The Unique Kedushah of Yerushala'yim

by: David Derovan

The Unique Kedushah of Yerushala’yim

By: David Derovan

Jerusalem, 5761

NOTE: The sources for this article were culled from a Hebrew article by Yitzchak Ze’ev Kahana, “The Pre-eminence of Yerushala’yim over the Rest of the Cities of Israel in the Responsa Literature,” in Studies in the Responsa Literature (Mossad HaRav Kook: Yerushala’yim, 1973, pp. 195-205).
The Question
“Yerushala’yim!” The very mention of the name is magic! Close your eyes. Concentrate. Say, “Yerushala’yim.” The word conjures up visions of King David and his army breaching the mighty defensive wall of the city of the Yevusim. The word brings a tear to our eyes as we remember the glorious splendor of the Temples. And another tear forms as we recall the destruction of both Temples. Say, “Yerushala’yim,” and you think of the narrow lanes in Mea She’arim, of the pungent smells that assaulted your nose as you stroll through the Machaneh Yehuda market.
To say that Yerushala’yim occupies a special place in our tradition, in our hearts is to understate the case. The following story illustrates the point. A friend, who studied at Yeshiva University with Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik (of blessed memory), described the following experience he had while studying with the Rav (Rav Soloveitchik) during the summer in Boston. One afternoon, he was by himself in the Rav’s study, looking at the Sefarim on the shelves. The door opened and the Rav’s mother came in, nodded to him and then stood in a corner to daven Mincha. The old woman recited the Shemonah Esray in a whisper, which allowed my friend to hear what she was saying. When she came to the blessing that requests that God return to Yerushala’yim, her voice broke and quavered. He looked at the Rav’s mother he couldn’t resist and he watched as she recited this blessing with tears streaming down her face. This old woman who grew up in a Rabbinic household in Europe, who was married to an illustrious rabbi, who was the mother of one of the greatest Rabbinic geniuses of this century, who lived the second half of her life in America, never lived in Israel. In all probability, she never ever visited Yerushala’yim. But when she davened Mincha on a weekday afternoon, her voice broke and she shed tears for Yerushala’yim.
The question, then, is where is there a reflection of the unique sanctity, Kedushah, of Yerushala’yim in the sources of our tradition?
“Tearing” (“Keri’ah”) for Yerushala’yim
Unfortunately, many of us are familiar with the laws of “Tearing Keri’ah” in the context of mourning. Upon hearing that a loved one has passed away, the mourner must tear his shirt above his heart as a symbol of grief. However, the Talmud, in Mo’ed Katan (26a), has a long list of instances when a person is required to perform “Tearing Keri’ah:”
Our Rabbis taught: In the following instances we tear [our clothes in mourning] and do not sew them up [again]: Whoever “tears” for a father or mother. [Whoever “tears”] for his Rebbe who taught him Torah. [Whoever “tears”] for the Nasi. [Whoever “tears”] for the head of the Sanhedrin. [Whoever “tears”] for the receipt of “bad” news. [Whoever “tears”] for the “blessing” (i.e. cursing) of God’ name. [Whoever “tears”] for a Sefer Torah which was burnt. [Whoever “tears”] for the cities of Judea, for the Temple, and for Yerushala’yim. Whoever “tears” for the Temple adds for Yerushala’yim…
The Maggid Mishnah, in his commentary on Rambam, Mishnah Torah, Hilchot Ta’anit 5:16, quotes Ramban regarding the above Talmudic quote:
And Ramban, of blessed memory, wrote: I’m surprised. Since it says he “tears” for the destroyed cities of Judea, why is it necessary to say [he “tears”] for the destroyed Yerushala’yim? Isn’t it already included? It is possible to answer that even though he “tears” for the cities of Judea, he still “tears” for Yerushala’yim. For, among the other cities of Judea, if he “tears” for one he does not “tear” for another. The “tearing” for the cities of Judea is one thing and the “tearing” for Yerushala’yim afterwards is another. If he “tears” for Yerushala’yim first, then he is exempt from “tearing” for the other cities of Judea, for he already “tore” for the holiest among them.
Here is our first piece of proof. According to Ramban, the city of Yerushala’yim is special. The requirement to “tear” again for Yerushala’yim is based on the idea that the sanctity of Yerushala’yim is different from the sanctity of the rest of the cities of Judea. This Halacha is quoted in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Cha’yim 561:3). The Ba’yit Chadash, in his commentary on the Tur (ad. loc.), extends the application of the law: “It is obvious that the destroyed cities of Judea, which were mentioned, [are considered such] even if they are now settled, [for] they are called ‘destroyed’ so long as the foreign nations rule over them.” The Ba’yit Chadash teaches us that this law was not just for Talmudic times. It is still applicable to this very day. Whether or not we must actually “tear” when we see present city of Yerushala’yim, the capital of a Jewish state, with the numerous construction cranes swiveling over our heads, is a decision best left to our Poskim (Halachic decisors) to make. However, the sanctity of Yerushala’yim that animates this Halacha belongs exclusively to Yerushala’yim and it is still there, as we shall see presently.
Rambam Assists Us in Our Search
Our second piece of evidence comes from Rambam. He states explicitly that the sanctity of Yerushala’yim is special, different, unique. Here are three laws from Mishnah Torah, Hilchot Bayt HaBechirah (6:14-15):

