Shabbat candles: 7:37 p.m.
Torah: Deut. 7:12-11:25
Haftarah: Isaiah 49:14-51:3
Havdalah: 8:38 p.m.
This week’s portion of Ekev is a magnificent paean to the glories of the Land of Israel, a land especially set aside to provide the Israelites with plentiful vegetation, luscious fruits and the natural resources necessary for their ultimate success as a nation. At the precise center of this lyrical description comes the commandment for the mother of all blessings, the Grace After Meals: “And you shall eat and be satisfied, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you” [Deuteronomy. 8:10].
A careful study of this chapter, containing exactly 20 verses, reveals three major biblical concepts that parallel the three biblical blessings of our Grace. First, that everyone lives not by bread alone but by what emanates from God, the universal sustainer [Deut. 8:2-3], with the first blessing thanking God “who feeds all.” Second, that God has brought the Israelites specifically to this land which will sustain us [Deut. 8:7-10], with the second blessing thanking God “for the land and the sustenance.” And third, that God adjures us not to forget Him and His laws lest we be destroyed and expelled from the land He has given us [Deut. 8:11-20], with the third blessing beseeching God for compassion towards His nation, Israel and Jerusalem, and thanking God “the builder of Jerusalem.”
Why are there separate blessings for the land and for Jerusalem? Why not incorporate the restoration of Jerusalem with the restoration of the Land of Israel, leaving two Biblical blessings for the Grace after Meals rather than three?
I believe that Israel and Jerusalem are two separate entities, two separate concepts, and two separate sanctities. Israel is a specific geographical location whose function is to provide nutrients and material benefits for the Israelite nation. A nation-state requires a leader-ruler, who takes responsibility for the physical security and economic well being of his citizenry. It makes sense that he live in the capital city, Jerusalem, which will also house other governmental agencies responsible for the smooth functioning of the commonwealth.
However, as Chapter 8 also makes clear, Israel’s land, nation and government remain beholden to a Higher Leader, God, the King of all kings. He has inspired Israel with His message of compassionate righteousness and moral justice. He has commanded Israel to build for Him a “house” on earth so that His teachings and values may dwell within humanity in this world.
This place of God’s dwelling is the primary Jerusalem. The mortal ruler — even King Messiah — whose throne is in Jerusalem, is merely the representative, the spokesperson, for the true and universal Ruler of all rulers [Deut. 17:14-20]. The Holy Temple from whence God’s teachings of love, morality and peace will extend to all the families of the earth [Isaiah 2, Micha 4] is the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, in the City of God, in the City of Peace, in the City of Wholeness and Universalism where “My house will be a House of Prayer for all peoples,” when “all the nations will call upon the Name of God to serve Him in united resolve” [Zephaniah 3:9].
In order to distinguish between these two Jerusalems, the capital city and the city of God, the Jerusalem of the Knesset and the Jerusalem of the Third Temple, the Jerusalem of today and the Jerusalem of our Messianic vision, it is most proper to refer to the later Jerusalem as Zion. For example in Psalm 132:13, “God has chosen Zion, a desirable dwelling place for Him,” or in Psalm 134:3, “May the Lord bless you from Zion.” It is for this Jerusalem, which will be a light and a banner for all humanity, that we are praying in the third blessing of the Grace after Meals, especially as we mention, “Zion, the Sanctuary of Your Glory.”
On Tisha B’Av, when we recited the Nahem prayer in the Mincha Amidah, speaking of a city that has been laid waste, scorned and desolate… like a barren, childless woman, devoured by the [Roman] legions,” the words seem at best disingenuous and at worst ungrateful and blind to our present day miracle. I have adopted for my prayer, and suggested for Efrat, the emendation of Rav Haim David HaLevi, who substituted the past tense hayta [“was”] whenever the text is in the present tense. However, in light of this commentary I adopted this year the emendation of Rav Nahum Rabinowitz, Rosh HaYeshiva of Birkat Moshe, Maaleh Adumim, who substitutes “the mountain” for the “the city” which is now laid waste. If the subject of the prayer is Har Habayit, the Temple Mount, Zion rather than Jerusalem, then unfortunately, the prayer remains exceedingly relevant.
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone and chief rabbi of Efrat, Israel.