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The Heavenly Jerusalem and the Earthly Jerusalem

Harav Baruch Gigi
Text file

Adapted by Lavi Bigman

Translated by Kaeren Fish



Two Jerusalems


When the Ramban arrived in Jerusalem, he offered a most moving prayer:


Our feet were planted at your gates, O Jerusalem, House of God and Gateway of Heaven;

Jerusalem that is rebuilt, a city that is joined together, with that which is above.

There the tribes ascended – the tribes of God; there is the foundation stone

From which the world was drawn, and from which the foundations of the world and their boundaries were created.

There is MountMoriah, whence Torah and salvation shall emerge.


With these words, the Ramban emphasizes the centrality of Jerusalem, located at the very "navel" of the world. From this point, the world was drawn forth, and at the same time, this Jerusalem is connected to the Jerusalem on high; the one faces the other. The tribes ascended to the foundation stone, to MountMoriah, from where the world was created and from where Torah comes forth.


Jerusalem is the connection between heaven and earth. What is the nature of this connection?


In the Midrash Tanchuma (Parashat Pekudei, siman 1), we find the following:


"These are the accountings of the mishkan" (Shemot 38) – The verse reads, "The Throne of Glory, on High from the beginning, the place of our Sanctuary" (Yirmiyahu 17), [meaning,] that is where our Sanctuary faced. It is also written, "The abode of Your rest You have made, O Lord; God's sanctuary has been prepared by Your hands" (Shemot 15). We also find that Jerusalem is reflected heavenward, like the earthly Jerusalem; because of [God's] great love of the earthly [Jerusalem], He made another on high, as it is written, "Behold, I have engraved you upon hands; your walls are before Me always" (Yishayahu 49). For what reason was it destroyed? Because "Your children hastened; those who have destroyed you and brought you to ruin have emerged from you" (ibid.). For this reason it was destroyed. And David said, "Jerusalem that is rebuilt is like a city that is joined together" (Tehillim 122) – meaning, like the city that was built by God… And He promised that His Holy Presence would not enter the Jerusalem on High until the earthly Jerusalem would be rebuilt.


The simple understanding of this midrash is that God built the heavenly Jerusalem for Himself, while the earthly Jerusalem belongs to Am Yisrael. God conditions His entry into the heavenly Jerusalem with the entry of His children into the earthly Jerusalem. This reflects some measure of the promise of "I am with him in distress."


There is another way of understanding the two aspects of Jerusalem mentioned in the midrash. The earthly Jerusalem is the basis – perhaps even the precondition – for the heavenly Jerusalem. The heavenly Jerusalem cannot be built without the foundation of the earthly Jerusalem. The heavenly Jerusalem cannot exist, as it were, without the fundamental existence of the earthly Jerusalem.


Jerusalem on Earth


What is the "earthly Jerusalem" to which we aspire? In Sefer Bereishit, we encounter Malki-Tzedek, king of Shalem, whose name expresses righteousness (tzedek) and uprightness (yosher). His kingship is an expression of wholeness and justice. The Ramban (Bereishit 14:18) explains:


"And Malki-Tzedek, king of Shalem" – this refers to Jerusalem, as it is written, "His Tabernacle is in Shalem." In the days of Yehoshua as well its king was named "Adoni-Tzedek," for even then the nations knew that this place was the choice site of civilization, or they knew of its special properties through a tradition that it was aligned with the heavenly Temple, and there dwelled the Divine Presence of God, which is called "tzedek." According to Bereishit Rabba, this place causes its inhabitants to be righteous, like Malki-Tzedek [and] Adoni-Tzedek; Jerusalem is called "tzedek," as it is written, "tzedek [righteousness] shall dwell in it."


The fundamental quality of Jerusalem is righteousness; it is the very foundation of the city. This quality of the earthly Jerusalem preceded the giving of the Torah to Am Yisrael; it existed even in the days of Malki-Tzedek.


