akeidat Yitzchak (22:14), Avraham named this area “Yireh.”  God was concerned that if He named the city Shalem, then Avraham would object, whereas if He named the city Yireh, then Shem would protest.  He therefore named the city “Yerushalayim,” a combination of the names “Yireh” and “Shalem,” thus fulfilling the wishes of both these righteous figures.
            To explain the significance of these two different names, the Meshekh Chokhma (Bereishit 22:14) writes that they correspond to the two basic categories of obligations that we bear – our responsibilities to our fellowmen, and our responsibilities to our Creator.  The name “Shalem,” which is associated with the word “shalom,” alludes to peaceful relations among people.  The Meshekh Chokhma suggests that having survived the generation of the flood, which was characterized by violence and theft, Shem set out to build a humane, moral society, and thus named his city “Shalem.”  Avraham’s primary point of focus, meanwhile, was the dissemination of monotheistic belief, bringing the people of his time to an awareness of the existence of a single Creator.  And thus at the moment of his greatest display of unconditional devotion to God, when he was prepared to sacrifice his own son in fulfillment of the divine will, Avraham named the city “Yireh,” a reference to both the concept of fear of God (“yir’a”) and the notion of God’s Providence and watchful eye (the full name Avraham gave Moriah was “Hashem yir’eh” – “God shall watch”).
            Accordingly, the Midrash’s depiction of God’s concern to accommodate both Shem and Avraham’s wishes illustrates the danger of defining Judaism as either “Shalem” or “Yireh,” rather than as a combination of both.  It might seem initially that if we view “Jerusalem,” the core essence of Judaism, as “Shalem,” as requiring sensitivity, integrity and kindness in our interpersonal affairs, then we necessarily compromise the element of “Yireh,” our ritual and spiritual obligations.  Conversely, one could think, if we see the Torah as focused mainly on “Yireh,” on our obligations to God, then we ipso facto undermine the importance of “Shalem,” of proper interpersonal conduct.  The Midrash here teaches that the core essence of Judaism is “Yerushalayim,” the combination of “Yireh” and “Shalem.”  We must focus our attention on both our obligations to the Almighty and our obligations to other people, as it is through the combination of both realms that we achieve the goal represented by “Yerushalayim,” the eternal symbol of the type of sanctity which the Torah demands that we aspire to achieve throughout our lives.