Sinai & Moriah – A Tale of Two Mountains

Zion Karasenti, Yitzhak Yifat, and Haim Oshri, the three paratroopers from the iconic photo from June 7, 1967, recreate the pose in celebration of the 50th anniversary of that historic date two years ago. (World Mizrachi / Photo credit: Sharon Gabay)
Zion Karasenti, Yitzhak Yifat, and Haim Oshri, the three paratroopers from the iconic photo from June 7, 1967, recreate the pose in celebration of the 50th anniversary of that historic date two years ago. (World Mizrachi / Photo credit: Sharon Gabay)

Throughout Jewish history, two mountains stand out more than any others – Mount Sinai and Mount Moriah. They are so different. One is nestled in the heart of a barren wilderness and the other – the Temple Mount – is at the epicenter of one of the world’s greatest cities – Jerusalem. One is in an arid desert far from human society and the other is at the core of a country and civilization. One is where G-d’s word was revealed and the other is where it is lived. Sinai is where G-d’s holiness appeared intensely and temporarily and the other is the locus of the permanent resting place of G-d’s Presence. Sinai is about the Torah, Moriah the Temple. Both are indispensable to the history of the Jewish people and are inextricably linked to the Jewish journey. Sinai is where our spiritual destiny was chartered and Mount Moriah-Jerusalem is its ultimate destination.

Two Mountains. One Story.

They are also deeply linked in time. I find it quite remarkable that in the modern era, the day of the reunification of Jerusalem – Yom Yerushalayim, the day when the Old City, the Kotel and the Temple Mount returned to Jewish sovereign control for the first time in 2,000 years – occurs exactly one week before the Giving of the Torah, the Festival of Shavuot.

Yom Yerushalayim and Chag Matan Torah – two milestones in such close proximity. One of destiny, the other of destination. Both are integral parts of the same journey.

Two mountains. One story.

I have come to realize that so much about Judaism in general – and about Jerusalem and the Torah in particular – is essentially about the deeper conceptual meaning of the number two.

Here’s why.

Jerusalem is not one city but two. There is not one Torah but two. And it’s the secret of the duality of Jerusalem and Torah that will reveal the essence of Judaism itself.

Jerusalem is unlike any other city in that it always exists on two concurrent planes.

On the vertical plane, Jerusalem is simultaneously both a heavenly city and an earthly one, a physical and a spiritual reality, a Divine and a mundane phenomenon, transient and timeless.

On the horizontal, earthly plane, there is East Jerusalem and West Jerusalem, an upper city and a lower city, divided territorially between the two tribes of Yehuda – Leah’s child – and Binyamin, Rachel’s child. The city is located geopolitically at the nexus between the western world and the eastern orient, between conflicting world views. And Jerusalem has two primary names in Biblical literature: ציון וירושלים, Zion and Jerusalem.

The Torah was given on two tablets not one. Each tablet represents two distinct categories of Jewish life. One represents the commandments between Man and G-d, our heavenly relationship, and the other between Man and Man, our interactions with our fellow human beings. The Torah consists of two distinct parts – the Written Law and the Oral Law. They could not be more different. One we are commanded to write down and the other we are forbidden to write down.[1]

One focuses on the broad sweep of Jewish life – our spiritual history and perspective, while the other focuses on the narrow and particular – actionable items and behavioral requirements. One is about the macro and the other the micro – Halacha, the detailed minutiae of Jewish laws and customs.

A Tale of Two Cities

Of course, the two cites of Jerusalem are one city and the two Torahs are one. So what is the essence of this duality? What is the deeper meaning of the concept of ‘two’?

Rav Yehuda Loewe, the Maharal of Prague, explains that two is unique in that it is the first number which converts the unitary into a multiple, a single into a plural. One is uniform; two is the birth of difference. The reality of two creates complexity.[2]

The great challenge of the number two is whether the potential for difference will create division or unity. Will two beget three, four and so on, endless expressions of diversity of experiences that have nothing in common? Or alternatively, can they all be weaved together to become one again? Herein lies the incredible power of plurality. It has the potential to transform the meaning of oneness. When one exists alone, it represents total uniformity devoid of any complexity. The moment diversity is born it has the remarkable ability to transform the blandness of uniformity into the richness of unity. To convert sameness into wholeness.

Will the complexity of contrast at the heart of life itself create irreconcilable contradictions or different yet complementary experiences? Will there be conflict or completeness? Thesis and antithesis can remain polar opposites or they can merge to create a beautiful synthesis. Can two become one again or will they remain locked in eternal divisiveness?

Jerusalem is the lodestar of spiritual life and therefore presents us with this challenge more than anywhere else. Will the multifaceted city be divided against itself or will it become one glorious and unified whole?

Will the heavenly and earthly cities be locked in an endless conflict of irreconcilable truths or will they become one eternal city of peace and completeness?

Our Task

Our Sages, basing themselves on a cryptic verse in Psalms, charge us to take up this challenge of making the Holy City one complete whole:

ירושלים כעיר שחברה לה יחדיו – “Jerusalem is like a city that was joined together within itself” (122:3). Our Sages interpret this as, “The city which joins Jerusalem on High – the heavenly city – with the Jerusalem below, the earthly city, must be a city which transforms all of the Jewish people into friends (חברים).

The Torah is one Torah, a complementary whole aimed at simultaneously synthesizing our relationship with G-d and with our fellow human beings. One without the other is incomplete. We ought to have an equal commitment to both the Written and the Oral Torah – to Biblical and Talmudic study, to understanding both the broad context and meaning of Jewish life as well as the detailed implementation of Halacha and Jewish Law. One without the other creates divisiveness and tension.

If we focus only on our relationship with G-d and not with our fellow Jews and other people (or vice versa), we miss the mark. If we only study Tanach and not Talmud and Jewish Law, (or vice versa), we do not grasp the fullness of Jewish life. Inevitably, diversity becomes partial and divisive instead of harmonious. We should strive to bring all disparate aspects together, creating a תורה תמימה, one whole and wholesome Torah.

The Lesson of the Six-Day War

During the miraculous Six-Day War, and through an extraordinary turn of events, a divided city would finally be reunited.

Embed from Getty Images

I believe that to ensure that the city remains geopolitically united, it must first and foremost be internally united. The spiritual fault lines and fissures which create contrast and conflict ought to be forged together to complement each other and cultivate completeness.

Both the Torah and Jerusalem combine the earthly and the heavenly, the particular and the universal, the national and the religious, the ethnic and the ethical and the values of truth and peace. Indeed, the wholeness of the Torah is inherently linked to the unity and holiness of Jerusalem.

May we merit the ultimate expression of spiritual wholeness, the rebuilding of the Temple, soon and speedily in our days.

* * *

[1] The prohibition to commit the Oral Torah to writing appears in Gittin (60b). Based on the Talmud (Temurah 14b), the Rambam explains the extenuating harsh, historical circumstances which left the Sages no choice but to begin committing it to writing lest it be forgotten (Introduction to Mishneh Torah).

[2] Tiferet Yisrael 34.

* * *

A version of this article appears in Mizrachi’s HaMizrachi global publication for Yom Yerushalayim and Shavuot. 

About the Author
Rabbi Doron Perez is the Chief Executive of the Mizrachi World Movement, a global Religious Zionist movement based in Jerusalem with many active branches around the world. He is an organizational leader, sought after international speaker and author.
Related Topics
Related Posts
Comments