Photo Credit: Janet S. Sunness, M.D.
Janet S. Sunness, M.D.

In Parshas Veyera, Avraham is instructed to go to Eretz HaMoriah to the specified mountain for the akeidah. After the akeidah, Avraham names the place “Hashem Yir’eh.” Shem named the place Shalem. According to the Midrash, Hashem combined Yir’eh and Shalem into the name Yerushalayim.

Many commentators have expounded on the names of Yerushalayim. These are some of their thoughts:

  1. Rashi’s first explanation of Moriah: that hora’ah (teaching or Torah) would go out to Yisrael from there.

During the time of the Beis HaMikdash, bringing Ma’aser Sheni required the individual to go up to Yerushalayim and eat in Yerushalayim the food he had brought with him. If the distance was too great to carry the food, the person could exchange the food for coins and then buy food to eat in Yerushalayim. Either way, this would entail people being in Yerushalayim for a couple of weeks, during which they would be close to those teaching Torah and therefore be spiritually reinvigorated.

  1. Rashi’s second explanation of Moriah, quoting Onkelos: From mor (the spice myrrh), because it was a component of the Ketores service. Others say mor and other spices grew in this area.
  2. Ramban’s understanding of Onkelos: Onkelos actually says “to the place of avodah.” Ramban objects to Rashi’s first explanation because the hora’ah would be in the future, and the grammar should reflect that. Ramban quotes Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer, who says that Har HaMoriah was not only a place of avodah in the future but also a place of avodah in the past. Hashem showed Avraham the mizbeach used by Adam, by Kayin and Hevel, and by Noach and his sons.

Support for this idea is that the pasuk says “Avraham built there the mizbeach – not just a mizbeach. Hashem wanted this mountain to be the place for His dwelling, and wanted the zechus of the akeidah to be included in the korbanos forever after. This is included in Avraham’s name of Hashem Yir’eh.

  1. K’lei Yakar: In Shir Hashirim it says “Elech li el Har Hamor,” not Hamoriah. The yud and the heh were missing.

Har Hamoriah was the place of the foundation stone of the world, from which the world was created and from which the earth used by Hashem to create Adam was obtained. This is the site of completion. There is the meeting of Hashem and Yisrael, the heaven (symbolized by yud) and the earth (symbolized by heh). The letters yud and heh are joined just as they are between the ish (with a yud) and the isha (with a heh) in a proper marriage. The numerical equivalents of yud and heh total 15 and symbolize the Beis HaMikdash with the 15 steps from the Ezras Hanashim.

  1. The Midrash Bereishis Rabbah (56:16) says Hashem gave Yerushalayim its name because He wanted to include both the name given by Avraham and the name given by Shem. The Meshech Chochmah on Bereishis 22:14 endows this joint name with meaning. Shem was in the generation of the flood, and he fed and took care of all the creatures in Noach’s teivah. His focus was to improve the middos and actions of people and creatures that had contributed to Hashem’s decision to bring the flood. He called the place Shalem, complete, indicating that all people are part of one unit and each person contributes to others and to the survival of the human race.

Avraham emphasized the wisdom and knowledge, and the purification of knowledge in the service of Hashem. These can be viewed as the combination of concern between one man and another (bein adam l’chavero, Shem), and the relationship between man and Hashem (bein adam laMakom, Avraham). Yerushalayim is a combination of both.

  1. Rabbi Yitzchak Mirsky, in his sefer Hegyonei Halacha (part 2, pp 233-241), cites the pasuk from Tehillim: “Yerushalayim habnuyah ka’ir shechubra la yachdav” – Yerushalayim that is built as a city that is united together. Since the name Yerushalayim itself is created from a joining, Yerushalayim has the ability to join people one to another.

This joining also applies to joining the heavenly Yerushalayim (Yerushalayim shel ma’alah) to the earthly Yerushalayim (Yerushalayim shel mata). Rabbeinu Bachaya noted that the name Yerushalayim is plural, but in a way that indicates a pair – like einaim (eyes), raglaim (feet), etc. There is a pairing of the heavenly and earthly Yerushalayim.

So Yerushalayim is the place where Hashem was served from the beginning of time, the place where Hashem caused His presence to rest, and the place for unifying all Yisrael and for strengthening the bonds between Hashem and man.

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the unification of Yerushalayim, may we all experience its power.


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Janet Sunness is medical director of the Richard E. Hoover Low Vision Rehabilitation Services at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center. She gives classes and talks on a variety of topics in the Baltimore area for the Women’s Institute of Torah and Cong. Shomrei Emunah.