by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan
The world is like a human eyeball. The white of the eye is the ocean surrounding the world, The iris is this continent, The pupil is Jerusalem, And the image in the pupil is the Holy Temple. (Talmud - Derech Eretz Zuta 9)
An important question is why G-d chose the Land of Israel as the chosen land; and in particular, why He chose Jerusalem's as its spiritual focus...
If you look at a map, you'll see that the geographical location of the Land of Israel is virtually guaranteed that it would play a key role in the tides of civilization. The Old World consisted of two great land masses, Eurasia (Europe and Asia) and Africa. It was impossible to travel from Eurasia to Africa without passing through the Holy Land. Therefore, every conqueror, every civilization that passed from one continent to the other, had to pass through the Holy Land and come in contact with the Jew. The Land of Israel thus interacted with virtually every great civilization, and all of them were, to some degree, influenced by the teachings of the Torah.
Besides being a gateway between North and South, the Holy Land is part of the keystone link between East and West. There are mountains in Israel where a cup of water spilled on the western slope will eventually flow into the Atlantic Ocean, while one spilled on the eastern slope will flow into the Pacific. Today, these oceans are linked by the Suez Canal, but in the past, most caravan routes linking the Atlantic and Pacific passed directly through the Holy Land.
The Land of Israel was therefore literally the crossroads of civilization. Its capital and spiritual center, Jerusalem, was the focus of a process where the Jew would interact with all peoples, absorbing all the wisdom of the ancient world, while at the same time touching every great civilization with the wisdom of the Torah. It was thus taught that "Jerusalem is the center of the world" (Midrash Tanchuma). G-d also told His prophet, "This is Jerusalem, I have set her in the midst of nations, and countries are around her" (Ezekiel 5:5). Considering both the centrality of its location and its spiritual influence, it is not at all surprising that Jerusalem today is a sacred city to the majority of the world's population.
Even today, when land routes are no longer as important as they were in the past, Jerusalem is still a center of human concern. One need only to think of how Providence placed the major portion of the world's supply of oil -- the main source of transportation energy -- within a stone's throw of Jerusalem. The world would otherwise not give the Holy City a second thought, except perhaps as an ancient sacred shrine. As it is, decisions made in Jerusalem today can influence even the greatest world powers. Jerusalem thus still occupies an important role in the councils of nations. All this is certainly more than mere coincidence.
On a much deeper level, however, we see Jerusalem not only as a center of civilization but also as the very center of creation. The most important single object in Jerusalem was the Ark, containing the Tablets and the Original Torah. This stood in the Holy of Holies on an outcrop of bedrock known as the Evven Shetiyah, literally, the Foundation Stone. The Talmud states that it is called the "Foundation Stone" because it was the foundation of the universe. As the Talmud (Yoma 54b) explains, this is because it was the very first point at which G-d began the act of creation.
This is based on the teaching that creation began at a single point, and from this point, the universe unfolded until G-d decreed that it should stop. This is the significance of Shakai, which is one of G-d's names. It comes from the word "Dai," meaning "enough," and it indicates the Attribute through which G-d stopped the expansion of creation at a certain stage.
Here we must seek to understand why creation had to begin in a single point, and what is the significance of this point. Why could creation not have been brought into existence all at once? Why did it all have to emanate from a single point in space?
The answer to these questions involves an understanding of the entire concept of the spiritual and physical, as well as the difference between the two. There are numerous discussions regarding the difference between the physical and spiritual, but this difference is often not spelled out precisely. Very closely related is the question of why G-d created a physical world in the first place. G-d himself is certainly spiritual, as is the ultimate purpose of creation. It is therefore somewhat difficult to understand the need for a physical world all.
With all little insight, the difference between the spiritual and physical is readily apparent. In the physical realm, there is a concept of physical space; while in the spiritual, this concept is totally absent. All that exists in the spiritual realm is conceptual space. Two things that are similar are said to be close, while things that are different are said to be far from one another. While in the physical world it is possible two push to different things together, this is impossible in the spiritual realm.
We see a good example of this in the case of the teachings involving angels. It is taught that one angel cannot have two missions, while two angels cannot share the same mission. There's no special concept unifying an angel. Therefore, if an angel had two missions, by definition it would become two angels. On the other hand, if two angels had the same mission, there could be no physical space separating them, and by definition they would be a single angel.
We now begin to see why a physical world is needed. If only a spiritual world existed, there would be no way in which two different things could be brought together. Because they're different, by definition they're separated, and there would be no physical space in which they could be "pushed" together.
Spiritual entities, however, can be bound to physical objects, very much as the soul is bound to the body. The only way, then, in which two different spiritual entities or forces can be brought together is when they are bound to the same physical thing, or to two physical things which themselves are brought together.
A good example of this involves the impulses for good and evil in man, respectively known as the Yetzer Tov and the Yetzer Hara. In a purely spiritual sense, good and evil are opposites, which can never be brought together. Without man's physical body, they could not be brought together in a single entity; indeed, in angels, which are purely spiritual, good and evil cannot coexist. It is only in a physical body that good and evil can be brought together, and man therefore had to be created with such a body before he could have within himself the combination of good and evil that would allow him to have free will and free choice.
G-d created many different spiritual concepts, forces and entities with which to create and direct the universe. Spiritual concepts can consist of such opposites as good and evil, or justice and mercy; as well as the basic concepts of giving and receiving, which are the spiritual roots of masculinity and femininity. There are also countless angels and spiritual potentials, all interacting to bring about the processes through which the universe is directed and guided.
All these are different, and in some cases opposite, and there would be no way for them to come together so that they could act in concert. The only way in which all spiritual forces can be brought together is for all of them to be associated with a single physical point. This point is the Evven Shetiyah -- the Foundation Stone of all creation.
Jerusalem's original name was Shalem (Salem), coming from the same route as Shalom, meaning peace. One of the main concepts of Jerusalem is peace, as it is written, "seek Jerusalem's peace" (Psalms 122:6). But, as the Zohar explains, this peace is not only in the physical world; it also implies peace in the spiritual world. The meaning of this is that all spiritual forces are brought together so that they can act in concert and in harmony.
The act of creation involved all these spiritual forces acting in concert. Before they could do so, however, a physical point had to be created, which would serve as a focus for all these forces. This was the Foundation Stone, the first point of creation. Since it was the focus of all spiritual forces, it brought them all into play in the creation of the physical universe. It is therefore not surprising to find that the very first word in the Torah -- Bereishit -- contains an allusion to the spot that was the focus of creation.
It was in this same place that G-d created man. When G-d was about to create man, the Torah relates that He said, "Let us make man in our image" (Genesis 1:26). The meaning of this is that G-d was speaking to all the spiritual forces that He had created, bringing them all into the creation of man, the final goal of His creation. In order to bring all these forces to bear upon the creation of man, G-d created him in the very place where all these forces are focused.
In a dynamic sense, all these forces are actually concentrated in man himself, and this is the meaning of the teaching that man is a microcosm (Avot d'Rebbi Noson 31:3). But man would multiply and become many, while these forces would have to be focused on a single stationary place. Jerusalem, and particularly the Foundation Stone, is therefore a place of gathering, first only for the Jewish people, but ultimately for all mankind. As all men return to their spiritual source, they tend to strengthen the spiritual connection in this place.
The Sages teach that G-d created man from the place of the Great Altar, the place of his atonement. The meaning of this is that the sacrifices, brought on the Altar, would ultimately atone for man's sins. This, however, can also be understood in light of the above. The entire concept of sin is one of spiritual separation, where spiritual forces are separated from each other, and where man is thus separated from G-d. The concept of sacrifice, on the other hand, is to reunite these forces, thus bringing man back to G-d.
Indeed, for this reason, the Hebrew word for sacrifice, Korbon, come from the root Karav, meaning to "be close." But sacrifice and atonement would be accomplished primarily in close proximity to this Foundation Stone, which is the one point that unifies and brings together all spiritual forces. Indeed, the primary purpose of the entire Temple Service was to rectify and strengthen the bond between these forces.
Upon this Foundation Stone stood the Ark, containing the Two Tablets upon which G-d had written the Ten Commandments, as well as the Original Torah written by Moses. This was to underscore the fact that all creation is sustained by the Covenant of the Torah, as G-d said, "If not for my covenant day and night, I would not have appointed the decrees of heaven and earth" (Jeremiah 33:25). All creation was contingent upon this covenant, which was made when Israel accepted the Torah from G-d. The fact that the Ark stood on the Foundation Stone of creation means that all creation is infused with the power of the Torah.
Since this spot is where all spiritual forces come together to influence the physical world, this is indeed the "Gate of Heaven." It is from this spot -- between the two Cherubim on the Ark -- that prophecy emanates, and through there all prayers are channeled. This spot is the focus of all spiritual forces, and all communication that we have with these forces is through this location. It is thus taught that spiritual channels emanate from the Foundation Stone, bringing spiritual sustenance to all the world.
This also explains the meaning of Jacob's dream, where he saw "A ladder standing on the earth, with its head reaching the heaven" (Genesis 28:12). The concept of a ladder is that of a single entity in which many steps are united. There are many steps on a ladder, but they're all connected by the body of the ladder itself. The same is true of the Foundation Stone, the place where Jacob slept. This too was a single entity to which all spiritual levels are attached.
Since the Foundation Stone unites all spiritual forces, there must be a realm in the spiritual domain where all these forces come together. In the words of our Sages, this realm is called "Jerusalem on High," and it is said to parallel the physical Jerusalem. This supernal Jerusalem is the realm where all spiritual forces are brought together to interact. In the words of some of our Sages, this "Jerusalem on High" is called Shalem, from the root Shalom, since this is where even opposing spiritual forces exist together in harmony.
As Creator of all spiritual forces, G-d Himself is infinitely higher than even the highest of them. The difference between G-d and any created entity, even the highest, is infinitely greater than the difference between even the very highest and very lowest things in creation. G-d is the Creator, while everything else is created, and there can be no greater fundamental difference than this.
This, however, presents some very serious difficulties. If G-d is utterly different from all spiritual forces, how can they have any association with Him? We know that G-d constantly acts upon these forces, this being the entire mechanism of Divine Providence. Furthermore, like everything else, these constantly depend on G-d for existence itself -- if G-d did not constantly infuse them with His creative force, they would instantly cease to exist. But if both G-d and these forces are spiritual and different, then they are separated to the ultimate degree. It would only be through a physical entity that the two could be united.
In many places, when speaking of the Chosen City, the Torah calls it, "The place that G-d will choose to make His Name dwell there" (Deut 12:11). To the extent that we can understand it, this means that G-d associates Himself with this place. This is very difficult for the human mind to comprehend, and indeed, Solomon, the wisest of all men, found it impossible to understand. He thus said to G-d, "Behold, the heavens and the heavens of Heaven cannot contain you, how much less this House that I have built" (1-Kings 8:27). Yet, he knew that G-d had somehow associated Himself with this place, as G-d Himself had proclaimed in His Torah.
But if both G-d and the entire array of spiritual forces are associated with this spot -- the Foundation Stone -- then they can indeed interact. Thus, it is by associating with the Temple and this Stone that G-d also associates with all the spiritual forces that He created, sustaining and directing them. As mentioned above, however, the array of spiritual forces is called "Jerusalem on High."
We thus see that G-d does not associate with "Jerusalem on High" until He does so with the physical Jerusalem. This is the meaning of the Talmudic teaching (Taanit 5), "G-d swore that He would not enter Jerusalem on High until He enters Jerusalem down below."
This is also the meaning of the fact that G-d Himself appeared at the top of the ladder in Jacob's dream. This is the concept of unification, not only affecting all spiritual levels, but also attaching them to G-d Himself.
The entire purpose of the Temple Service was to strengthen this bond between G-d and the spiritual forces, thus enhancing them and giving them a greater power to elevate the physical world. For example, on the festival of Sukkot, 70 sacrifices were brought, one for each of the 70 archetypal nations of the world. Through this, the directing angels overseeing these nations would be elevated, and, as a result, the nations themselves would be brought to a higher spiritual level.
