Jerusalem is the heart of the world,' serving not just a physical role, but a spiritual one too. Just as the heart pumps life-giving blood to every part of the body, so too does Jerusalem infuse the world with spirituality. * On the second reading of Parshas R’ei.
"Seek the Lord at the place which the Lord your God will choose" (Deuteronomy 12:5). "The sanctity of Jerusalem is eternal" – writes Rambam, establishing the unending reverence for the Holy City in Jewish tradition but also set the stage for our exploration into the profound significance of Jerusalem and its inseparable connection to the Jewish people, their Divine service, and the Messianic era.
Jerusalem, known in Hebrew as Yerushalayim, is a city with a rich and complex history that stretches back over 3,000 years. It is mentioned over 800 times in the Bible and has held a central place in Jewish history and consciousness since King David established it as the capital of his kingdom around 1000 BCE. His son, Solomon, built the First Temple on Mount Moriah, known as the Temple Mount, further enhancing its significance. After the First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE, the Jews returned from exile and built the Second Temple on the same site. The Second Temple was then expanded by King Herod in the first century BCE and later destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. Throughout its history, Jerusalem has been besieged, destroyed, and rebuilt numerous times. Despite these challenges, its spiritual and historical significance for the Jewish people has never diminished.
THE CHOSEN PLACE
Deuteronomy 12:5 states: "But you shall seek the Lord at the place which the Lord your God will choose from all your tribes, to establish His name there for His dwelling, and there you shall come."
Rashi, a prominent medieval Jewish commentator, explains this verse as referring to the future Temple in Jerusalem. He points out that at the time of the verse's writing, the Israelites had not yet reached the Land of Israel and the Temple had not yet been built. The verse, therefore, refers to a future location that God will choose. This location is identified as Jerusalem, as it is the place where God chose to establish His Name.
Rambam (Maimonides), a preeminent medieval Jewish philosopher and legal codifier, discusses the sanctity of Jerusalem in his Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Beit HaBechirah (Laws of the Chosen House). In Chapter 6:14-16, he asserts that the sanctity of Jerusalem and the Temple is eternal, and that it was the only place where the Jews could bring sacrifices, as stated in Deuteronomy 12:5. He cites the verses in Psalms 132:14 and I Chronicles 22:1 to affirm this: "This is My resting place forever...This is the House of the Lord, God, and this is the altar for the burnt offerings of Israel." Thus, Rambam underlines the unique status and sanctity of Jerusalem as the chosen location of God's presence and the place for the Jewish Temple.
THE HEART OF JERUSALEM
To understand the significance of the choice of Jerusalem, let's consider the perspective of the Maharal of Prague, a pre-eminent Jewish philosopher, Kabbalist, and Talmudist. In his works, he speaks of Jerusalem as more than a geographical location. Rather, he describes it as the "heart of the world," serving not just a physical role, but a spiritual one too. Just as the heart pumps life-giving blood to every part of the body, so too does Jerusalem infuse the world with spirituality. This understanding imbues every Jew with a divine mission, to live a life that sanctifies the world, a call to a higher form of Avodat Hashem (Divine Service). The Maharal further prophesizes the advent of Moshiach as a time when Jerusalem's spiritual influence will be fully actualized, witnessed in the rebuilding of the Temple and the ingathering of Jews from all corners of the globe.
Building upon this, we delve into the realm of Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical tradition. The Zohar, its principal work, correlates Jerusalem and the Holy Temple to the divine attribute of "Malchut" or "Kingdom". This celestial point is viewed as the nexus between heaven and earth, a conduit for divine blessings to flow into the world. In terms of Avodat Hashem, it represents the goal of bringing divine presence into every facet of worldly life. The destruction of the Temple interrupted this flow, and the Messianic era (Moshiach) is associated with its restoration, echoing Maharal's sentiment on Jerusalem's enhanced spiritual role in the era of Moshiach.
Finally, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, a leading figure in Chassidic philosophy, elucidates that Jerusalem, particularly the Holy Temple, transcends geographical significance to encapsulate a spiritual concept. It symbolizes the notion of creating a dwelling place for the Divine in this world - the ultimate purpose of creation and the responsibility of every Jew through their study of Torah and observance of Mitzvot (Avodat Hashem). This aligns with the Chassidic understanding of the verse in Exodus 25:8, "And they shall make Me a sanctuary, and I will dwell among them." This "sanctuary" (Mikdash) refers not only to a physical structure but also to the spiritual sanctuaries that each person can construct within their own lives. Through this lens, every positive action brings the world one step closer to the Moshiach's era, when the Third Temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem, marking the apex of Jerusalem's spiritual significance.