As I mentioned in the previous letter, there was a great pilgrimage to the Western Wall of the Temple Mount – Mount Moriah – about a week after the Six-Day War. This pilgrimage took place on the Festival of Shavuos, when we celebrate the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.
This pilgrimage evoked our memory of the pilgrimage to the Temple during the biblical period, as our people were given the mitzvah – Divine mandate – to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Sanctuary three times a year. The Torah states that this pilgrimage should take place on, “the Festival of Matzos, the Festival of Shavuos, and the Festival of Succos” (Deuteronomy 16:16). When the Holy Sanctuary was established in Jerusalem through the building of the Temple on Mount Moriah, the people made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, as it is written:
I rejoiced when they said to me, “Let us go to the House of Hashem.” Our feet stood firm within your gates, O Jerusalem. (Psalm 122:1,2)
This leads to the following question: Why were we not given a mitzvah to make a pilgrimage to Mount Sinai? At the very least, we should have been told to make the pilgrimage to Mount Sinai on the Festival of Shavuos, when we celebrate the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. I would like to suggest that the beginning of an answer can be found in the following statement of Moses, our teacher, in his farewell address to our people before we entered the Land.
“See! I have taught you statutes and social laws, as Hashem, my God, has commanded me, to do so in the midst of the Land to which you come, to possess it. You shall safeguard and fulfill them, for it is your wisdom and understanding in the eyes of the peoples, who shall hear all these statutes and who shall say, ‘Surely a wise and understanding people is this great nation!’ ” (Deuteronomy 4:5,6)
The goal of the Revelation of the Torah on Mount Sinai is to fulfill the Torah in the Land! Through entering the Land, we are to develop a model society through “living” the Torah, as the mitzvos of the Torah relate to all areas of life.
We were reminded of this
spiritual goal when we made the
pilgrimage to the Holy Temple on
Mount Moriah, for within the
Holy of Holies of the Temple was
the Ark of the Covenant, and
within the Ark were the Tablets
of the Covenant that we received
at Mount Sinai. On the Tablets
of the Covenant were written the
Ten Commandments, and according
to the Zohar, the classical work
on the hidden wisdom of the
Torah, the Ten Commandments are
the underlying principles of all
the mitzvos of the Torah (Yisro
Within one of the courtyards of the Temple on Mount Moriah was the Chamber of Hewn Stone where the Supreme Court of Torah Sages – later known as the Sanhedrin – guided our people through their Torah teachings and through their decisions regarding Torah law. In this spirit, the Midrash explains that the name “Moriah” is related to the word “hora’ah” – teaching; thus, a reason why this mountain was called “Moriah” is because from this sacred site, the teachings of the Torah will eventually go out “to the world” (Genesis Rabbah 55:7). The Midrash adds that “Moriah” is also related to the word “ohr” – light; thus, another reason why the Temple Mount was called “Moriah” is because from this sacred site light will go out “to the world” (ibid). In his commentary on this Midrash, Rashi explains that this spiritual light will come from “the Sanhedrin in the Chamber of Hewn Stone”; moreover, Rashi mentions that the Prophet Isaiah alludes to this light when he proclaimed, “For from Zion will go forth Torah” (Isaiah 2:3).
The Temple on Mount Moriah is to serve as a center of Torah – the Divine Teaching. This is why it contains the Ark of the Covenant with the Tablets of the Covenant, as well as the chamber for the Supreme Court of Torah Sages. The Temple therefore reminds us that the goal of the Revelation at Mount Sinai is to fulfill the Torah in the Land; thus, we make the pilgrimage to Mount Moriah and not to Mount Sinai. This insight can help us to understand why Rabbi Yehudah Halevi, one of the great Jewish philosophers of the Middle Ages, wrote, “The Land of Israel is called the Land of the Torah” (Kuzari 2:20).
The above teachings indicate that the spiritual significance of Mount Sinai is to be sought in the Temple on Mount Moriah. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, a leading 19th century sage and biblical commentator, finds an allusion to this idea in the following words from Psalm 68:18, which he translates as: Sinai in the Sanctuary. In his commentary on these words, Rabbi Hirsch writes:
“Now Mount Sinai is no longer to be sought in the wilderness but may be found within the Sanctuary which God caused human hands to erect for Him.”
The Chofetz Chaim, a leading sage of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, offers a related teaching which can give us another perspective on why we make the pilgrimage to Mount Moriah and not to Mount Sinai. He explains that the People of Israel are a holistic unity of body and soul, and he writes:
The soul of Israel is the holy Torah, and the body of Israel is the Land of Israel. (Chofetz Chaim on the Torah, Parshas Bo)
Just as the soul needs the body in order to fulfill its mission in this world, so too, the Torah needs the Land of Israel in order to fulfill its mission in this world. This is why the Chofetz Chaim reminds us that many mitzvos of the Torah can only be fulfilled in the Land (ibid).
“But the Land of Israel without the Torah,” stresses the Chofetz Chaim, “is a body without a soul” (ibid). We therefore need the harmonious interaction of the soul and the body – the Torah and the Land of Israel.
The Chofetz Chaim finds an allusion to this idea in the following statement where Hashem proclaims that He is the One, “Who firmed the land and its produce, Who gave a soul to the people upon it” (Isaiah 42:5).
The above teaching of the Chofetz Chaim leads to the following insight: If we would make the pilgrimage to Mount Sinai where we received the Torah, we would be journeying to the place which represents the soul of our people, but not the body. When, however, we make the pilgrimage to the Temple on Mount Moriah, the center of the Torah within the Land of Israel, we are journeying to the place which represents the holistic unity of our body and soul!
Throughout our long and painful exile, we yearned for the rebuilding of the Temple on Mount Moriah so that we can once again experience this holistic pilgrimage. We therefore sing the following words at the Shabbos table:
“May the Temple be rebuilt; may the City of Zion be full of pilgrims; there we shall sing a new song, and with joyous singing ascend!” (Tzur MeShelo)
Have a Good and Sweet Shabbos,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen