Why Was Yerushalayim Chosen?
Translated by David Strauss
The Site of the Akeida
Yerushalayim is the place in which God chooses to rest His name.
The selection of this place first becomes known at the time of Akeidat Yitzchak, the Binding of Yitzchak, when God directs Avraham to "one of the mountains" in "the land of Moriya" (Bereishit 22:2). We learn from Divrei Ha-yamim that this mountain is the same Mount Moriya with which we are familiar today, on which the Temple was erected:
Then Shelomo began to build the house of the Lord at Yerushalayim in Mount Moriya, where the Lord appeared to David his father; for which provision had been made in the place of David, in the threshing-floor of Ornan the Yevusi. (II Divrei Ha-yamim 3:1)
In the wake of the Akeida, Yerushalayim is chosen for all generations, as it is stated: "And Avraham called the name of that place Hashem Yireh, as it is said to this day: In the mountain where the Lord (Hashem) is seen (yeira’eh)" (Bereishit 22:14).
There are four main lessons which we may learn from this.
The first lesson relates to Avraham's boundless devotion to fulfill God's command without ever questioning it. On the face of it, this command contradicts God's promise to Avraham "for in Yitzchak shall seed be called to you" (Bereishit 21:12), leaving him with unresolved questions regarding God's will. God's command also contradicts Avraham's fierce desire for a son and heir, to whom he can pass down his spiritual legacy and all that is his.
The command also stands in opposition to the profound feelings of love that Avraham and Sara have for their only son, and to Avraham's social and religious standing as a teacher of God's way to carry out righteousness and justice. God's command also contradicts Avraham's natural conscience and morality that he has learned from God all his life, leaving him bare and naked in his faith in God. Despite all of this, Avraham goes off to fulfill God's command on Mount Moriya.
The second lesson of the Akeida story is the absolute certainty of prophecy. Were it not for Avraham’s absolute certainty that God has issued the awful command, it is unimaginable that he would carry it out (see Guide for the Perplexed III, 24).
Another lesson of this story is God's great mercy for His people Israel when the knife rests on their necks. A moment before Yitzchak is slaughtered, the command is sounded: "Lay not your hand upon the lad," teaching God's mercy for His people for all future generations.
The last lesson that we will address is that which remains after God's intention becomes clear: in complete contrast to all pagan gods, God has no desire for human sacrifice, but only for the ram that will be brought in Yitzchak's place. A sign of this lesson for future generations is brought in the Book of Devarim:
You shall surely destroy all the places, wherein the nations that you are to dispossess served their gods, upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every leafy tree…
You shall not do so to the Lord your God. But to the place which the Lord your God shall choose out of all your tribes to put His name there, even to His habitation shall you seek, and there you shall come; and there you shall bring your burnt-offerings, and your sacrifices… (Devarim 12:2-6)
According to the plain meaning of these verses, the Torah forbids building altars on the high mountains and on the hills even in order to offer sacrifices upon them to God, and it permits offering sacrifices only in the place which God shall choose, on Mount Moriya. The reason for this prohibition is brought in the continuation:
Take heed to yourself that you be not ensnared to follow them… and that you inquire not after their gods, saying: How used these nations to serve their gods? Even so will I do likewise. You shall not do so to the Lord your God; for every abomination to the Lord, which He hates, have they done to their gods; for even their sons and their daughters do they burn in the fire to their gods. (Devarim 12:29-31)
The Torah forbids offering sacrifices to God outside of Mount Moriya, and in the same spirit also forbids learning from the nations about sacrificing their children on the altar. The similarity between the verses seems to indicate that the prohibition of child sacrifice is derived from what happens at Mount Moriya.
The Torah gives no indication whether the site of Yerushalayim passes down from Avraham to his descendants from one generation to the next; or whether it is forgotten by later generations, so that even Yaakov does not know the location of the mountain on which his father was almost brought as an offering.
In the days of the Judges, in the story of the concubine at Giva, Yerushalayim is a Yevusi city — a foreign city which no Israelite enters.
When they were by Yevus — the day was far spent — the servant said to his master: Come, I pray you, and let us turn aside into this city of the Yevusi, and lodge in it.
And his master said to him: We will not turn into the city of a foreigner, that is not of the Israelites; but we will pass over to Giva. (Shofetim 19:11-12)
Only in the days of David is Yerushalayim captured and turned into his capital city:
Nevertheless David took the stronghold of Tziyon; the same is the city of David…
And David dwelt in the stronghold, and called it the city of David. And David built round about from Milo and inward. And David waxed greater and greater; for the Lord, the God of hosts, was with him. (II Shemuel 5:7-10)
According to the plain sense of the verses, David chooses Yerushalayim as his capital city without connection to the Akeida and without connection to its being "the place which the Lord your God shall choose." Why then does David specifically select Yerushalayim as his capital city?
