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Sunday, June 16, 2013

The City of David

From my recent speech at the City of David -

There is a certain emptiness associated with the bedrock of Mount Moriah. Israel’s prophets, sages and rabbis expounded yet the searching continues to anticipate the face of the deep void Torah refers to as - ‘al pnei tahom’. Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg in her writings of this “murmuring deep” associated it with the trauma’s of ancestral origin and of creation itself. Lena Goldstein a holocaust survivor recently said; “Everytime I speak there’s a moment where I can’t talk any more. I don’t know why, I always thought if you talk so many times about something it becomes normal. But it doesn’t”.

Adam, the speaking man, was orphaned into this world, Eve did not know her father; Cain murdered his brother; Noah disengaged, then witnessed man’s total destruction; Abram, survived near death and expulsion before abandoning his father on his journey to the promised land. Isaac, at 37, was sacrificed by his father saved only by divine intervention. Rebecca, Jacob’s mother insisted he charade as his twin brother to obtain his blessing from his blind father:- Then whilst fleeing his brother, he dreamed of a connection between heaven and earth at the place of Isaac, his father’s sacrifice. There, he built a monument, as a covenant and promised to return and build a House of God and on his return he struggled against the angel of death forcing it to confer on him the name - Israel. Each of these trauma’s are directly connected to the hallowed foundation, the bedrock of Mount Moriah.

The midrashim speak of this bedrock, the hill as the navel of creation, its ‘foundation stone’ where it also locates the olive branch Noah’s dove recovered after the great flood, a sign of land and peace. The Torah first recounts the location as ‘Shalem’, the holy site presided over by Noah's son Shem, the oracle in whom Rebecca confided during her troubled pregnancy with her twin sons. He advised she would give birth to the progenitors of future nations - Esau and Jacob. In the Kidron Valley below Abram, Shem’s direct descendant, built an altar; on the bedrock Isaac was sacrificed and Jacob erected a stone monument acknowledging his promise to return and build Beit El - the house of God.

250 years later, after Israel’s family had blossomed into millions in Egypt, Joshua led Israel’s tribal warriors back to Beit El, to Mount Moriah to expel its occupiers the descendants of Yevus. Behind the Mount of Olives Joshua first ambushed the walled city of Ai in his mission to conquer the occupiers on Mount Moriah. During the mission he was reminded that Abraham had once pledged immunity to the descendants of Yevus. In honor of that treaty Joshua and the Jews did not expel them.

In response, the walls that once stood on the bedrock of Mount Moriah became so formidable it took 404 more years before King David’s men finally infiltrated the secret passages of the the water tower of the Gihon Spring to occupy it. This was the place Jacob had departed and after 20 years, the place he returned with his wives and young family to formally anoint the stone monument he had previously erected, to acknowledge the blessings bestowed on him, to officially assume his name - ‘Israel’ and to begin building God’s Holy House.

Compared to the construction of the Herodian temple at the top of the hill over 1000 years later, the walls that once stood on the lower section were already significant technological marvels layered from the bedrock, one multi-tonne boulder on top of another and can still be seen under the soft earth. But, by the time David entered the city, the extensive construction had already restricted access to, what I believe is, Israel’s most important artifact.

Archaeologists may reject such conjecture, speaking instead of chalcolithic, early and middle bronze age chronologies, distancing narrative, reducing opportunities for professional criticism and potential ambiguity. But, I question the wisdom of such stoic distinctions that diminish the importance of the Biblical record on which this archaeology is founded and equally stoic Biblical scholars that dismiss importance of these remarkable discoveries.

Among the many references, in the praises known as Hallel, the Levite priests of the temple once sang and Jews continue to sing many times each year אֶבֶן, מָאֲסוּ הַבּוֹנִים- הָיְתָה, לְרֹאשׁ פִּנָּה - that ‘the stone the builders rejected’ has become, in the future, ‘its chief cornerstone’ - which stone? Was it meant as a metaphor and what about the past-future tense syntax? We learn to interpret Torah on 4 levels and each, from literal to mystical, must reconcile the other. So I ask myself the question, these priests who, at the time of the first temple lived on the lower hill between the city wall and its eastern boundary, why did they write this line and choose to climax the hundred plus lines of Hallel by repeating this verse amongst all the verses of the entire prayer?

‘In fleeing this land, Jacob, was forced to lie down by the sudden sunset. He experienced a primal fear, causing his comment "How awesome is this place!". And he dreamed of the ‘stairway to heaven’’ and he received his vision of this foundation, the temple - Beit El, which inspired him to set up the monument of twelve-stones which that night fused-into-one.’ And according to this midrash what did God do?

‘He stretched out His right foot and sank the stone deep into the earth. Accordingly, the stone is called, ehven hashtya, the Foundation Stone - the navel of the world and from there the whole Earth was stretched out and upon that stone the temple of God stands.’

I believe the ‘cornerstone’ of Hallel is the monument, the matsevah of Jacob. The Artifact of the song was emphasized because Hiram and the foreign builders of King Solomon’s first temple relegated it as a design construction problem: It being on the lower hill and the construction project being on the upper hill, but the priests who discovered its existence in the years they were living between the walls of the city, on the lower hill, did not rest, they wrote and sang about it in protest. A few years ago whilst digging on the high ridge of the Gihon spring I believe Eli Shukron’s archaeological team discovered it once more. It is the monument Jacob anointed when he assumed his name Israel and it marks Israel’s ancestral land!

This tribal land on the upper hill is Binyamin’s symbolically Israel’s neck that on the lower hill borders with Yehuda Israel’s right shoulder and further up to the north it meets Israel’s left shoulder - the tribal land of Yosef. The land, when used purposefully, confers Israel’s tribal unity and peace to the world. It is Tzion - Zion the Jewish heritage!
For Lena Goldstein talking was never enough, but many Jewish ancestors like her acted in ways that ultimately filled the void of the trauma’s the nation Israel has suffered through the millennia. The mystery of Israel’s heritage is the attractive proposition global tourists demand, in this sense The City of David is arguably Israel’s most important national treasure.