Jerusalem and Shechem

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The Torah has an interesting description of Yaakov’s initial encounter with the city of Shechem: “And Yaakov came complete (shalem) to the city of Shechem.” As the midrash notes, the word “shalem” in the context of a city usually refers to Yerushalayim. Accordingly, this could have implied a close association between the city of Shechem and the city of Yerushalayim.

However, this is not the case. The midrash uses this word association to develop a contrast between the two cities. The following midrash emphatically notes that the word “shalem” must be an adjective describing Yaakov himself and not a descriptor of the city:

[Yaakov] was shalem in his body… shalem with his assets… for we have seen the word shalem refer to a city [only] regarding Yerushalayim… therefore shalem [in this verse] must refer to Yaakov. The city of Shechem is always prepared for punishments. There they raped Dina, in Shechem they sold Yosef, in Shechem the Davidic kingdom was split…

The midrash moves in two directions simultaneously. On the one hand, it highlights the sui-generis nature of Yerushalayim in that it is the only city referred to as shalem. At the same time, it describes Shechem as a complete foil to this perfection. There is a conflict of sorts between the two cities.

In this struggle between Yerushalayaim and Shechem, which one will be triumphant? Or perhaps they will locked in an eternal struggle?

On a homiletical level, we can suggest that the Torah hints to the ultimate triumph of Yerushalayim over the Shechem. The prophet Tzephania teaches us that in the future God will “make the peoples pure of speech, so that they all invoke God by name and serve Him with one accord (literally – ‘with one shoulder’ – ‘shechem echad’).” While here the word “shechem” refers to the shoulder and not the city, nonetheless, it is striking that this word which is associated with an evil non-Jewish city becomes part of the messianic description of how all nations will serve God together. 

How will this messianic vision be actualized? What is the process through which the people of Shechem will be transformed into people who “serve God with one accord”? The Ibn Ezra connects this verse with the prophecy of Yeshayahu:

For out of Zion Torah shall emerge for all the nations as the verse states – ‘so that they all invoke God by name and serve Him shechem echad.’

The non-Jews will stream to Zion and there they will encounter the word of God. This will transform the inhabitants of cities such as Shechem to join together with all people of the world – shoulder to shoulder (Shechem echad) – in a global service of the one true God. 

Yerushalayim shall triumph over Shechem.


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