The Meaning of “Jerusalem”
In light of the recent US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, I was wondering: How do you say “Jerusalem” in Hebrew and what does it mean?
The eternal capital of the Jewish homeland has a name bestowed upon it by the Creator as a combination of names given to it by two of His favorite sons. This name is Yerushalayim in Hebrew, and I will explain the origin and meaning of this name.
After brilliantly passing the Divine test of his faith by being prepared to offer his beloved son as a sacrifice on Mount Moriah, the Patriarch Avraham called the location “Yireh” (Gen 22:14). He prophetically anticipated that this would be the site of the Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple) and named it in honor of the service to God which would take place there.
In an earlier phase of his life, Avraham was welcomed, after his miraculous military victory over four mighty kings, by Malki-Tzedek, King of “Shalem” (Gen. 14:18) — who brought out bread and wine to greet him. The king who welcomed him is better known to us as Shem (the first “Semitic” person), the righteous son of Noah, and he gave the city he ruled its name.
The Midrash describes the Divine consideration that went into endowing the city with its final name.
“If I call it Yireh like Avraham did, the righteous Malki-Tzedek will feel slighted, and if I call it Shalem like Malki-Tzedek did, the righteous Avraham will feel slighted. I will therefore call it ‘Yireh Shalem’ — Yerushalayim — to satisfy both.”
“Shalem” means peace and perfection while “Yireh” means service of God. Only when man serves God can he hope to achieve the peace and perfection symbolized by Yireh-shalem — Yerushalayim.