King David’s greatest desire was to build a permanent home for God. Initially, Natan, the prophet, confirmed David’s request but later, in a prophecy, God revealed to him that David would not be the one who would build the Temple. Instead, God granted David the following promise: “I will establish a home for My people Israel, and will plant them firm (untativ), so that they may dwell secure and shall tremble no more. Evil men shall not oppress them as in the past…” (2 Samuel 7:10) In this covenant, God promises David that his people would be firmly planted in their own land and that his kingdom would continue in perpetuity.
The use of the verb “nun tet ayin” in this promise evokes a prophecy found at the end of the Song of the Sea (Shirat Hayam), the song Israel sang upon leaving Egypt: “You [God] shall bring them, and you will plant them (v’titaeimo) on your own mountain, the place you made to dwell in, O God, the sanctuary, O God, which Your hands have established.” (Exodus 15:17) It would not be surprising if the use of this verb in Natan’s prophecy intentionally echoed this promise.
The rabbinic tradition took the relationship between these two verses one step further. They could not conceive of a covenant which established a nation or its holy place without conditions: “I will establish a home for my people and will plant them firm” – Our Mishnah teaches: “Shimon HaZadik was one of the last survivors of the Great Assembly. He used to say: ‘By three things the world exists: by the Torah, by the [Temple] service, and by deeds of lovingkindness.’” (Avot 1:2) [A later sage] Rabbi Huna bar Papa explained: [The relationship between God’s promise and this Mishnah] was explained by seafarers: You [God], in Your kindness, have led the people who You have redeemed’ (Exodus 15:13) – This refers to the merit of [the people’s future] lovingkindness. ‘You have guided them in Your strength’ (Ibid.) – This refers to the merit [of the people’s future dedication to] Torah. When will the world be firmly established? When the children of Israel reach Your holy habitation [the Temple] (Ibid.). (Yalkut Shimoni Shmuel 145; Mossad HaRav Kook ed. p. 313)
This midrash makes a giant claim. It links the maintenance of the world to a promise that Jews fulfill their commitment to studying and observing the Torah, to performing acts of loving-kindness and in a broad sense to making Jerusalem and Israel the center of the Jewish commitment to God. This three-fold commitment, it suggests, will provide the world with stability. (Why three? How did three become such a significant religious number? A geometric look at Shimon HaZadik’s teaching provides an answer. A tripod, a three-legged base, provides a stable foundation.) For the author of this midrash, then, only through a strong commitment to Jewish identity and what that entails do Jews have what to offer God’s world. A strong and stable Jewish foundation can and will provide the world with the same.