In a similar manner, other aspects of the Temple Service served to enhance other spiritual aspects of humanity. Since the time that the Temple was destroyed, these spiritual aspects also diminished.
This also explains why all our prayers are directed toward the Foundation Stone, the place of the Ark. We do not pray to any spiritual force or entity, even the highest, but only to G-d alone. The content of our prayer, however, is to rectify the various spiritual forces, bringing G-d's light to shine upon them. Since the main connection between G-d and the spiritual forces is the place of the Ark, we focus our prayers' toward this spot.
Through this we can understand another very difficult Talmudic teaching (Brachot 7a):
Rabbi Yochanan said in the name of Rabbi Yosi (ben Zimra): How do we know that G-d prays? It is written, "I will bring them to My Holy Mountain, and make them rejoice in the House of My prayer, [for My house is a house of prayer for all nations]" (Isaiah 56:7). The scripture does not say, "their prayer," but "My prayer." We thus see that G-d prays.
And what is His prayer? Rav Zutra bar Tovia said in the name of Rav: It is, "May it be My will that My mercy should overcome My anger, and that My mercy dominate My Attributes. May I act toward My children with the Attribute of Mercy, and go beyond the requirements of the law."
At first thought, this appears beyond all comprehension. How can we say that G-d prays? And if He does, to whom does He pray? And what is the precise meaning of His prayer?
But if we look carefully at the basic concept of prayer, this becomes somewhat easier to understand. When we pray, the object of our prayer is to bring G-d's spiritual Light to bear on the spiritual forces, so that they in turn should enhance the world in which we live. Prayer is therefore the enhancement and elevation of the spiritual forces. Of course, the One who enhances these forces is none other than G-d Himself, infusing them with His Light and creative force. When G-d acts upon these forces in this manner, He is said to be "praying."
This also explains the content of G-d's prayer. The concept of G-d's anger and His Attribute of Justice is essentially when He withdraws His Light from the spiritual forces, allowing them to function on their own. These forces then function almost automatically, dispensing justice according to a strict rule, in an almost mechanical fashion. This is the idea of G-d "hiding His face."
The concept of G-d's Mercy, on the other hand, is when G-d makes His Light shine on these forces, taking complete control of them, as it were. Thus, when G-d prays that His Mercy should dominate His Attributes, it means that He is infusing these Attributes with His Light and creative force. This is the concept of G-d praying.
It is important to note that G-d's prayer is associated with the Temple in Jerusalem -- "for My house is the house of My prayer." According to what we have said earlier, however, the reason for this is obvious. G-d's prayer refers to His infusing all Attributes and spiritual forces with His Light, which takes place through the Foundation Stone, the focus of all prayer.
It is also very significant to know the ending of this verse, "for My house is a house of prayer for all nations." Here again, at first thought, it is difficult to see what connection this has to G-d's prayer. Why is the verse that teaches the concept of G-d's prayer associated with that of the Temple being a place of prayer for all peoples?
We must realize that the main reason there is distinction between Jews and other nations is because of the withholding of G-d's Light. As a result of the sins of Adam, of the generation of the Flood, and of the builders of the Tower of Babel, G-d gradually withdrew His Light from the world, restricting it to one people, the Jews, who would inhabit Jerusalem and serve G-d there. Therefore, there are directing angels over the nations, but they are on a lower level than the spiritual forces associated with Israel.
The concept of G-d's prayer, however, is that His Light should shine through all spiritual forces with its full intensity, and thus, to all mankind as well. Therefore when G-d's house is the "house of His prayer," it is then also "a house of prayer for all nations."
This again brings us to the location of the Foundation Stone, the focus of all spiritual forces. It was set on the crossroads of civilization, so that all peoples should interact with these forces, and throughout history be influenced by them. In this manner, all mankind is gradually elevated by these forces, paving the way for the ultimate rectification of the world. This will be realized in the Messianic Age, when Jerusalem becomes a center for G-d's teaching for all mankind, [as Isaiah the prophet said]: "Out of Zion shall come forth the Torah, and G-d's word from Jerusalem."
Reprinted with permission from
"Jerusalem: Eye of the Universe", published by the Orthodox Union.