The capital cities of every nation on earth are built on major trade routes or rivers. They became capitals because they were centers of commerce and easily accessible.
Jerusalem is the lone exception. It is in the mountains, difficult to access and off the ancient trade routes that passed through the Jordan valley. It was not a natural commerce center. Why was it made our capital 3,000 years ago? The Talmud’s answer is that Jerusalem is the spiritual center of the world. In fact, it is the spiritual umbilical cord of the world, where heaven and earth connect. And for the Jewish Nation, a nation dedicated to Hashem and to his Torah, there can be no other capital.
The Talmud asks: “Why are the hot springs of Tiberius not located in Jerusalem? Why don’t the delicious fruits of the Ginossar region grow in Jerusalem?” The Talmud responds: “So that no one should ascend to Jerusalem for the sweet fruits or for the hot baths. Rather, one ascends to Jerusalem for the sake of Jerusalem itself.”
What does “… for the sake of Jerusalem itself” mean? It means for the sake of the spirituality that is there, for the Mitzvot that can only be performed there.
The name of our capital is surprising. If it means “City of Peace” or something similar, one would expect it to be called Yerushalom rather than Yerushalayim. The “ayim” ending in Hebrew indicates a pair. Yad means hand, and Yadayim means a pair of hands. Ayin means eye, and ainayim means a pair of eyes. The ending of the word “Yerushalayim” indicates that Jerusalem is paired. The Talmud tells us that it is paired with a Heavenly Jerusalem, which gives it intrinsic and eternal holiness. That pairing of physical and heavenly Jerusalem creates a portal to heaven.
In Geula and Golus, Yerushalayim has been the object of our longing and hopes. It has been the locus for our prayers. Three times daily for 3,000 years we have faced Jerusalem, and the Temple. We long for her every Passover and Yom Kippur and cry for her on Tisha B’av. She is spoken of hundreds of times in Torah and Tenach. Others may admire her, and some may have adopted her, but she is peripheral to everyone but to us. Jerusalem is not mentioned once in the Koran. Whether in Roman, Moslem, Turkish, British or Jordanian hands, Jerusalem was ignored. Jerusalem is only valuable to the nations when she is in Jewish hands. “Ha-mayveen Ya-veen, let the wise understand!”
We must never give even part of our holy city to enemies who declare that the Temple never existed, even as they industriously dig up and destroy Temple artifacts. We must not forget the spiritual nature of Jerusalem, which makes her the beating heart of our people, unique among the capitals of the world.
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)