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God’s choice and desire for Zion [Tefila-5]

Presented by:Avrum Leeder

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Torah Lesson written by: Ori Engelman

The prayer “Yehi Chavod,” recited in the daily morning service, includes the posuk (verse) from Tehillim (Psalm) 132 [13]: “כִּי בָחַר ה’ בְּצִיּוֹן אִוָּהּ לְמוֹשָׁב לוֹ” (“For the Lord has chosen Zion; He desired (iva) it for His dwelling”). The posuk which follows that quoted in the prayer is: “זֹאת מְנוּחָתִי עֲדֵי עַד פֹּה אֵשֵׁב כִּי אִוִּתִיהָ” (“This is My resting place forever; here I shall dwell for I have desired it”).

The first posuk describes God’s choice of Zion and His desire to dwell there; the following verse presents Zion as the Divine resting place because this is God’s desire. These verses refer to Jerusalem, which is also known as “Zion.”

What is the significance of the name Zion? What is intended by it and what is unique about this name?

What is the intent of the phrase “He desired it for His dwelling?” What is meant by this desire, and why does the verse use the word “iva?”

As noted, the Psalm deals with Jerusalem, which for Am Yisrael (the Nation of Israel) represents the beating heart of the Land desired by the fathers. Eretz Yisrael, with all its advantages and unique qualities is epitomized on the most basic spiritual level by the holy city of Jerusalem. For Am Yisrael, the function of Jerusalem is parallel to that of the heart, which pumps the life force through all the body’s organs.

In essence, in the first verse the Divine choice of Jerusalem is revealed to King David, the author of Tehillim, as Midrash Aggada [Vayikra (Leviticus) 17:3] teaches:

“והיכן המקום אשר בחר, זו ירושלים, שנאמר כי בחר ה’ בציון אוה למושב לו (תהלים קל”ב י”ג), לפיכך מזהיר משה את ישראל ואמר איש איש מבית ישראל וגו'”

And where is “The place He will choose?” [Devarim (Deuteronomy) 12:5] It is Jerusalem, as Scripture states “For the Lord has chosen Zion; He desired it for His dwelling.”

We must clarify how God’s dwelling in Eretz Yisrael in general and in Jerusalem specifically is made manifest.

Exposition of “God’s Choice” 

Firstly, it is necessary to understand the concept of “choice” in connection with God. Choice apparently is between two or more existing things or options. How can this be said of God, Who is the Cause of all Causes and the Primal Source?

Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook z”tl explains that Divine “choice” is not a determination among options, as it is for human beings; rather it is an independent creation. Thus, in a general sense Eretz Yisrael, the Chosen Land, and in the specific sense Jerusalem, which encapsulates the spirituality of the Land, are unique Divine creations with an eternal destiny.

In the Psalm, this Divine creation is expressly revealed to King David. This is the intention of the words “For the Lord has chosen Zion,” namely that He created within the world a unique place called Eretz Yisrael and, within her, a more internal point which is named “Jerusalem.”

Interchange of the Names “Jerusalem” and “Zion” 

Why does the verse use the name “Zion” in place of the Holy City’s more common name?

We may also note that “Zion” does not always relate specifically to the city of Jerusalem, but conveys as well the aspiration to reach Eretz Yisrael, as evidenced by the choice of name for Jewish nationalism: Zionism.

“Zion,” as distinct from “Jerusalem,” represents the greater inner dimension of the Holy City, as the posuk states: “כי מציון תצא תורה” (“For out of Zion the Torah shall come forth”) [Isaiah 2:3]. Thus, “Zion” is the spiritual vessel which vitalizes Eretz Yisrael, and through which the Land draws its power. This connection between the Land and its capital is similar to that between an ordinary Jew and Torah scholars and the righteous (ẓadik). The function of a righteous person is to be the means for providing spiritual influence on the ordinary Jew and to nurture him through this influence.[1] Similarly, the function of Jerusalem/Zion is to influence the core spirituality of the Nation of Israel, throughout Eretz Yisrael – “For out of Zion the Torah shall come forth.”

