The past ten days have been quite difficult ones for Jerusalemites. A week-and-a-half ago, a terrorist plowed his car into a crowd waiting for the light rail at Ammunition Hill, immediately killing a three-month-old baby in her grandfather's arms. Four days later, another young soul, an Ecuadoran convert who had emigrated to Israel after discovering her family's Jewish roots, succumbed to her wounds from that horrific attack. Three days after that, Rabbi Yehudah Glick, activist for Jewish prayer rights on the Temple Mount, was shot in an attempted assassination. This is merely the culmination of months of unrest in the capital, leading us to ask: what can make Jerusalem whole (shalem) again?
fact, Shalem (Salem) is the first name used for Jerusalem, according to
Jewish tradition (Onkelos et al.), in a verse from this morning's Torah
portion, Lekh Lekha (Gen. 14:18): "And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine, and he was a priest of the Supreme God."
Melchizedek according to the Orthodox. I didn't say which Orthodox.
this is not the only Salem in the Torah. Later in the book of Genesis
(33:18), we read (following Rashbam's rendering): "And Jacob came to
Salem, city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came
from Paddan Aram, and he encamped before the city."
So we have
Salem as an alternative name for two cities which figure prominently in
Jewish history: Jerusalem and Shechem (modern-day Nablus). Indeed, the
root shalem yield two important terms in biblical Hebrew: shallem (to pay) and, of course, shalom (peace).
represents some heavy foreshadowing. Immediately after describing
Jacob's arrival in "Salem, city of Shechem," the Torah notes (v. 19):
"And he purchased the plot of land where he pitched his tent from the
hands of the children of Hamor, patriarch of Shechem, for a hundred
pieces of silver." After the taking of Dinah, Hamor and his son have
this to say to the citizens of Shechem: "These men are shelemim with us. Let them dwell in the land, and they will trade therein. The land is wide enough for them" (34:21). Now, shelemim here
may be taken as "Salemites" or "amenable," but what is clear that this
quality indicates that despite the outrage over what has happened to
Dinah, her family will forget it all for the right price.
else is for sale in Shechem-Salem? The story of the sale of Joseph, just
a few years later, begins with Jacob's fateful proclamation (Gen.
37:13), "Aren't your brothers shepherding in Shechem? Go, and I will
send you to them." The climax of that crime is Judah's famous question
(vv. 26-27): "What profit is there in killing our brother and covering
his blood? Let us sell him to the Ishmaelites..."
in Shechem once again, the scion of Joseph, Jeroboam, poses a challenge
to the scion of Judah, Rehoboam (I Kings 12:4): "Your father was a hard
master. Lighten the harsh labor demands and heavy taxes that your
father imposed on us. Then we will be your loyal subjects." Rehoboam response is, unsurprisingly: shallem, pay
up. “My father laid heavy burdens on you, but I’m going to make them
even heavier! My father beat you with whips, but I will beat you with
scorpions!” (v. 14) And so the other tribes desert the Davidic dynasty
(and murder the man whom Rehoboam sends to collect his super-sized
taxes). You would think Rehoboam, a native of Jerusalem, would know
better than to head to Shechem for his coronation, considering how badly
it ended for the first man who tried to buy the throne of Israel there,
Abimelech (Judges 9).
In Shechem-Salem, it's all about the almighty shekel. And it always ends badly.
Jerusalem-Salem is supposed to be a different place. It is the city of
peace, but that peace is not based on getting a piece of the action.
Isaiah speaks eloquently of this time after time. "Rise from the dust,
Jerusalem, sit in a place of honor... You were sold for nothing, and it
is not with money that you will be redeemed" (52:2-3). With what, then?
"I will restore your judges as at first, and your counselors as at the
beginning. Afterwards, you will be known as the city of righteousness,
faithful town. Zion will be reclaimed with justice, and its returnees
with righteousness" (ibid. 1:26-27).
It is no coincidence that the
king of Salem is named Melchizedek (nor that the first to carry the
full title "king of Jerusalem," in the time of Joshua, is Adonizedek). Tzedek (righteousness) is the only currency valid in Jerusalem. It is the only way to make the city whole.
is why Melchizedek's meeting with Abram interrupts another
royal-patriarchal meeting, that of Abram with King Bera of Sodom. Abram
famously declares (14:21-23), "Give me the souls, but take the
possessions for yourself... I will not take a thread or a bootstrap or
anything of yours, lest you say: 'I enriched Abram.'" This comes
immediately after his encounter with Melchizedek, as if to say that this
priestly king, representing the City of Completion, left an impression
on Abram. Decades later, of course, God himself will teach Abram another
important lesson in Jerusalem, on Mt. Moriah: that He does not desire
blood payment, but the pursuit of righteousness and justice.
torrential rains of this weekend may have doused the fires in Jerusalem
momentarily, but a permanent solution can only be achieved when we
realize that this Salem is not for sale. It is only through justice that
we can make peace here.