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Jerusalem’s Unique Character and Holiness

Rabbi Avi Weiss

Rabbi Avi Weiss

This week’s portion talks about the first synagogue ever – the mishkan. Because the chasm between the finite human being and the infinite God is great, the mishkan was established so that there would be a tangible place where people could feel more intensely, more powerfully, the presence of God. Synagogues have followed the model of the mishkan with this goal of spiritual connection in mind. The holiness of these places is contingent upon human input.

There is one exception to this rule. The Holy Temple, and for that matter all of Jerusalem, is endowed with a unique holiness called kedushat shechinah – the holiness of the indwelling, the holiness of God. While the holiness of most places emerges from human energy, the holiness of Jerusalem does not emerge from us, it comes from God Himself.

Maimonides concludes that just as God is above any boundary of time, so too the holiness that emerges from God is equally eternal. It follows, therefore, that Jerusalem’s holiness is endless and infinite. It is a holiness that lasts forever (Rambam, Laws of the Temple 6:16).

Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik points out that when we first entered Israel in the time of Joshua, Jerusalem was conquered last. The movement of liberating the land was from the periphery to the center. Hundreds of years passed between the conquest of Jericho by Joshua and the building of the Temple by Solomon. Precisely because Israel was conquered prior to Jerusalem, Israel remained holy for only as long as we were in control of the land. Once the land was conquered by the Babylonians, the holiness departed.

But, when we re-entered the land in the time of Ezra, said Rabbi Soloveitchik, Jerusalem was settled first. It follows, therefore, that whatever lands were liberated afterward were imbued with the spirit of Jerusalem. Just as the holiness of Jerusalem is eternal, so too is the holiness of the whole land of Israel. No wonder Maimonides believes that even after the Roman conquest of Israel the land retained its holiness.

The Temple Mount and Jerusalem are the soul of the Jewish people and the soul of the Jewish land. It is above and beyond any boundary of time, and reminds us of our proud past and of our hope and faith in a promising future.

About the Author: Rabbi Avi Weiss is founding president of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and senior rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale. His memoir of the Soviet Jewry movement, “Open Up the Iron Door,” was recently published by Toby Press.

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