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Shabbat Parashat Vaetchanan 5781

Igrot Hareaya Letters of Rav Kook: Yerushalayim First and Foremost

Letter #39 part II

Date and Place 3 Marcheshvan 5667 (1906), Yafo

Recipient: Rabbi Yehuda Leib Felman, an uncle of Rav Kook

Body: [Last week we saw Rav Kook’s disappointment over tensions among kollelim and the beginning of his thesis that Yerushalayim’s historic/spiritual centrality should find expression even in regard to practical matters of financial support.]               

[Based on what we have seen,] the status of Yerushalayim is greater than that of all other places, as does the mitzva to build it precede and surpass that of the other holy cities. A proof for this is the gemara (Berachot 6b) concerning participation in a wedding: “If you bring joy to the groom, it is as if you built one of the ruins of Yerushalayim.” It did not talk about building the ruins of anywhere in Eretz Yisrael, even though this is implied by the pasuk cited (“… as I will return the captives of the Land” – Yirmiyahu 33:11). It must be because building the ruins of Yerushalayim is a greater mitzva than doing so for other cities, and so they mentioned the more prominent one.

One should not think that the early righteous people could have settled in Yerushalayim and preferred another city in Eretz Yisrael. We see these days, as well, that all of the Torah scholars and righteous people desire to settle in Yerushalayim specifically. Many travel to visit it and pray on special days at the Western Wall (may it be built quickly in our days) with sanctity and incredible inspiration. Rather, the yoke of exile has been very heavy in Yerushalayim because of the traditional hatred of the non-Jews.

Only now, in ikva d’meshicha (the stage preceding the coming of Mashiach) do we see good omens – Hashem is treating us in a manner of salvation and mercy. Thank G-d, some of our Jewish brethren are distinguished in the eyes of the officials, in the Holy Land in general and Yerushalayim specifically. Thank G-d, things are now safe, and there is no fear.

One should not ask about the greatest righteous people – why did some choose to live in other holy cities, even when they could have lived in Yerushalayim? Certainly every location in Eretz Yisrael has its own individual root and element of sanctity, as is discussed at length in Chessed L’Avraham.

Even on a simple level, every place has its own special holy appeal. For example, my location of Yafo is special in that it is on the border specified in the Torah (“the border of the sea” – Bamidbar 34:6), and it is the place the prophet Yonah came to, which certainly embedded in it special spiritual characteristics that have remained over the generations. It is also the place where the rafts made of cedar wood were brought to land to be used in building the Beit Hamikdash (see Divrei Hayamim II, 2:15). According to the Yerushalmi, a miracle happened to Nikanor in its port.

Therefore, although Yerushalayim is very beloved, it has the most all-encompassing sanctity, and there is a precedence to live there, still whoever felt in the root of his unique soul a connection to a certain city’s special individual sanctity would decide to live there.

The Land was divided among tribes, and therefore there were prophets from different tribes and locations. Although most were in Yerushalayim, which is why it was called the “valley of visions” (Yeshayahu 22:1) and when a prophet’s city is not mentioned he can be assumed to be from there (Petichta 24), a minority lived in other places. These are specific matters, but generally there is certainly a greater mitzva to live in Yerushalayim than anywhere else, despite the beloved nature of every place. To this day, elders who have lived in Eretz Yisrael and try every day to travel in new paths within it because of their great love for the Land, still try their best to live in Yerushalayim. It is just that many are forced by their situation or their finances to live elsewhere.        

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Nir Rephael ben Rachel Bracha
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