  1. Any place, which has not been treated in the above manner, is not totally sanctified. Thus, when Ezra sacrificed two thanksgiving offerings, he did so as a remembrance. The place was not sanctified through his action, because the king and Urim V’Tumim were not there. How was it sanctified? Through the first sanctification performed by Shlomo (the king), for he sanctified the [Temple] courtyard and Yerushala’yim at that time and forever.
  2. Therefore, it is permissible to offer all the sacrifices, even though the House (i.e. the Temple) is not built, and likewise to eat all the sacrifices (Kodshay Kodashim) in the [Temple] courtyard, even though it is destroyed and not surrounded by a wall. And to eat the Kodashim Kalim (sacrifices, like Shelamim) and Ma’aser Shayni in all of Yerushala’yim, even though the [city] walls are not there, for the first sanctification was performed for that time and is good forever.
  3. Why do I say regarding the Temple and Yerushala’yim that the first sanctification was forever, yet the sanctification of the rest of Eretz Yisra’el for the laws of Shmitah and tithes, etc. was not forever? For the sanctity of the Temple and Yerushala’yim derive from the Shekhinah, and God’s divine presence is never void. Indeed, it says, “I will destroy your temples” (VaYikra 26:31), about which the Rabbis said (Megilah 28a) that even though they are destroyed, their sanctity remains. However, the land-based obligations of Shmitah and tithes derive from the conquest by the people. Once the land was taken from them (by conquest), the initial conquest was voided and then the Torah exempts the land from the obligations of Shmitah and tithes, for the land does not belong to Israel. Once Ezra made Aliyah and sanctified it, he did not do so via conquest, rather he used Chazaka (right of possession). Therefore, any place which the Olim from Babylonia sanctified a second time using Ezra’s process is holy today, even though the land was subsequently taken from them, and is thus obligated by the law of Shmitahand tithes, as I have explained in the laws of Terumah.

