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The Torah Learning Library of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah

The Unique Character of the Holiness of Jerusalem

by Rabbi Avi Weiss (Posted on May 25, 2016)
Topics: Torah, Sefer Shemot, Terumah, Machshava/Jewish Thought, Israel, Mikdash, Korbanot and Kohanim

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Parshat Terumah talks about the first synagogue of all time – 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 that is called kedushat shehinah – 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 an external force – 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)

Rav 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 by 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 Rav Soloveitchik, Jerusalem was settled first. It follows, therefore, that whatever lands were liberated afterwards, 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.