"If I Forget You, O Jerusalem, Let My Right Hand Forget Its Cunning"

  • Harav Yehuda Amital

Sicha for Shabbat from the Roshei Yeshiva
Yeshivat Har Etzion


PARASHAT VAERA

 

SICHA OF HARAV YEHUDA AMITAL SHLIT"A

"If I Forget You, O Jerusalem,

Let My Right Hand Forget Its Cunning"

Summarized by Yitzchak Barth

Translated by Kaeren Fish

 

In his Guide of the Perplexed (III:45), the Rambam points out that the Torah does not mention the exact location of Jerusalem and the Temple, but rather makes use of expressions such as "the place which God will choose." However, in the Rambam's view, Avraham dedicated the place where he bound Yitzchak as the site of the future Temple. Furthermore, he adds,

"In my opinion there is also no doubt that the place singled out by Avraham in virtue of prophetic inspiration was known to Moshe and to many others, for Avraham had recommended to them that that place should be a house of worship."

This being the case, the Rambam needs to answer the question that immediately arises: If Moshe indeed knew the exact location of the future Temple, why is it not mentioned explicitly in the Torah?

The Rambam proposes three different answers to this question, two of them relating to the gentile world. First, he claims that were the Torah to make known the location of the mountain chosen by God as His dwelling place, the nations of the world would fight for that mountain in order to keep it out of our grasp. Second, there would arise a real danger that they would destroy the mountain altogether in order to prevent us from building the Temple there.

Basically, the Rambam regards all of Israel's wars as being fought on a religious basis. He explains that the aim of the Canaanites and the Philistines in their wars was not to defend their LAND so much as to defend their FAITH. Judaism had declared war on idolatry. In contrast to the pagans, whose faith centered around lifeless statues and images, Judaism placed at the center of the Holy of Holies the Tablets of the Covenant, upon which was engraved the command – "You shall not make for yourself a carved idol or any image." If the Canaanites had known the exact location of the prospective Temple, they would have tried to destroy the place – or at least to maintain their own control over it. For this reason the Torah obscures the location of the "place which God will choose."

At first glance, it would seem that the Rambam's view of war applies exclusively to the biblical period. In our days – so it is generally believed – wars are waged between nations for territorial or ethnic reasons rather than religious ones. However, surprisingly enough, the Rambam sets down for all generations in his halakhic magnum opus, the Mishneh Torah, the very perception discussed above, when he encourages the Israelite army as it goes out to war:

"When a person goes to war, he should rely on the Hope of Israel and their Savior in times of trouble, and know that he is fighting for the oneness of God." (Hilkhot Melakhim 7:15)

Although modern wars would appear to be waged for territory or power, the Rambam explains that all wars between the nations of the world and Israel are ultimately directed against the Holy One, against Jewish belief, and specifically against Jerusalem, the holy city, the site of the Temple. If we remove from the Arab-Israeli conflict all the outer layers – territory, the nature of the Palestinian state and the problem of the refugees – the crux of the conflict remains an insoluble problem: Jerusalem and the Temple Mount.

Already in 1961, Teddy Kollek, the mayor of Jerusalem, told me that the President Nasser of Egypt once declared that peace would never reign between Israel and the Arab world because of the insoluble problem of Jerusalem. Even Nasser never imagined that there would be Jews who would agree to transfer control of the Temple Mount into Moslem hands. I have often repeated my belief that the entire purpose of the Yom Kippur War was, in truth, the control over Jerusalem, rather than the issues that were claimed to be at stake. In that war we were victorious, but today there are those amongst us who are ready to give the Temple Mount to the Palestinians, in the belief that such a step will bring peace.

To my mind, such a concession is incompatible with a Jewish outlook. Just as the life of an individual is not the absolute, supreme value and there are some prohibitions for which we know we are commanded to give up our lives rather than to transgress them, so it is on the national level: there are values which society and the state are obligated to uphold, at whatever risk. Specifically in our national life there are "red lines" which must not be crossed, comparable to those issues for which an individual must be prepared to give his life.

