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The Torah in this week’s reading proclaims that a house in a walled city may be sold in perpetuity, but the owner has the right of repurchase during the first year of the sale (Leviticus 25:29,30 – see commentary of Dr. J.H. Hertz).

Interestingly, the phrase “in a walled city” (lo – with a vavhomah) is written in the Torah “in an unwalled city” (lo – with an alephhomah). Rashi explains this to indicate that the law applies to a city that has no walls today, as long as it had walls when Joshua conquered Israel.


A thought related to Jerusalem comes to mind. After all, for 19 years Jerusalem was split in two with a wall dividing the new city from the old. Could it be that the Torah here hints to events of contemporary times when Jerusalem with its dividing wall (lo with a vav) will become a city without walls (lo with an aleph), forever one, forever united?

Rabbi Duschensky takes it a step further. The Torah may be suggesting that while the fortification of Jerusalem symbolized by walls is necessary for its defense, God’s help is at least as important to protect the city. To paraphrase Rabbi Duschensky, only if we realize that Jerusalem has no walls (lo with an aleph) – in the sense that we cannot only rely on ourselves but on our Father in Heaven who gives us the power to defend ourselves – will the city have true walls (lo with a vav).

And perhaps it can be added that only when the inhabitants of Jerusalem remove the walls surrounding themselves, i.e., when the religious and irreligious come to love each other, will there be a city that is secure, at peace, whole. Walled.

So the deflection from “walled city” to “unwalled city” has contemporary meaning especially during the week when we celebrate the reunification of Jerusalem (Yom Yerushalayim). It remains our challenge to see to it that Jerusalem never again be divided. And it remains our challenge to forever recognize that it is the spirit of God that makes Jerusalem the City of Gold (Yerushalayim Shel Zahav). Indeed, this will happen when we shed the barriers between ourselves.

Then Jerusalem will be what its name means – Yeru, Aramaic for city, of Shalom, eternally undivided (shalem), Godly (Shalom is one of God’s names), and at peace (shalom). Only then will Jerusalem without walls become a walled city.

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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.