The same idea finds expression in the Prophets, as well:


Afterwards you shall be called "the city of righteousness, the faithful city." Tzion shall be redeemed with justice and its returnees with righteousness. (Yishayahu 1:26-27)


The earthly Jerusalem is, to a certain degree, a shining example of human existence on earth, existing in peace and tranquility and in which mutual respect and appreciation are maintained. It is perhaps for this reason that Jerusalem is not divided among the tribes, for it unites all of its inhabitants; each of the tribes has a share in it.


In contrast, the heavenly Jerusalem is the city of the Divine Presence, from which emanate Torah and prophecy. It is there that Bnei Yisrael visit three times each year to view God's countenance and to present themselves before Him.


And Avraham called that place "God will see (Hashem yir'eh)," concerning which it is said to this day, "God will make Himself seen upon the mountain (be-har Hashem yera'eh)." (Bereishit 22:14)


The heavenly Jerusalem is the supernal meeting point between man and God – a great, elevated, lofty encounter in which sight, speech, hearing, and connection and cleaving to God find expression.


Jerusalem is also the city of kingship – the "King's sanctuary, the city of royalty" - where God's Kingship is manifest through mortal kingship. However, the royalty that is reflected in Jerusalem is different from any other.


In our prayers, we mention the kingship of Jerusalem and the royal House of David in two separate blessings: the blessing of "Who rebuilds Jerusalem" and the blessing "Who causes David to flourish." In the latter blessing, the focus is on kingship that brings salvation to man, the sort of kingship that we need today. This is a kingship of righteousness and fairness, a mortal kingship. The kingship to which we aspire in the blessing "Who rebuilds Jerusalem" is the aspect of the manifestation of heavenly Kingship expressed through its mirror-image – mortal kingship. As the verse teaches, "And Shlomo sat upon the throne of God as king;" this is the kingship of the heavenly Jerusalem on earth. This is the essential reason why "[even if] a king forgoes his honor – his honor is not foregone:" because it reflects the honor of God. This is the essence of the earthly Jerusalem; it is the revelation of God's word that descends to the earth.


Both of these aspects are bound up with the name of the city – "Shalem." This name expresses the wholeness that is required in human relationships, certainly when we speak of leading the nation in the paths of uprightness and righteousness. The other aspect of the city finds expression in the addition of the prefix to the name: "Yerushalayim." In the story of the akeda, God was manifest through the aspect of awe: "For now I know that you fear God." It was in the wake of that fear and awe that Avraham achieved the vision of "be-har Hashem yera'eh." This is the Jerusalem of "derekh eretz" – of proper conduct – that precedes Torah. If the earthly Jerusalem is not yet rebuilt because the expressions of righteousness and uprightness are not placed at the foundation of the city, then there is no place for the heavenly Jerusalem, the Jerusalem of prophecy and Heavenly Kingship.


There are two further views of Jerusalem, which are expressed in the two aspects mentioned above, those of "fear" (yir'a) and "vision" (re'iya). These are fundamentally connected to the revelation of God's glory in the Temple. In Parashat Tetzaveh we read: "… at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting before God, where I shall meet with you, to speak to Me." Rashi (ad loc.) explains:


When I make a time to speak to you [singular], it will be there that I will arrange to come. There are some among our rabbis who deduce from this that when the Mishkan was established, God would speak with Moshe from above the copper altar. Others say that it was from above the covering [over the Ark], as it is written, "And I will speak with you [singular] from above the covering." And the words "where I will meet with you [plural]" mentioned here refer not to the altar, but to the Tent of Meeting that is mentioned in the verse.


There is some debate as to whether God speaks with Moshe from the altar or from above the covering that is over the Ark of the Covenant. On the literal level, we may decide the matter by drawing a distinction between God's speech to Moshe and His speech to the entire nation. However, there is another major point involved here: is the revelation of God a "revelation from below," from the place of the covering over the Ark, or is it a "revelation from above," from the place of the altar?