A society that values "the sanctity of life" above all, and which does not include "a life of sanctity" as its supreme value, is destined to degenerate into corruption and moral decay. Peace, too – despite its great importance – is not the exclusive, absolute, supreme value, and there are things that cannot be sacrificed even for peace.

When the Prime Minister returned from the Camp David summit, I was appreciative of his aspiration to achieve peace on the one hand, and of his declaration that he would never sign a document giving sovereignty over the Temple Mount to the Arabs on the other. I believe that today, just as then, all the discussions concerning a peace agreement are irrelevant. In the current climate no peace agreement will be signed, since the Palestinians will not consent to declaring an end to the conflict between us and them. Nevertheless, a declaration that we are in principle not prepared to relinquish the Temple Mount is of great significance, and any Prime Minister – in the present and in the future – should swear his allegiance to our sovereignty over that site.

It should be emphasized that the importance of our sovereignty over the Temple Mount is not a halakhic or religious matter. The Rambam rules that the original sanctity with which Jerusalem was bestowed was a sanctity that remains for all eternity, since "the sanctity of the Temple and Jerusalem is such because of the Divine Presence, and the Divine Presence is never removed." Jerusalem and the site of the Temple retain their holiness for all time and in all conditions, whether under Israeli sovereignty or otherwise.

We must retain our sovereignty over the Temple Mount for nationalistic reasons, not for halakhic or religious ones. Firstly, the Moslems have claimed all along that the Temple never existed on that site, and if we transfer it to them they are likely to perceive our move as an admission to that claim. Moreover, transferring control of the Temple Mount into Arab hands represents, in effect, a severance from our historical Jewish identity. Since the dawn of our existence, Jews have upheld the importance of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount at its heart: from there the world was created, there Avraham bound his son, there King Shlomo built a dwelling place for God, and it was to there that Jews turned – in all generations and in all their places of exile – with the prayer, "And You shall return to Jerusalem in mercy."

Transferring this site, and the severance from historical Judaism which this would entail, would have fateful ramifications for one of the most grievous, existential problems facing Am Yisrael today – the alienation of great sectors of the nation from their Judaism. Only our historical national identity, based on the longing for thousands of years for Jerusalem and the aspiration to rebuild it and to re-establish the Temple, can unite all parts of the nation.

Some Orthodox rabbis do not attach much importance to the issue of unity between ourselves and the secular Jewish community, nor do they emphasize the significance of our historical Jewish identity; they are even agreeable to a transfer of the Temple Mount to Arab hands. We, on the other hand, feel a responsibility towards the entire nation and understand the critical importance of closelyguarding those values that characterize and mold our common Jewish identity. R. Tzadok Ha-kohen of Lublin (Tzidkat Ha-tzaddik, #54, from manuscript) writes that there are those among our nation whose sole characteristic defining them as Jews is their own self-definition:

"The crux of Judaism is being called by the name of Israel ... even if only by virtue of the fact that he is known as a Jew, that is sufficient ... for them to be joined together as one nation, and not divided to join with the other nations and to be included among them."

A person's self-definition as a Jew means, first and foremost, a feeling of belonging to historical Judaism. If, heaven forbid, we relinquish our sovereignty over the Temple Mount to the Arabs, we will be cutting with our own hands the thin thread that binds all parts of the nation, nullifying the single element that binds those Jews who are not Torah-observant to Judaism.

Like all the wars of Israel, the hidden significance of the battle being waged right now over Jerusalem is that it is really being fought for the Divine Name. Those who wish to force us to give up the Temple Mount want to cut us off from Jewish history, to nullify our national identity, and to create an unbridgeable breach among Am Yisrael. We must insist on maintaining Jewish control over the holy mountain, and pray in these difficult times that very soon we may merit the realization of the prayer that has remained unchanged for two thousand years, which we have always prayed facing the site of the Temple:

"And to Jerusalem, Your city, may You return in compassion, and may You dwell within it, as You have spoken. May You rebuild it soon, in our days, as a building for eternity, and may You soon re-establish the throne of David within it."

May this be the will of the Almighty, Amen.

(This sicha was delivered on Asara Be-Tevet 5761 [2001].)

 


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