Jerusalem, the City of Perfect Fear

The following article was excerpted from the first joint-event between Harav Yitzchak Ginsburgh and Reb Shlomo Carlebach on 14th Av 5745 (August 1, 1985) in Moshav Mevo Modiim. The Chassidic melody referenced in this edited excerpt from that class, can be listened to below. The first version was sung by Harav Ginsburgh at the event, and the second is a recently recorded version from singer Shlomo Katz.

The song was composed by Harav Ginsburgh on the car ride to the class from Kfar Chabad to Modiim.

The verses for the song, as explained below, were chosen because the event took place prior to Shabbat Nachamu (lit. “The Shabbat of Consolation.”). After the 9th of Av—the most tragic day of the Jewish calendar—the Shabbat following begins a period called the “seven weeks of consolation.” This particular Shabbat was named after the opening words from the portion of Isaiah that was chosen to be read after the Torah reading on that day.



[August 1993 Hachanasat Sefer Torah (ushering in the new Torah) ceremony at the Od Yosef Chai yeshiva in Shechem.]

[To view and download seven pictures, please click HERE.]


…In Chassidut we find that even when you’re fearing, there is something even deeper down in the fear which is singing at the same time. Inside the heart that fears, is a deeper heart, called a heart within a heart, which sings at the same time that the heart fears.

That relates to the song we were singing before, and the first verses of this coming Shabbat, Shabbat Nachamu: “Console you can console my people, says your God, speak upon the heart of Jerusalem” (נַחֲמוּ נַחֲמוּ עַמִּי יֹאמַר אֱלֹהֵיכֶם: דַּבְּרוּ עַל לֵב יְרוּשָׁלִַם). To console the people you have to speak “upon the heart of Jerusalem.”

Two Words

We know that Jerusalem is a special city, and the Midrash[1] teach us that the name “Jerusalem” (יְרוּשָׁלַיִם) is composed of two words: “fear” (יִרְאָה) and “perfection” (שָׁלֵם). Initially it was called “perfection” (שָׁלֵם) by Malki Tzedek. [2] According to the Midrash, Malki Tzedek was Shem the son of Noah, who was a righteous man but was not a Jew. He already recognized the uniqueness of the holy city of Jerusalem, and when he dwelt there, he called it “perfect.” He recognized that Jerusalem is the most perfect place.

But later, Abraham, the first Jew who represents love as God called him “My beloved Abraham,”[3]came and called Jerusalem “God’s fear” (הוי’ יִרְאָה). Abraham wasn’t satisfied with just naming it the perfect spot. When he bound his son Isaac, whose attribute is fear, to the altar, he paradoxically realized his consummate attribute of love. Consummate love is the revelation of the very opposite quality of fear, together with the love. [4]

God said, “Now I know that you fear God” [עַתָּה יָדַעְתִּי כִּי יְרֵא אֱלֹהִים אַתָּה) [5). That fear of God is the consummation of love; the ultimate love.

Seeing and Appearing


“Abraham called that place ‘God will see,’ and it will be said today, on the mountain of God He willappear.”

[וַיִּקְרָא אַבְרָהָם שֵׁם הַמָּקוֹם הַהוּא הוי' יִרְאֶה אֲשֶׁר יֵאָמֵר הַיּוֹם בְּהַר הוי יֵרָאֶה)  [6)

God looks and He appears, as the sages say that it is a mitzvah to come three times a year to the Temple to bring a “sight offering”– a special sacrifice in recognition and awareness that God is lookingat you in the same way that God appears to you. “God will see” (הוי' יִרְאֶה), “God will appear” (הוי' יֵרָאֶה). The words “to see” (יִרְאֶה) and “appear” (יֵרָאֶה) are spelled the same as “fear” (יִרְאָה).

Whole and Half

What's the difference between "this is the perfect spot" and "perfect fear"? Perfection should be good enough by itself, what more do we need than to be perfect? The answer is in a very basic principal given by one of the great Kabbalists, Rabbi Abraham Abulafia, that “wholeness” or “perfection” (שָׁלֵם) alone is not good enough! There has to be a whole and a half, as a whole by itself is not yet a whole.

How do we see that in the Torah? The first two letters of God’s name Havayah, themselves constitute a Name of God (י-ה). The first letter yud (י) by itself is not a Name, it is just a letter. It contains within it the whole Name, but it is not a Name unto itself. While the first letter is yud (י) and equals 10, the second letter is hei (ה) and equals 5, which is a half of 10. When we add the half to the whole, it becomes the Divine name Kah (י-ה). In Abulafia’s terminology, this means that if something is “whole” (שָׁלֵם) it is not yet consummately “perfect” unless it includes a second quality—the quality of being “a half.”

One numerical illustration to this phenomenon of “whole and a half” is in the phrase that completes the verse of the Shema—the essential statement of Jewish belief—“Havayah is one” (הוי' אֶחָד). The numerical value of Havayah is 26 and “one” equals 13, which is one half of 26. Together, these two words are “a whole and a half”—consummate perfection. This is the secret of Jerusalem’s name, not only is it “whole” (שָׁלֵם), but it also contains the quality of being a half represented by “fear” (יִרְאָה).

Two Words into One Name

The “fear” associated with Jerusalem does not refer to being afraid (lower fear; the inner quality of thesefirah of might), but to a higher fear that is characterized by total selflessness that derives from wisdom. Indeed, as we saw above, “to fear” (ירא) is from the same root as “to see” (ראה); and sight is the faculty associated with the sefirah of wisdom. Or the fear experienced when you see a Divine revelation, as did Abraham on Mount Moriah at the Binding of Isaac.

When Shem called Jerusalem “perfection,” he did so because he was inspired by an aspect of “encompassing light,” but he did not have the correct vessel to receive that light within his soul because he had not yet reached the level of higher fear. By overcoming his tenth and final test, the Binding of Isaac, Abraham achieved that level of higher fear within his psyche and successfully incorporated the encompassing light of perfection—the perfect expression of fear, or “Jerusalem” (יְרוּשָׁלַיִם)—into his soul.

[1] Bereishit Rabah 56:10.

[2] Genesis 14:18.

[3] Isaiah 41:8.

[4] For a further explanation, see our previous article “The Binding of Isaac and Quantum Entanglement.”

[5] Genesis 22:12.

[6] Genesis 22:14.

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