Before we celebrate Yom Yerushalaim this week, I think it is important to address the question at the head of this page. A simplistic answer could be something in the line of: “Of course it’s not mentioned – it was only founded as a Jewish city by King David, many years after the conclusion of the written Torah” However, not only does this kind of response not answer the question – on the contrary, it strengthens it. If an outsider were to study the Jewish religion and try to formulate its main ideas, Jerusalemwould definitely take a top place on his list. We mention it in our prayers on almost every occasion, at weddings and at funerals, in our songs and in our blessings. I don’t think there is any element of the Jewish religion that can’t be connected somehow to Jerusalem. You would think that a concept that became so important to us would have at least some reference in our most basic text. It seems hard to say that such a significant element of our religion is simply due to historical coincidence.
If at this point, you’re thinking to yourself: “Aha! This is just another one of those rhetorical Daf Parsha questions, let me just read on till I get to the answer” – I’ll try and prove my point with a historical fact. It is not well known but there was a cult in the time of the Temple called the “Shomronim” (Samaritans). They were otherwise observant Jews except for the fact they believed Jerusalem was the wrong place to build the Temple. They proved from the Torah that the most sacred mountain in Israelwas not Har Hamoria but Mount Gerizim. This was the only place in Israelthat the Torah regards as a holy location and actually required the building of an altar and the performance of the “ceremony of the covenant” upon it. (For further details, check out Parshat Ki Tavo). The Shomronim chose this mountain for their Temple. What’s amazing is that it’s not just something from the past; the Shomronim exist to this day. There stands a golden temple on the top of the mountain with Cohanim and Leviim performing all the services and sacrifices required by the Torah. I witnessed this with my own eyes during a visit to Shechem (Nablus) during my military service. In fact, the ceremony of the Shomroni “Korban Pesach” attracts many tourists who come to see this ancient rite performed in real life. What I’m trying to show is that the concept of Jerusalemis so completely absent from the written Torah that it was possible to form an entire cult based on an entirely different location for the spiritual center of the Jewish people. How can this be?
In my humble opinion, the Torah intentionally omitted Jerusalem from the text. Hashem could’ve chosen a location for his Templein advance; instead he chose to refer to the Temple’s location merely as “the place that I shall choose” (Parshat Re’e). Let us examine another potentially holy location, Mount Sinai. You would think this should have become one of the most sacred places for the Jews. Yet, not only did it turn into just a regular mountain after “Matan Torah”, we’re not even sure exactly where it is… The reason for all of this is that there really are no intrinsically holy objects or places in Judaism; in fact, it’s considered practically idolatry to believe otherwise. There are many Halachot that reflect this concept. This week’s Parsha, to choose one example, includes a prohibition of staring directly at the Ark.This is explained by Rav S.R Hirsch as conveying this very notion – there are no holy objects, only holy actions or times.
Jerusalem is not special to us because it has some sort of mystical attributes in its ground or supernatural force beneath its rocks – our history is what sanctified this city, and our hope for the future is why we remain loyal to it. It is the place where Avraham was willing to sacrifice Yitzchak, the place where both Templesstood, the place Jews turned to in prayer throughout the generations. In our own times, it is the place where hundreds of soldiers died fighting for its liberation during the 1967 war and it is the capital of the renewed State of Israel. All of this inspires us to believe it will be this very same place where the third Templewill stand, in our days, G-d willing. If it was not for all this, Jerusalem would mean nothing to us, but precisely because of this, it means everything to us. A holy place is about remembering its past – but only in order to sanctify the future.