Parashat Ekev: From Jerusalem with love

Why is Jerusalem mentioned in a separate blessing, and wherein does the uniqueness of our capital differ from that of the land in general?

parashat ekev 88 (photo credit: )
parashat ekev 88
(photo credit: )
This week's Torah portion centers on the Land of Israel: the necessity of conquering it and the guarantee that we will benefit from its natural beauty and resources, its luscious fruits, vegetables and grains, and its impressive quarries and mines. Indeed, even when the biblical text directs us to recite the blessing after a meal, our prayer doesn't relate to the food but rather to the land: "You shall eat, you shall be satisfied and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you (Deut. 8:10)" - the land and not the food: Why? Second, the Talmud maintains that there are three blessings, biblically ordained (from our Torah portion of Ekev), which comprise the Grace after Meals: the first for the food as a divine gift, derived from the manna which descended from heaven (Deut. 8:3-6); the second for the land; and the third for the restoration of Jerusalem. Why is Jerusalem mentioned in a separate blessing, and wherein does the uniqueness of our capital differ from that of the land in general? And finally, the biblical text goes on to describe the covenant which God made with Moses and Israel, the subsequent sin of the golden calf, the divine forgiveness for that iniquity and the re-confirmation of Israel's election, but all against the backdrop of the land, the universal nature of our God (Deut. 10:17-21), and the universal nature of our covenant which, if obeyed, will bring fructification, prosperity and well-being to the world (Deut. 11:12 following). How is all this connected? I have written in the past of the two biblical covenants which God made with Israel, the first (with Abraham) known as the "covenant between the pieces" (Genesis 15), and the second (with the entire nation) at Sinai via the Revelation (Exodus 20, 24:6-8). These two covenants are generally interpreted as the national covenant (for in the "covenant between the pieces" God promised the land to Abraham's children and delineated the borders of Israel, population and homeland being essential prerequisites of a nation) and the religious covenant, since the Revelation expressed the divine laws and ethical/moral principles which God commanded the Israelites to observe. In light of the questions I have asked, I would like to add a dimension to the interpretation of these two covenants. Yes, the covenant with Abraham expresses Israel as a nation-state. But the second covenant at Sinai was not only a religious covenant, creating Israel as a faith community in a unique relationship with God; it was also a covenant with the world, expecting all the nations to accept at least the seven laws of morality given to Noah: not to worship idols, not to blaspheme God, not to steal, not to commit sexual sins, not to murder, not to eat the limb of a living animal, and to establish courts of law to enforce these laws. Maimonides, the great Jewish philosopher of the 12th century, codifies the fact that God commanded Moses to teach Israel the 613 commandments, and all the nations of the world these seven commandments of morality and peace (Laws of Kings 8,10). Even the Ten Commandments themselves are universal in their message, the first announcing God as the Lord of freedom - His basic message to the despot Pharaoh - the next two denouncing all forms of idolatry, the fourth invoking the Sabbath as a symbol of God the creator (even gentile employees must rest on the Sabbath, like us), the fifth demanding that we respect our parents, and the next five dealing with interpersonal relationships (three of which are among the Noahide seven). The Land of Israel is the special gift from God to the Jewish people; it is the one land which is meant to supply Israel with sustenance and security, food and borders. Given the fact that we live in an unfriendly world which often attempts to destroy us - perhaps because of our insistence on morality - it is crucial that there be at least one land to feed and protect us. Hence our blessing for a meal must emphasize the one land which will provide us with food and lodging without our having to depend on foreign nations. Jerusalem, however, is much more than the capital of Israel; Jerusalem is the home of the Temple, a sanctuary with a message of peace for all the nations (Isaiah 2, Micah 4, Zechariah 7, 8, 9). Indeed, the very name Jerusalem means The City of Peace. Both covenants are interrelated. Only against the backdrop of a nation-state ruled democratically with justice and compassion will we be able to influence the world. But the true goal of Israel, the land as well as the people, is centered around Jerusalem, with its message to the world. Hence the blessing following Israel the land in our Grace after Meals is the blessing for Jerusalem, and our Bible portion continues its description of the land with the Revelation at Sinai, the universal God, and the well-being of everyone once fundamental morality is accepted. Postscript: About a year ago I took my grandchildren to see one of the Matrix films. How surprised I was to find a movie which describes a global war between humans and machines (enslaved humans, devoid of free will); the humans are protecting Zion (Jerusalem), which has a divine promise that it will never fall. Victory will come when hope (Hatikva) and love (You shall love your neighbor like yourself) enable the Master of the Keys to enter the chamber of the "One," who is the True Source. This is precisely the message of our Torah - and seems very much like the situation we are in today! The writer is the founder and chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone Colleges and Graduate Programs, and chief rabbi of Efrat.