The answer to this question may lie in the heart-wrenching climactic moments of Yosef's encounter with his brothers in Egypt. In Yehuda's final appeal, he says:
It will come to pass, when he sees that the lad is not with us, that he will die; and your servants will bring down the gray hairs of your servant our father with sorrow to the grave. For your servant became surety for the lad to my father, saying: If I bring him not to you, then shall I bear the blame to my father forever. Now therefore, let your servant, I pray you, abide instead of the lad a bondman to my lord; and let the lad go up with his brothers. For how shall I go up to my father, if the lad be not with me? lest I look upon the evil that shall come on my father. (Bereishit 44:31-34)
Before our eyes stands Yosef, the Egyptian tyrant, as it were, who wishes to take Binyamin for himself. Yehuda is prepared to protect Binyamin at all costs, even at the cost of his own freedom and that of his family.
What we have here is a most impressive demonstration of brotherhood and mutual responsibility between the select son of the hated wife Leia and the surviving son of the beloved wife Rachel. Love replaces the jealousy and hatred that one might have expected from half-brothers in such a situation. However, beyond that, what we have here is true repentance for the sin of hatred between the brothers at the time of the sale of Yosef. Instead of the hatred between the children of Leia and the children of Rachel, Yehuda is ready to offer his life for the sake of his brother Binyamin.
“A City that is Joined Together”
The first person chosen to serve as king over Israel is Shaul of the tribe of Binyamin. After David kills Golyat in the Ela Valley, and the women sing to him: "Shaul has slain his thousands, and David his ten-thousands" (I Shemuel 18:7), Shaul's envy is aroused, culminating in the failure of his kingdom. Jealousy and hatred lead to his humiliating defeat to the Pelishtim at the Gilboa and to enmity and civil wars after Shaul's death between Avner and the house of Shaul of Binyamin, on the one side, and David of the tribe of Yehuda and the army of Yoav, on the other. David emerged victorious, the house of Shaul became increasingly diminished, and the elders of Yehuda crown David as king in Chevron, the capital of the tribe of Yehuda.
David could have ruled in Chevron, just as Shaul had ruled in Giva in the tribal territory of Binyamin, and just as all the judges had ruled in Israel from their place of birth or their tribal center. David, however, decides to leave Chevron and rule as king specifically from Yerushalayim — the city "that was not divided up between the tribes" (Bava Kama 82a). According to the simple understanding, at the outset Yerushalayim from was not divided between the tribes because it had not yet been conquered in the days of Yehoshua. Tanakh attests that the tribe of Yehuda fails to take possession of Yerushalayim (Yehoshua 15:63), and so too the tribe of Binyamin fails to conquer the city (Shofetim 1:21). The Yevusi rule in Yerushalayim for four hundred years after Yehoshua enters the land.
The late conquest of Yerushalayim can be explained by its protected topographical location and its strong fortifications, but there may be another reason for the failure to conquer it. Yerushalayim lies on the border between Yehuda and Binyamin, and the border between their respective territories runs right through the city. For both tribes, Yerushalayim is a border city situated at the far ends of their respective territories; and neither of them show great willingness to dedicate themselves to its conquest. Yerushalayim is like a jointly-owned pot of food, which is neither hot nor cold (Bava Batra 24b), because neither party overly exerts itself to see to the dish.
King David decides to capture the difficult city in order to join the two antagonistic tribes and in order to build the kingdom of Israel precisely by way of joining the tribes of the children of Rachel and the children of Leia. In this way, he continues in the path of Yehuda's dedication to save Binyamin during his difficult debate with Yosef.
The very building of the kingdom of Israel and a capital city grounded on the joining of the tribes, and not based on the rule of the strongest tribe, is a foundational statement for all generations. This merit stands for David even in the days of his descendants, at the beginning of the division of the kingdom, as it follows from the prophecy of Achiya the Shiloni delivered to Yerovam:
And Achiya laid hold of the new garment that was on him, and rent it in twelve pieces. And he said to Yerovam: Take you ten pieces; for thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Behold, I will rend the kingdom out of the hand of Shelomo, and will give ten tribes to you, but he shall have one tribe, for My servant David's sake, and for Yerushalayim's sake, the city which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel. (I Melakhim 11:30-32)
The reader presumably questions the prophet's faulty math, as it were: If the garment is rent in twelve pieces, how can Yerovam be given ten tribes and Shelomo one? Perhaps the verse should be read as follows:
But he shall have one tribe, for My servant David's sake, and [he shall have one tribe] for Yerushalayim's sake, the city which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel.