What amazing statements! These three laws contain three simple and very straightforward ideas. First, the sanctity of the Temple, and by extension that of Yerushala’yim, dates back to King Solomon. When the construction of the first Temple was completed. God’s presence occupied the place. God has never left. This is indeed the place chosen by God. (See Devarim 12:5, 11, 21, 26; 14:25; 16:6; 17:8; 18:6; and 26:2.)
The second Halacha presents a truly mind-boggling idea. The major ramification of the first idea is that the Temple ritual can proceed without the physical structure of the Temple. If we could build an altar only an altar we could resume the offering of sacrifices. Just imagine if we were to actually build an altar, today, on the Temple Mount!
The third Halacha clearly differentiates the sanctity of Yerushala’yim (and the Temple) from that of the rest of the Land of Israel. The sanctity of the Land of Israel has two aspects. On the one hand, God invests the land with its primary sanctity. This is “land that God, your Lord, seeks out; the eyes of God, your Lord, are upon it from the beginning of the year to the end of the year” (Devarim 11:11-12). On the other hand, the Jewish people are God’s partners in sanctifying the land. As Rambam makes abundantly clear, our initial investment of sanctity did not last forever. We had to renew it in the time of Ezra.
Yerushala’yim, however, is another story altogether. God inhabited the first Temple a long time ago. And even though the Temple was destroyed and a great deal of history has flown under the bridge, He never left the Temple Mount. He never left Yerushala’yim. He’s still there. He’s still there, ready and waiting for us to come and meet Him there. God’s Presence Resides in Yerushala’yim – Always!
The Midrash (Pirkay d’Rabbi Eliezer, ch. 35) opens another avenue of proof for our case:
Whoever prays in Yerushala’yim, it’s as if he prayed before God and his glorious throne, for the gate to heaven is there and the door is open so He can hear.
Rav Yesha’yahu Horwitz (the Shelah HaKadosh) (Shenay Luchot HaBrit, Sha’ar HaOti’yot, Kadosh, Kedushat Makom, p. 75b) explains the Midrash: Sanctity of place applies to the “Land” [of Israel]…. Even now when it is destroyed, it remains holy. This is the land, which God seeks always. [On the other hand], the land of the Chaldees is an impure land. And all the Jews living there have no possibility for their prayers to ascend to God, unless they “send” their prayers via the holy land to Yerushala’yim, and from there to the Holy of Holies, for this is the gate to heaven. [All this] aside from all the other virtues of this holy place.
Every Jew knows that no matter where they are in the world, we turn to pray towards Yerushala’yim. The Talmud (Berachot 30a) says that if you are standing in the Diaspora, you “direct your heart” toward the Land of Israel. If you are in Israel, you “direct your heart” toward Yerushala’yim. If you are in Yerushala’yim, you must “direct your heart” toward the Temple. If you are in the Temple, then “direct your heart” toward the Holy of Holies, the innermost, holiest room of the Temple. Rambam and the subsequent codifiers quote the Gemara up to this point. The Gemara, however, continues. If you are standing in the Holy of Holies, then you “direct your heart” toward the Bayt HaKaporet. It is evident why Rambam does not quote this Talmudic statement. It was not even practical in Temple times. Then what is the Gemara trying to teach us? And just what was the Bayt HaKaporet?
The Kaporet was the solid gold lid of the Aron HaBrit, the Holy Ark. Part of the lid were the two gold cherubs, who stood facing each other with their wings spread above their heads until the tips touched. Apparently the Bayt HaKaporet was the empty space created by the lid below, the cherubs on the two sides and their wings above. This then is the exact spot to which all prayers travel. It is from here that our prayers rise to heaven. This is the nexus point between heaven and earth. This is Sha’ar HaShama’yim, the gateway to heaven. This is confirmed by the verse from Shemot (25:22). “I will meet you there,” says God to Moshe, “and I will speak to you from above the Kaporet, from between the two cherubs, which are on the Ark of Testimony, concerning all that I command you [to tell] the Jewish people.”
The gateway to heaven is still here. God sits in Yerushala’yim, so to speak, anxious to hear from His beloved children.
The Halachic Ramifications of the Kedushah of Yerushala’yim