We find this parallel between the concept of Zion and the ẓadik in Gemara Berachot 58b as well:

“אמר רבי יוחנן: עתיד הקדוש ברוך הוא להחזירן לישובן, שנאמר ‘שיר המעלות לדוד הבטחים בה’ כהר ציון,’ [תהלים קכ”ה:א]  מה הר ציון עתיד הקדוש ברוך הוא להחזירו לישובו, אף בתיהן של צדיקים עתיד הקדוש ברוך הוא להחזירן לישובן…”

Rabbi Yocḥanan said: “The Holy One, blessed be He, will restore them (the destroyed houses of the righteous), as the verse says: ‘A song of ascents; those who trust in the Lord are as Mount Zion [Tehillim 125:1];’ just as God will restore Mount Zion to its inhabited state, so He will restore the houses of the righteous to their inhabited state.”

Rabbi Yocḥanan asserts a parallel between the Beit HaMikdash (Mount Zion) and the houses of the righteous. As God will restore Am Yisrael to settlement in Zion, with rebuilding the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) – not merely in the tangible, practical sense, but in the spiritual sense as well, restoring Am Yisrael to spiritual centrality– so too the influence of the righteous and the Torah scholars will be restored in full force. The righteous, Torah scholars, who influence the nation through their Torah and through their spiritual might, are destined to be restored to their houses.

The parallel Rabbi Yocḥanan suggests between the righteous and the Beit HaMIkdash is opaque. What is the significance of Rabbi Yocḥanan’s statement?

Our elucidation of the concept of Zion and its connection to the concept of “ẓadik” casts light on Rabbi Yocḥanan’s comment: both share a common link – each is a factor which brings Torah and sanctity to the entire Nation of Israel.

Explanation of the Word “Iva 

Above we quoted Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook’s comment that Divine “choice” indicates creation, forming something new, and we added the exposition of “Zion” as expressing the concept of the spiritual point of Eretz Yisrael, the central source of its spiritual energy and the heart of the Land.

Why does the verse speak of God’s choice of Zion “because He desires (iva) it?”

Ba’al haTanya, the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, was asked by one of his followers why God created the world. The Rebbe answered based upon a Midrash which states that God desired to have a dwelling place in the Lower World, and one does not question desires. “Desire” is a great urge to achieve something; though it is often seen in a negative sense, “desire” can be positive, as in an unstoppable urge to accomplish something. The deep meaning of this is the depth of the Divine choice of Jerusalem/Zion specifically and Eretz Yisrael in general.

Though the concept of Divine desire is not at all comparable to that of human desire, they do share one common denominator – each expresses an internal will which is deeply rooted and which is full of vitality which can lead to astounding creations, of which the question “Why?” cannot be asked, since it is above reason.

The Divine choice of Zion is not a determination among alternate options, but a Divine creation – this exactly is the meaning of “The Lord has chosen Zion.” From a human perspective, it appears that God chose Zion over all other places on the globe, but in truth, His “choice” conveys an internal as well as eternal dimension – “He desired it for His dwelling,” the desire to manifest His Shechina within us and through us, within Eretz Yisrael.


The verses contain a parallel between the external and internal dimensions:

“The Lord has chosen Zion” is the external dimension, that which is recognized by the human observer;

“He desired it for His dwelling” is the internal dimension, the Divine choice of Eretz Yisrael and of Jerusalem which flows from a more internal Divine will.

We explained that “Zion” refers to the internal aspect of Jerusalem, in which the Holy City influences Eretz Yisrael and the Nation of Israel, “From Zion Torah comes forth.” As well, we explained that the word “iva” refers to the unique Divine choice of Jerusalem and of Eretz Yisrael, which originates in the unfathomable will of God.

May it be His will that we have the proper desire to follow God even though we cannot understand His ways.


[1] See our Sages’ comment [Gemara Ketubot 111b] that connection to a Torah scholar is considered as “clinging to God.” [Devarim (Deuteronomy) 11:22]

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