“Mount Moriah: Building for the Future through Love”
(updated and revised from Vayeira 2000-5761)

by, Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

Last week’s parasha, parashat Lech Lecha, began with G-d saying to Abram (his name had not yet been changed to Abraham), Genesis 12:1: לֶךְ לְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ וּמִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ וּמִבֵּית אָבִיךָ , Go for yourself from your land, from your relatives, and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you. In effect, G-d says to Abram: “Abram give up your past, give up Mesopotamia, give up Haran, give up your former lifestyle, and go to the land of Canaan, and build there anew.”

At the end of this week’s parasha, parashat Vayeira,the exact same words, לֶךְ לְךָ , “go for yourself,” are used by G-d to Abraham. G-d, once again, tests Abraham and says to him, Genesis 22:2: קַח נָא אֶת בִּנְךָ אֶת יְחִידְךָ אֲשֶׁר אָהַבְתָּ, אֶת יִצְחָק , “Take your son, your only one, whom you love—Isaac,” וְלֶךְ לְךָ אֶל אֶרֶץ הַמֹּרִיָּה , “and go to the land of Moriah,” וְהַעֲלֵהוּ שָׁם לְעֹלָה, עַל אַחַד הֶהָרִים אֲשֶׁר אֹמַר אֵלֶיךָ , “and bring him up there as an offering, upon one of the mountains which I shall tell you.” Using the exact same words, G-d tells Abraham, לֶךְ לְךָ —“go for yourself and sacrifice your son,” in effect, “Give up your future!”

The place where G-d tells Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, is known as Mount Moriah. This, of course, is the place in Jerusalem where the Temple was eventually built and is the source today of the seemingly implacable dispute between the Israelis and Palestinians–the Temple Mount of Jerusalem.

The Rabbis suggest that the name “Moriah” reflects several vital spiritual concepts:

  1. הוֹרָאָה –instruction, reflecting the primary laws and statutes that emanated from Mount Moriah
  2. מוֹר  –the sweet scent of myrrh that exuded from the altar incense
  3. 3) יִרְאָה –the extraordinary reverence for Heaven that radiated from Mt. Moriah

According to the well-known legend, Mount Moriah was chosen to be the location of the holy Temple because of the actions of two brothers who inherited a field on Mount Moriah from their father. One brother was blessed with a wife and many children, the other brother was single. The single brother said to himself, “My brother has many financial burdens and I have very few. I will take some of my harvest and place it on my brother’s pile.” The other brother said to himself, “I am blessed with a wife and children, and have so much happiness. My brother has nothing but the harvest that he reaps from the fields. I’ll take some of my bushels and place them on his pile.” In the still of the night, each brother secretly transferred bushels from his own pile to his brother’s pile.

The next morning, when they looked at their piles and saw that they were exactly even, they were thoroughly perplexed. The same thing happened on the second night and on the third night. On the fourth night, in the middle of the night, they met each other while transferring the bushels, and realized what had happened. They fell on each other’s shoulder and cried.

G-d looked down from heaven and said, “In this place will I build my Temple. The love and devotion shown here indicates that this is the appropriate place for the people of Israel to come to worship Me–through selfless love and devotion.”

An alternate version of this story, a very cynical version, has been circulating recently. The single brother says to himself, “My brother is blessed with children, and I have nothing, I will go in the middle of the night and take some of his bushels and put them on my pile.” The married brother says, “He has no one to support, I have a whole family to care for. I will go, take some of his bushels and put them on my pile.” On the fourth night they meet, and realize that each one has been stealing from the other. G-d looks down from Heaven and says: “This is the place where I will build the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament.” This cynical adaption of a very beautiful story of love is only a legend, but, in some sense, represents the essence of what is happening today.

Mount Moriah can never be truly ours, unless we, the Jewish people, unite in love for one another. Mount Moriah can never be ours unless the sense of selfless love, that was expressed by the two brothers, is embodied in the positive feelings that Jewish people must have for one another. Mount Moriah can never be ours unless the Knesset members, who in effect represent the Jewish people, respect one another and embrace one another.

It is very possible for Jews, especially the Jews of Israel, to make every sacrifice, even the ultimate sacrifice, offering up  their children in battle, on the Akeida of the Jewish State. But, Mount Moriah will not truly be a Jewish possession, unless that offering is given with a full and sincere heart, unless that offering not only represents dispatching our sons and daughters to do battle against the external enemy, but also to do battle with the internal enemy–the wanton hatred, the senseless hatred, that we Jews too often express to one another, within our families and within our communities.

As Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the late Chief Rabbi of Israel, once wrote: “If we have been destroyed, and with us the world has been destroyed as well–through wanton hatred, we can rebuild, and the world together with us can be rebuilt–through wanton love, through love without cause.”

May you be blessed.