On Shemini Atzeret, we pray for rain. We begin once again to add to our Shemonah Esray prayer the phrase praising God as the One who makes the wind blow and the rain fall Mashiv HaRu’ach U’Morid HaGeshem. In Israel, the blessing, where we petition God for rain, is not changed until two weeks later, after Sukkot. Why? The Talmud answers that we have to allow those who have traveled to Yerushala’yim for the holiday to get home before the rain begins. While this law surely made sense in Talmudic times, why are we still doing this in our times? This is the question raised by Rabbenu Nissim (Ran) in his commentary on Ta’anit (note no. 806):
How could Rabbi Elazar decide the Halacha according to Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel? For he only said so because of the decree concerning those who ascend (to Yerushala’yim) for the festivals! And today, after the destruction, we do not have to worry about this decree. If you are going to say that he decided the Halacha for when the Temple is standing, since when do we determine the Halacha for the time of the Mashi’ach!?! According to what he says, we must say that the Halacha was decided for the period after the destruction, for they would come from all around to Yerushala’yim on the festivals, just as we do today. Because of these “pilgrims” it is proper to delay the asking (for rain), which is the essence of the decree, anyway.
And you thought that traveling to Yerushala’yim for Sukkot or Pesach was just a vacation. To come to Yerushala’yim for one of the “Three Festivals Shloshet HaRegalim” in 1999 is still the fulfillment of the Torah’s command that “three times a year all your males will see the face of the Master, God” (Shemot 23:18). The everlasting sanctity of Yerushala’yim has ramifications that affect our daily prayers to this day. Building Yerushala’yim & the Salvation of All of Israel hark back with me to yesteryear when things were not exactly the way they are now. The Gemara in Berachot (49a) discusses the proper ending for the blessing concerning Yerushala’yim in the Shemonah Esray. The closing comment belongs to Rav Nachman.
And Rav Nachman says, “Even if he began with’Have mercy on Israel,’ he ends with’The Builder of Yerushala’yim,’ because it says,’God builds Yerushala’yim, He will bring in the dispersed of Israel’ (Psalms 147:2) When will God build Yerushala’yim? When He brings in the dispersed of Israel.”
Rashi comments, “The building of Yerushala’yim is the salvation of Israel, as it is written, (Psalms 147:2)’God builds Yerushala’yim,’ and then’He will bring in the dispersed of Israel.’ Ze’ev Kahana, whose article served as the basis for the above remarks, ends his essay by paraphrasing Rashi’s comment, “Yes! The building of Yerushala’yim and the salvation of Israel are one!” And that says it all.
A Final Note: Some Thoughts Concerning the Connection between Yom Yerushala’yim and the Omer
There is one last inquiry that demonstrates the special sanctity of Yerushala’yim. This last proof comes to us from the inner world of the spirit.
Yom Yerushala’yim falls on the 43rd day of the Omer. 43 in Gematria is 4+3, which is 7. The 43rd day is 6 weeks and one day — 6+1 — which is also 7. The number seven represents perfection and completeness (Shlaymut – Yerushala’yim) in the natural world. (The number 10 represents perfection and completeness in the natural and spiritual worlds). Yerushala’yim and the Beit HaMikdash are the holiest places on earth, which is the ultimate expression of perfection and completeness in our physical world.
Yerushala’yim is Sha’ar HaShama’yim. That however is on a spiritual level. So when we check to see which Sefirot combination occurs on Yom Yerushala’yim, we see that the 43rd day of the Omer is Chesed ShebeMalchut. The Sefirot are the spiritual tools that God used to create the physical universe, tools that He still employs in dealing with His physical creation. Chesed is the first Sefirah used in the Omer. Malchut is the 7th Sefirah. One plus seven equals eight. Eight represents the movement from the natural, physical world toward the spiritual world, which is exactly the function of Sha’ar HaShama’yim, a gateway from the natural world into the spiritual one.
Thus, Chesed ShebeMalchut denotes the spiritual forces that were at work on that day when we regained our Malchut—sovereignty—over all of Yerushala’yim—an event that was achieved through the abundant Chesed and love of HaShem for His people Israel.
These number combinations might seem more mystifying that mystical, but they just hint (Remez) at the deeper spiritual currents that feed the exclusive sanctity of Yerushala’yim. If you are not presently in Yerushala’yim, you must close your eyes. Concentrate and say, “Yerushala’yim.” Just saying the word will magically connect you to Yerushala’yim, to the sanctity of Yerushala’yim.
And if you are already in Yerushala’yim, then you, too, must close your eyes. Concentrate and say, “Yerushala’yim.” Can you feel it? The Kedushah is almost palpable. Concentrate and say, “Yerushala’yim,” again.