At the end of this sentence I would like you to close your eyes for a few seconds and ponder – When I say Jerusalem, what do you think of?
That Holy City, the eternal Jewish capital, lined with ancient stones that glow with the sunrise.
Well – Jerusalem has much history as a contested city. It has been attacked 52 times, captured and recaptured 44 times, besieged 23 times, and destroyed twice over the course of 3,000 years. Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives is home to over 150,000 Jewish graves, dating back hundreds of years.
The Hebrew word for Jerusalem – Yerushalayim can be found 660 times throughout Nach (the books of the prophets and writings). Yet in the Five Books of the Torah it is only hinted at, albeit 19 times.
Our Parshat Re’eh gives an important message about this holy place.
“Rather, only at the Place that Hashem, your G-d will choose from among all your Tribes to place his Name shall you seek out His Presence and come there” (12:5). “It shall be that the Place where Hashem, your G-d, will choose to rest his name-there shall you bring everything that I command you: your elevation offerings and your feast-offerings, your tithes and what you raise up with your hands and the choicest of your offerings that you will vow to Hashem.”(12:11)
Rabenu Bachya asks why G-d is so cryptic when it comes to the Temple Mount and Yerushalayim? Why is Mount Moriah which was known as a special place even to the nations of the world and certainly to the Children of Israel in the Desert who knew from their ancestors that this was the place of the binding of Yitzchak at the Akedah, not specified by the Torah? Why does G-d Almighty only refer to it as “the Place”-“Hamakom”?
Parshat Re’eh is not the only place where Yerushalayim and specifically the Temple Mount is left as a secret. In Parshat Va’etchanan Moshe alludes to the Temple Mount when he says, “Let me now cross and see the Good Land that is on the other side of the Jordan, this good mountain and the Lebanon.”(4:25). Rashi says “the Good Mountain” relates to the Temple Mount and “the Lebanon” relates to the Holy Temple. Again the terminology is cryptic.
I once heard in the name of Rabbi Hillel Medalie (of Antwerp) that Yerushalayim = stands for Yerusha Lahem- their (the Jews) heritage. It is a hint that this contested city is and has always been a designated city to Am Yisrael.
Yerushalayim is also hinted at previously in Bereishit (14:18): “But Malchizedek, King of Salem (“Shalem” in Hebrew) brought out bread and wine: he was a Priest of G-d, the Most High.” Our Sages identify Malchizedek as Shem-son of Noah.
The Ramban explains that as the most honoured of Noah’s children, Shem was made the priest of G-d in Yerushalayim. The Priesthood was handed over from Shem to Avraham.
The Akedah took place on the Temple Mount where Avraham held the Priesthood.
“And Avraham called the name of that site “Hashem Yireh” as it is said to this day, on the mountain Hashem will be seen.”(Bereishit 22:14) According to the Midrash G-d synthesized both names for Yerushalayim-Shalem and Yireh into one-Yerushalayim. According to Historical records under Jebusite rule the city was divided into western part called “Jeru” (Yere) and the eastern part called Shalem (Salem). Around the time of Yehoshua’s conquest the Amorite consolidated the two halves of the city and combined the two names (Jerusalem).
The Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim (3:45) gives 3 reasons why the Torah says “HaMakom” “The Place” instead of specifying the word Yerushalayim.
1) Although the nations of the world knew of Har Moriah (hence G-d made reference to Moriah 22:2) they did not realize that it was the direct conduit of prayer and sacrifices to G-d where they would be heard and accepted-more so than any other place in the world for if they knew this secret every nation would want to acquire this site. The result would be War and conflict.
2) The Canaanites with their knowledge would have destroyed the mountain so as to prevent Israel from being able to even build a Beit Hamikdash.
3) The Israelite Tribes would have fought amongst themselves for the rights to possess Yerushalayim. Once the Jews had conquered and divided the Land most of these problems ceased to exist. G-d in his infinite wisdom knew well when and when not to precisely identify a location. G-d, Almighty knew well that Yerushalayim was his most precious Jewel he was bestowing upon the Jewish People.
Like all precious Jewels they are kept in a Vault for safekeeping. G-d kept it in his Vault and did not let out the secret till the Jews had conquered Eretz Yisrael and King David came to power. The Koran which was written nearly a thousand years after the Torah and had total access to the Neviim and Ketuvim where Yerushalayim was mentioned 660 times, did not mention or reference Yerushalayim even once.
Jerusalem was unique in that it bordered the tribe of Binyamin and Yehudah. King David’s first step is to go to Jerusalem and to establish it as the capital. He thereby removes the partition between the kingdom of Yehudah and the kingdom of Israel; between the tribe of Binyamin and the tribe of Yehudah; between Rachel and Leah. Jerusalem until that point had expressed many forms and modes of severance; now a new flag flew over the city, speaking of the completion that is created through partnership, and a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. That was to be the real story of Jerusalem.
“The place which G-d will choose” is an expression that repeats itself over and over again in Sefer Devarim; to a considerable extent it represents the pinnacle of the process that takes place in this Sefer. “Every man whatever is right in his own eyes” (Devarim 12:8) is the point of departure; it embodies inner integrity, but also a narrow perspective that has no room for the “eyes” or perspective of anyone else. Step by step the perspective of the nation in its land broadens, ultimately including rest from its enemies.
Jerusalem is centralised around the self-sacrifice of Avraham and Yitzchak in the service of G-d, but only once there is rest from the enemies and a unique unity amongst the nation can it embody a higher realm of Israel. It is then that G-d can ‘CHOOSE’ to come to this place, and rest His presence there forever.