Parashat Ekev: The two Jerusalems

This week’s portion of Ekev is a magnificent paean of praise to the glories of the Land of Israel.

Picture from the Parasha girls swinging 521 (photo credit: Israel Weiss ( http://artfram)
Picture from the Parasha girls swinging 521
(photo credit: Israel Weiss ([email protected]) http://artfram)
‘Guard yourselves lest you forget the Lord your God… lest you eat and be satisfied… and your heart becomes haughty and you forget the Lord your God who took you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage’ (Deut. 8:11-14)
This week’s portion of Ekev is a magnificent paean of praise to the glories of the Land of Israel, a land set aside for the Hebrews that will provide them with plentiful vegetation, luscious fruits and wealth producing natural resources necessary for this nation.
At the center of the lyrical description of a unique land for a unique people comes the commandment for the mother of all blessings, the Grace recited after meals: “And you shall eat and be satisfied, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you” (Deuteronomy 8:10).
A careful study of Chapter 8 reveals three major concepts which parallel the three blessings of our Grace after Meals: Firstly, that we do not live by bread alone, but by what emanates from God, the Universal Sustainer (8:2, 3, with the first blessing thanking God “who feeds all”). Secondly, that God has brought the Israelites specifically to this land which will sustain us (7-10, with the second blessing thanking God “for the land and the sustenance”); and thirdly that God adjures us not to forget Him and His laws lest we be destroyed from off the land He has given us (8:11-20, with the third blessing beseeching God for compassion towards His nation, Israel and Jerusalem, and thanking God “the builder of Jerusalem”).
Why are there two separate blessings, the second for the land and the third for Jerusalem? Jerusalem is the capital city of Israel. Why not incorporate the restoration of Jerusalem with the restoration of the Land of Israel, leaving two biblical blessings for the Grace after Meals rather than three blessings? I believe that the Land of Israel and the City of Jerusalem are two separate entities, two separate concepts, and two separate sanctities. Israel is a geographical location, whose function is to provide nutrients and material benefits for the Israelite nation.
And a nation-state requires a leader-ruler, who takes responsibility for the physical security and economic well-being of its citizenry. It makes sense that this leader live in the capital city, which will also house other governmental agencies responsible for the smooth functioning of the commonwealth.
However, as Chapter 8 also makes clear, Israel the land and the nation remain beholden to a Higher Leader, the ultimate Leader-Ruler of whoever may be elected or appointed to rule. He has inspired and “inspirited” Israel with His message of compassionate righteousness and moral justice. He has revealed to Israel His demand for human freedom and ethical morality. He has commanded Israel to build for Him a House-Sanctuary on earth so that He – His teachings and values – may dwell within humanity in this world.
This place of God’s dwelling is the primary Jerusalem, which is the expression of the true sanctity of Jerusalem. The mortal ruler whose throne is in Jerusalem, even King Messiah, is merely the representative, the “spokesperson,” for the true and universal Ruler of all rulers (see Deut. 17:14-20).
God’s teachings of love, morality and peace will extend to all the families of the earth from the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, in the City of God, Jerusalem, in the City of Peace, Jerusalem, in the City of Wholeness and Universalism, Jerusalem. (Isaiah 2, Micah 4).
This is the place where “My house will be a House of Prayer for all peoples” when “all the nations will call upon the Name of God to serve Him in united resolve” (Zephaniah 3:9).
In order to distinguish between these two Jerusalems – the capital city of Israel and the city of God; the Jerusalem of the Knesset and the Jerusalem of the Third Temple; the Jerusalem of today and the Jerusalem of our Messianic vision – it is most proper to refer to the later Jerusalem as Zion. (See, for example, “God has chosen Zion, a desirable dwelling place for Him,” [Psalms 132:13] or, “May the Lord bless you from Zion” [Psalms 134:3]). And it is for this Jerusalem which will be a light and a banner for all humanity that we are praying in the third blessing of the Grace after Meals, especially as we mention “Zion, and the Sanctuary of Your Glory.”
Postscript: On Tisha Be’av, when we recite the “Nahem” prayer in the Minha Amida and speak of a city “which has been laid waste, scorned and desolate… like a barren, childless woman, devoured by the [Roman] legions,” the words seem at best disingenuous and at worst ungrateful and blind to our present-day miracle.
I have adopted for my prayer, and suggested for the town of Efrat, the emendation of Rav Haim David Halevi, who simply substituted the past tense (hayta, was) whenever the text is in the present tense.
However in light of this commentary, this year I adopted the amendment of Rav Nahum Rabinowitz, head of Ma’aleh Adumim’s Yeshivat Birkat Moshe, who substitutes “the mountain” for the “the city” which is now laid waste.
If the subject of the prayer is the Temple Mount, Zion rather than Jerusalem, then unfortunately, the prayer remains exceedingly relevant.
Shabbat shalom
The writer is the founder and chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone colleges and graduate programs, and chief rabbi of Efrat.