The Shalom of Jerusalem

“Request the shalom of Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:6) – According to the commentaries of Radak and Metzudas David, this is a reminder that we should pray for the shalom of Jerusalem.


Dear Friends,


The Hebrew term “shalom” is usually translated as “peace” – a word which refers to the absence of conflict, as well as the state of calmness which results from the absence of conflict. This translation, however, does not convey the full meaning of the term “shalom” which is related to the Hebrew term “shalem” – whole. Shalom is not just the absence of conflict among diverse forces; shalom is also the harmonious unity of these diverse forces which leads to a state of wholeness. When we pray for the shalom of Jerusalem, we are not just praying for the peace of the city; we are also praying for the harmonious unity which will cause Jerusalem to be “shalem” – whole.


The ancient name of Jerusalem was “Shalem” – a name which first appears in the verse which refers to “Malkitzedek, king of Shalem” (Genesis 14:18). The ancient Aramaic translation of the Torah, Targum Onkeles, therefore translates the name “Shalem” in this verse as “Jerusalem.” Another reference appears in the following verse from the Book of Psalms which refers to the site of the Temple:


“When His Tabernacle was in Shalem, and His dwelling place in Zion.” (Psalm 76:3).


The true shalom of Jerusalem includes the wholeness of Jerusalem. In what way is Jerusalem to become whole? One answer is given by the commentator, Radak. In his commentary on the above words, “Request the shalom of Jerusalem,” he writes: “Request from the Blessed God the shalom of Jerusalem, and her shalom is the ingathering of the exiles.”


According to Radak, the restoration of the wholeness of Jerusalem depends on the ingathering of our exiles, and a source for this idea is found in the following verse which describes the redeeming role of Hashem, the Compassionate and Life-Giving One:


“The Builder of Jerusalem is Hashem; He will gather in the dispersed of Israel.” (Psalm 147:2)


The Talmud cites the following explanation in the name of Rav Nachman:


“When does Hashem build Jerusalem? When the dispersed of Israel are gathered in.” (Brochos 49a)


As I studied the psalm which calls upon us to request the shalom of Jerusalem, I discovered other explanations which define the wholeness of Jerusalem. These explanations are based on the verse from this psalm which states:


“The built-up Jerusalem is like a city that is joined together.” (Psalm 122:3)


The following interpretations of the words joined together reveal that this verse is referring to several levels of wholeness in the ideal Jerusalem:


1. Physical Wholeness: The city of Jerusalem – whose very name reminds us of wholeness – is to also be whole in the physical sense. The very appearance of Jerusalem is to express the meaning of her name. In this spirit, the commentator, Sforno, explains that Jerusalem was designed in a way that caused the newer sections of the city to blend perfectly with the older sections; thus, the entire Jerusalem appeared as a city whose various sections were built together.


2. Social Wholeness – The Jerusalem Talmud explains that the pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem on the Festivals caused a spiritual elevation which inspired all the people to develop a greater commitment to the path of the Torah; thus, when they came to Jerusalem, they all became chaverim – friends – that were united through their observance of the Torah (Chagigah 3:6). Jerusalem therefore became a city where the People of Israel were joined together, and the Talmud cites the following commentary of Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi:


“The built-up Jerusalem is like a city that is joined together” – a city that causes all Israel to become chaverim.” (Ibid)


The following is a beautiful example of the social cohesiveness of Jerusalem: The Mishnah states that our ancestors experienced ten miracles in the Holy Temple, and the tenth miracle was when many pilgrims gathered in Jerusalem during the festivals, and no one said to his friend, “The space is insufficient for me to stay overnight in Jerusalem” (Pirkei Avos 5:7). In what way was this a miracle? Did the city miraculously expand to accommodate all the pilgrims?


The Chasam Sofer, a leading sage of the early 19th century, explains that this was the miracle of love! The great love that the people had for each other as a result of the elevating pilgrimage enabled each person to find a place to stay, and even if many people were sharing a house, no one felt crowded. In Jerusalem, they were all joined together through love.


3. Holistic Wholeness – According to our tradition, there is a heavenly Jerusalem which corresponds to the earthly Jerusalem. The Talmud (Taanis 5a) finds a reference to this idea in the above verse which describes Jerusalem as, “a city that is joined together” – an allusion to the joining together of the heavenly and earthly Jerusalem. The commentator, Rashi, in one of his explanations of the above verse, cites the following teaching of our sages: There is the built-up Jerusalem in heaven, and in the future, the earthly Jerusalem will be like the heavenly Jerusalem.


The wholeness of Jerusalem is the joining together of the heavenly city with the earthly city – a reminder that the spiritual and physical aspects of our existence are to become one. This holistic unity will be achieved when life in the earthly Jerusalem will express the sacred and elevating spirit of the heavenly Jerusalem.


When the earthly Jerusalem will be like the heavenly Jerusalem, there will be a great manifestation of the Shechinah – the Divine Presence – within the earthly Jerusalem. A reference to this idea appears in the following Divine promise regarding the messianic age which was conveyed to our people by the Prophet Zechariah:


“Sing and be glad O daughter of Zion! For behold, I am coming and I will dwell in your midst – the word of Hashem. (Zechariah 2:14).


“I will dwell in your midst” – “I will cause My Shechinah to dwell in your midst.” (Targum Yonasan, an ancient Aramaic translation and commentary)


The next verse reveals that the revelation of the Shechinah of Hashem in Jerusalem will have a universal and unifying influence.


“Many nations will join themselves to Hashem on that day, and they will become a people unto Me; and I will dwell in your midst.” (Ibid 2:15).


The above prophecy of Zechariah reveals that many nations will join themselves to Hashem and thereby become one people! According to a related prophecy of Zechariah, this unifying process will begin when, “Many peoples and mighty nations will come to seek Hashem, God of the hosts of creation, in Jerusalem” (ibid 8:22).


The “shalom” of Jerusalem is destined to embrace all the nations, and this insight leads to the following awareness:


When we request the shalom of Jerusalem, we are asking not just for our sake, but for the sale of the world.


Have a Shabbat Shalom and a Happy Chanukah,

Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen  (See below)


Related Teachings:


1. The portion from the Prophets that we chant on the Shabbos of Chanukah opens with the following Divine promise:


“Sing and be glad O daughter of Zion! For behold, I am coming and I will dwell in your midst – the word of Hashem. Many nations will join themselves to Hashem on that day, and they will become a people unto Me; and I will dwell in your midst.” (Zechariah 2:14,15).


2. If all the nations become one people through a shared spiritual vision, will all the diverse characteristics of each nation disappear into a “melting pot”? Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, a noted biblical commentator of the 19th century, responds to this question, and he writes: “Each nation may still retain its own characteristics and peculiarities, but must always use them and the way of life based upon them only in conformity with the supreme Divine moral law.” (Commentary to Psalm 24:6)


3. In the age of universal shalom, we the People of Israel are to serve as “Kohanim” – ministers – to the nations that will come to Jerusalem to seek Hashem. This vision is expressed in the following prophecy concerning our role in the messianic age: “And you will be called the Kohanim of Hashem, ‘ministers of our God’ will be said of you” (Isaiah 61:6).


4. On Shabbat evening, we refer to the shalom of Jerusalem in the following blessing:


“Blessed are You, Hashem, Who spreads the shelter of shalom over us, over all His people, Israel, and over Jerusalem.”

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