In total, the house of David will have two tribes: the tribe of Yehuda for the sake of David and as a continuation of him, and the tribe of Binyamin for the sake of Yerushalayim. For if the tribe of Binyamin would be joined in a most natural manner to his brother Yosef and the tribes of Israel who support Yerovam of Efrayim, Yerushalayim would be divided between the two kingdoms and would turn from a capital city to a border city, as Yerushalayim was in our time until the Six-Day War.
David and Yerushalayim
The connection between David and Yerushalayim is found in our liturgy in many places:
Return in mercy to Yerushalayim Your city and dwell therein as You have promised; speedily establish therein the throne of David Your servant, and rebuild it, soon in our days, as an everlasting edifice. (Amida prayer)
Have mercy, Lord our God, upon Israel Your people, upon Yerushalayim Your city, upon Tziyon the abode of Your glory, upon the kingship of the house of David Your anointed. (Grace after Meals)
This connection is based on the deep bond between David and Yerushalayim in Tanakh:
But I will take the kingdom out of his son's hand, and will give it to you, even ten tribes. And to his son will I give one tribe, that David My servant may have a lamp always before Me in Yerushalayim, the city which I have chosen Me to put My name there. (I Melakhim 11:35-36)
For I will defend this city to save it, for My own sake, and for My servant David's sake. (I Melakhim 15:4)
And I will defend this city for My own sake, and for My servant David's sake. (II Melakhim 19:34)
And I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Ashur; and I will defend this city for My own sake, and for My servant David's sake. (II Melakhim 20:6)
Yeshayahu's prophecy in the last verse above is delivered at the time of Sancheiriv's siege of Yerushalayim, when Chizkiyahu the king of Yehuda lies on his deathbed and does not have sons to replace him. At this time both Yerushalayim and the kingdom of the house of David are in danger of being wiped out. Yeshayahu delivers two prophecies: Chizkiyahu will recover from his illness and have children, and Yerushalayim will be delivered from the hands of the king of Ashur. This is precisely what happens.
The fate of the house of David and of Yerushalayim remain entwined for all time.
Yerushalayim is chosen twice, and both times by virtue of absolute devotion. By virtue of Avraham's dedication to God at the Akeida, God chooses the place to rest His Shekhina there; and by virtue of Yehuda's dedication to Binyamin, David chooses Yerushalayim — which belongs to both Yehuda and to Binyamin — to serve as his capital city. Dedication to fulfill God's command is the reason for the selection of the Temple and the site of the Shekhina, and dedication to the unity of the people is the reason for Yerushalayim’s being chosen as the capital city.
The two selections — that of the holy city and that of the royal city — are interconnected, for this is the oath taken by David when he is distressed about not finding the site of the Shekhina:
A Song of Ascents.
Surely I will not come into the tent of my house, nor go up into the bed that is spread for me;
I will not give sleep to my eyes, nor slumber to my eyelids;
Until I find out a place for the Lord, a dwelling-place for the Mighty One of Ya’akov. (Tehillim 132:1-5)
It would appear that it is in the wake of these verses that Chazal say that David would sleep like a horse, that is, in a standing position, until midnight, and from then he would rise with the energy of a lion (Berakhot 3b). David takes an oath not to go into his bed until he finds a place for the Shekhina.
At the time of the return to Tziyon, the prophet Chaggai reprimands Israel for not conducting themselves as had David their king:
Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your cieled houses, while this house lies waste?... Why? says the Lord of hosts. Because of My house that lies waste, while you run every man for his own house. (Chaggai 1:4-9)
It seems that the connection that David draws between his own fate and the fate of the Shekhina, which moves about without a fixed place of habitation after the destruction of Shilo, contributes to the fact that God establishes his Residence alongside David's house — in Yerushalayim, the royal city of Israel.
 The words "In the mountain where the Lord is seen" mean: in the mountain which the Lord shall choose. So too, in the Book of Devarim, it is stated (12:13-14):
Take heed to yourself that you offer not your burnt-offerings in every place that you see; but in the place which the Lord shall choose in one of your tribes, there you shall offer your burnt-offerings and there you shall do all I command you.
That is to say: Do not offer your offerings in a place that you shall choose, but rather in a place that God shall choose.
Similarly Avraham says to Yitzchak: "God will Himself see to (yireh) the lamb for a burnt-offering" (Bereishit 22:8). Once again the word yireh means "choose."
So too in Rabbinic Hebrew, "I see (ro’eh) the words of Elazar the son of Arakh over your words" (Avot 2:9), means: I choose his words over yours.