It’s always great to discuss Yerushalayim, but especially now. Today is Yom Yerushalayim. In our present MATZAV (situation), celebrations are strange and weird. It was a difficult Yo Ha’aztma’ut, and, even though, there have been some lifting of the restrictions, it’s an odd Yom Yerushalayim. My wife and I love joining the Yeshivot and Michlalot on the dancing march to the Kotel. Two years ago, we entered through Sha’ar Shchem (Damascus Gate) with the guys, and last year we came in Sha’ar Yafo with the young women. It was exhilarating, if tough on our ears, to feel the energy and love. This year? Who knows?
However, we can still experience through study. These past few weeks in my Tehillim shiur for the OU Center (now, of course, on Zoom and Facebook), we’ve been learning some of David HaMelech’s beautiful poems of love for Yerushalayim. I’d like to report on a couple of findings.
In a previous article, I discussed Psalm 122: I rejoiced when others said ‘Let’s go to the House of God’ (verse 1). Just the idea of going to the Beit HaMikdash gives a rush. But the central idea of that love song is: Yerushalayim, the beautifully built, the city which is joined together (verse 3). This verse has multiple meanings: the city fits well together aesthetically, it connects those who love her, it connects heaven and earth, and, in 1967, became whole again.
This year I’ve been studying later poems of the Songs of Ascent, and I’d like to share two ideas from them.
First, in Psalm 128, we begin with an image of domestic bliss: Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the innermost parts of your house; your children shall be like olive plants round about your table (verse 3). David HaMelech knew nature. He compared his wife to the abundant and nourishing grape vines which crowd the hills south of Yerushalayim. Then he describes his children to the productive and valuable olive trees north of the city. Those are the most important crops in Eretz Yisrael, and David compares them to the most valuable items in his life.
Then he switches from domesticity to geography: May the Lord bless you from Zion, so that you will see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life (verse 5). What happened? The Malbim explains that David HaMelech is describing the concentric circles of his life. The poem began by discussing his own personal success (You shall consume the fruits of your hands, verse 2), then he adds the family circle, and, lastly, he describes the nurturing world which encompasses him.
Rav Shmishon Refael Hirsch, on the other hand, comments: The Jew who reveres God, doesn’t see his personal and, even family, success and happiness as the ultimate goal. For he sees himself as part of a much larger reality. He sees himself as part of a great circle whose center is Tziyon and Yerushalayim. We are naught when disconnected from those sources of our blessings.
Those illustrations of Yerushalayim’s centrality to our being are, of course, beautiful and inspiring, but my favorite idea appears in Psalm 133. King David conjures up the following remarkable thought picture: HINEH MAH TOV, UMA NA’IM, SHEVET ACHIM GAM YACHAD! How delightfully wonderful it is when brethren dwell together in harmony!
That’s beautiful, and so many great tunes swirl I my head as I write the words. But two problems: what’s the difference between TOV and NA’IM, and how does that word GAM (also) function in the second phrase?
On the first issue: The Malbim brings down the famous Midrash about the two brothers Yissachar and Zevulun. That one learned Torah and the other supported him. In this scenario, TOV is Torah, the ultimate, objective good, and NA’IM is the livelihood in this world. The Radak suggests that we talking about Mashiach and the Cohen Gadol in the rebuilt Beit HaMikdash.
According to both of those commentaries, the GAM (also) or dual nature of the togetherness at the end of the poem describes both the physical togetherness and the spiritual unity which exists within the Jewish nation on the NESHAMA (soul) level, or, perhaps, this world and the World to Come.
Again, it’s Rav Hirsch who gives the interpretation which I find the most satisfying. The poem isn’t discussing distinct specific siblings. We’re talking the Jewish nation, which has been separated by the vicissitudes of history, and have been spread like seeds by the breeze. The TOV which unites us are the objective things we share in common. The NA’IM describes the subjective feelings we have for fellow Jews wherever they may be.
Our poem is describing the ineffable joy when the nation, who has always been connected by Torah, mitzvot and shared history, wherever they might dwell, will once again be YACHAD physically in Yerushalayim Habenuya!
This year, while social distancing, the idea of theoretical togetherness is very appealing. So, this week I have to really put my imagination to work. I will think of Rav Hirsch’s idea of the future reunion in Yerushalyim of all our scattered brethren. Plus, I’ll imagine dancing and hugging all the celebrants on the streets here in my home town, which I’ll miss dearly. Next year in rebuilt and healthy Yerushalayim!