The Rambam comments:


The location of the altar is very specific, and it is never moved from its place, as it is written, "This is the altar for the burnt offering for Israel." It was in the [location of the] Sanctuary that Yitzchak was bound, as it is written, "Go to the land of Moriah," and it is written in Divrei Ha-yamim, "And Shlomo began to build the house of God in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, which was revealed to David his father, which David had prepared at that place at the threshing floor of Arnan the Jebusite." And it is a well-known tradition that the place where David and Shlomo built the altar, at the threshing-floor of Aravna, was the place where Avraham built his altar and bound Yitzchak upon it. This was also the place where Noach built [his altar] upon emerging from the ark, and it was the same altar upon which Kayin and Hevel had offered their sacrifices and where Adam had offered his sacrifice when he was created, and it was from there that he had been created. Our Sages [therefore] taught, "Man was created from the place of his atonement." (Hilkhot Beit ha-Bechira 2:1-2)


From the same place where man was created, the foundation of atonement was conceived, allowing him to correct his ways; it was from the same place that the dust for the altar was taken. When we say that God is revealed to man from the place of his atonement, we mean that God is revealed to man in the place where He sees and recognizes man's weaknesses.


God is revealed to man specifically in the place where his weaknesses find expression, reflecting the words of the verse, "Adam ki yakriv" – "When a person sacrifices [which can be understood as 'sacrifices himself']…" He is revealed to man through that principle of mortal sacrifice – not out of nullification of the human aspect, but rather out of awareness of human weakness and with an attempt to expose his aspect of holiness. It is specifically out of the midst of this that man is able to merit revelation from the place of the altar. The raising of the banner of Torah will not come from severance from the machinations of life, but rather through connecting it with the powers of the soul, as though the person is sacrificing his soul. As the gemara (Sanhedrin 43b) puts it:


R. Yehoshua ben Levi said: During the time of the Temple, if a person sacrificed a burnt offering, he would receive the reward of that burnt offering; if he offered a meal offering, he would receive the reward of a meal offering. But a person whose thoughts are humble is considered as though he offered all of the sacrifices, as it is written, "The offerings of God are a broken spirit." Moreover, his prayer is not rejected, as it is written, "A heart that is broken and downtrodden – God, do not despise it."


This is the central point: sometimes a person sacrifices his broken spirit.


This human aspect of the earthly Jerusalem, revealed to mortals as mortals, emphasizes the need for closeness to God in the natural arenas of life.


Standing before God


The mitzva of bringing the ma'aser sheni is quite unique. We are told:


You shall surely tithe all of the produce of the seed which your field brings forth year by year. And you shall eat it before the Lord your God in the place which He will choose to cause His Name to rest there; the tithe of your corn, your wine, and your oil, and the firstlings of your herds and of your flocks, in order that you will learn to fear the Lord your God always. (Devarim 14:22-23)


What is the meaning of this mitzva? This ma'aser is not given to anyone; a person eats his own produce himself in Jerusalem. The verse itself states the reason for the mitzva: "In order that you will learn to fear…" But how does ma'aser sheni teach us the lesson of fear of God?


Chazal explain that when a person makes his journey to Jerusalem, he encounters Torah scholars; thus, the ma'aser sheni leads a person to achieve the deeper messages and meanings that are to be found in Jerusalem. There may be a more fundamental aspect to this situation, however; the very act of a person standing before God to eat his ma'aser sheni causes him to fear God. Quite naturally, that experience fills him with great fear of Heaven; it leads him to fear God even when "you turn back in the morning and go back to your tents…" In Jerusalem, a person internalizes the meaning of his standing before God.


