Gateway to Heaven
by Rabbi Yaacov Chaiton
by Rabbi Yaacov Chaiton
As Jews we seem to be quite passionate about Jerusalem -we mention Jerusalem countless times in our daily prayers, all Jews throughout the world pray in the direction of Jerusalem, we conclude our Passover seder and our Yom Kippur day with the declaration "Next year in Jerusalem" and our leaders constantly refer to Jerusalem as "the eternal capital of the Jewish people". I don't hear Canberra being referred to as "the eternal capital of the Australian people" or Washington being called "the eternal capital of America", so why are we so obsessive about Jerusalem?
For the 440 years that the Jewish people were in the holy land until King David ruled in the year 877BCE, Jerusalem had remained an unconquered non-Jewish city in the heart of a Jewish country. A Canaanite tribe, the Jevusites, lived there and had it heavily fortified. King David's first objective upon becoming king was to conquer Jerusalem. Immediately after conquering it, he declares Jerusalem as the "eternal capital for the Jewish people".
Why did King David choose Jerusalem as the capital? Geographically it probably would have made more sense to have a capital city on the sea where it could serve as a major route?
The answer is that King David did not choose Jerusalem. G-d chose Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is not a holy city because we lived there. It is not even holy because that's where the temple stood. Jerusalem is holy because Jerusalem was chosen by G-d at the very beginning of creation to be the place through which we can connect to Him. In fact the word "Yerushalayim" is a make-up of two Hebrew words - "Yirah" ("awe") and "Shelaimah" (complete). This is the place from which "complete awe" of G-d radiates to the world and is thus the place to connect to him. It's for this reason that we pray in the direction of Jerusalem, because Jerusalem is so-to-say "G-d's window to the world". Great events may have taken place in Jerusalem prior to David choosing it as his capital: Jerusalem is the place where Abraham almost sacrificed his son Isaac and it was in Jerusalem that Jacob saw a ladder going up to heaven. But it's not these events that make Jerusalem holy. These great events took place in Jerusalem because these great people who wanted to connect to G-d knew that Jerusalem was intrinsically the opportune place to do so and it's because of this intrinsic holiness that King David chose Jerusalem as the place for the Temple.
There is a fundamental difference between the way that we became a nation and the way any other people became a nation. Nations become nations by living on a common piece of land for an extended period of time, eventually forming a common language, shared values, culture and worldview. Take Australia for example - after living on a shared piece of land for so long, a group of people had so much in common that they eventually formed their unique identity - the Australian people. The Jewish people became a nation at the giving of the Torah which took place in the middle of the desert, no-man's-land. Our nationhood did not come about because of our common values or our shared land; our nationhood came about first and foremost by our pledge of allegiance to G-d which took place at the giving of the Torah. Our nationhood is defined by our connection to G-d.
Because our nationhood is defined by our connection to G-d and Jerusalem is the place through which that connection is maintained, take Jerusalem away from us and we would immediately cease to be a nation. No wonder we're so passionate about it.
"Leshanah Haba'ah Beyerushalayim" - Next Year in Jerusalem.