Out of this same simple and natural fear of God, one may seek and aspire to elevate himself to the utmost reaches of holiness and cleaving to God. In the new collections of R. Kook's writings, there is a piece that expresses this idea:


The fact that God is perceived only through religion has caused the world to fall into the lowest depths. God should be known from all of life, from all of existence, and thus He will be known in all of life and in all of existence. Religion is a means to aid one in attune one's actions, traits, emotions, external and internal social order, in a manner that will enable life and existence to attain the knowledge of God. God is revealed from within religion only to the extent to which religion itself is hewn from that which is above religion. "Religion" is the proper name used by every nation and tongue, but not so among Israel. The "living Torah" is not religion alone; our living Torah is Divine revelation, which is revealed from within it as from within all of existence. The Torah and existence, in being one, reveal God in life, within the individual and the collective soul. The holy and the profane are divided from the perspective of religion. Religion places guards over matters of sanctity, while leaving profane matters alone. This is necessarily a concept that comes from religion. [But in the living Torah,] God is revealed from within everything, from within the holy and from within the profane. (Kevatzim Mi-Ketav Yad Kodsho, vol. 2, pinkas ha-dapim 1, p. 59, par. 20)


We may perceive God within the earthly Jerusalem, and it is perhaps the perception of God within the earthly reality of the lower Jerusalem that allows us to aspire to the supernal revelation.


Complete Happiness


The Six-Day War in 1967 was a time of great Divine favor. It led to the liberation of all parts of Eretz Yisrael and Jerusalem – the site of the Temple and the focus of spiritual awakening towards an encounter with God, with the "Beloved" as described in Shir Ha-shirim. But the encounter was not realized, certainly not to the extent that we hoped for. For this reason we find ourselves to some extent "treading water," continuing to hope and pray for God's "return to Zion in mercy."


The reason for this is explained in Sefer Ha-Kuzari by R. Yehuda ha-Levi: "For the Divine concept descends upon a person only in accordance with his readiness for it – if only slightly, then slightly; if much, then much." The way to realize the great vision of Jerusalem, of the joining of "awe" (yir'a) and "vision" (re'iya), between human Torah and Divine enlightenment, is to be found in our aspirations and longings. If we have not achieved the desired success thus far, then we – the students of the beit ha-midrash - must turn our attention to the proper connection and relationship between the ethereal and the earthly. Taking a wider view of the nation as a whole, we must pay attention to the connection between righteousness and uprightness, between fairness and harmony and the aspirations of Torah and holiness.


The edifice of Torah can only stand on the pure and straight foundations of society. We are indeed obligated to recognize and acknowledge the great lights of Torah and of derekh eretz that already exist in Jerusalem in particular, and in Eretz Yisrael in general, and the call to extend the growing circles of righteousness. After acknowledging what we have merited to see, we can hope to improve further and to raise the banner of Jerusalem and the banner of the Divine Presence.


"'This is Zion – no one seeks her out' – this demonstrates that she requires seeking out." We, too, must seek out Zion and prepare the way for God's entry into it. We must ask God to enter the heavenly Jerusalem as well, so that we will merit a complete and perfect joining between the heavenly Jerusalem and the earthly Jerusalem.


The husband of a certain woman and her sons and her sons-in-law went overseas. When people said to her, "Your sons have come," she answered, "My daughters-in-law will be happy." [When they said,] "Here are your sons-in-law," she replied, "My daughters will be happy." When they said, "Here is your husband," she said to them, "Now my happiness is complete." Likewise, the prophets say to Jerusalem, "Your children will come from afar" (Yeshayahu 60:4), and she says to them, "MountZion will rejoice" (Tehillim 48:12). [They say,] "Your daughters are carried on the side" (Yeshayahu 60:4), and she answers them, "The daughters of Yehuda will be joyful" (Tehillim 48:12). And when they say to her, "Behold, your King comes to you" (Zekharya 9:9), she says to them, "Now my happiness is complete - 'I shall rejoice in the Lord…' (Yeshayahu 61:10)" (Pesikta De-Rav Kahana, Pesikta 22 – "sos asis")


By nature, some things at times bring joy to one particular group or another and there are instances of local progress, but today we aspire to the complete joy of "Your King comes to you." This joy is the joy of the revelation of God's Kingship over Jerusalem, and then we will sing a great song:


I rejoice in the Lord; my soul is joyful over my God. (Yeshayahu 61:10)


(This sicha was delivered on Yom Yerushalayim 5768 [2008].)

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