Not all places are created equally, and particularly in the four holy cities Jerusalem, Hebron, Tiberias, and Tzfat is this true. Each of these cities represents a traditional element – fire, earth, water, and air, respectively. In this blog, we will embark on a spiritual journey through these holy cities, exploring their elemental symbolism and unique characteristics that set them apart from others.
- Jerusalem – The Fiery Core: Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, represents the element of fire. Its spiritual intensity burns with fervor, as it houses the holiest sites for Jews – the Western Wall and the Temple Mount. These sites symbolize the eternal flame of Jewish faith, echoing with prayers and devotion. Jerusalem’s fiery core draws pilgrims from around the world, seeking spiritual illumination and connection to their heritage. Jerusalem’s prime was at the era of the prophets.
Fire: Jerusalem is the only city in the world with such a profound spiritual significance.The fire associated with Jerusalem is multifaceted. Jerusalem’s most important feature, the temple, made offerings, burnt inscents and conducted other important rituals with fire, until, unlike the other cities, it was razed in fire. Nowadays, it is a vibrant area where the אש התורה (fire of torah) burns strong with people learning day and night with that passion.
- Hebron – The Earthly Foundation: Hebron, located in the West Bank, embodies the element of earth. Its significance lies in the Cave of the Patriarchs, known as Ma’arat HaMachpelah, where Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, and Leah are believed to be buried. The connection to the forefathers and foremothers of Judaism roots the city in deep, earthly foundations, fostering a sense of ancestral continuity and tradition. Hebron’s is primarily associated with the era of the patriarchs.
Earth: Hebron is the burial place of the Jewish Patriarchs and Matriarchs, making it one of the oldest Jewish religious sites. It is also mentioned in the Torah in parashat Eikev, as having a rocky terrain that is the least sutable in all the Land of Israel, but that has always supported a relatively large population. These days, one of the main contributers to its GDP is sale of limestone.
- Tiberias – Embraced by the Waters: Tiberias, or Tiveria, situated on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, represents the element of water. The Sea of Galilee, also known as the Kinneret, provides life-giving waters that sustain the fertile surroundings. Tiberias is revered for its historical and cultural significance, being the site of the Sanhedrin during the Mishnaic and Talmudic periods.
Water: Tiberias serves as a center of Jewish learning and scholarship, especially after then destruction of the Temple, attracting scholars and students from various parts of the world. Torah is likened to water, in that it can slowly but surely erode stone, causes everything to grow, and acts as an agent of purification. Because of their restablishment of Torah life there, Tiberias is associated with the era of the Sgaes who compiled the Oral Law into its written form.
- Tzfat – The Mystical Air: Tzfat, located in the northern mountains of Israel, embodies the element of air. Often regarded as the “City of Kabbalah,” it is renowned for its mystical and spiritual teachings while high up in the fog, in the mountains. Tzfat is a source of inspiration for artists, poets, and spiritual seekers, as it is believed to be a place where divine wisdom and creativity permeate the air.
Air: Tzfat is home to a vibrant artistic community, with numerous art galleries, studios, and workshops celebrating the city’s spiritual influence on creativity. While air is the most ethereal of the four elements, kabbalah is the most ethereal aspect of Torah. It is literally very elevated, but also the smallest of these four cities, being quiet and relaxed. Tzfat is associated with the later era of the kabbalists.
Shushan Purim: Shushan Purim is a unique variation of the traditional Purim celebration. It is observed in these four cities among only a small number of others, the ones that were walled in the time of Joshua. While it is not only the holy cities, overall very few place celebrate Purim one day later than the rest of the Jewish world, commemorating the victory of the Jews over their enemies in the Persian city of Shushan that, due to the heavy fighting inside the city walls, was celebrated a day later.
The four holy cities of Judaism – Jerusalem, Hebron, Tiberias, and Tzfat – offer a spiritual journey through the elements of fire, earth, water, and air, each illuminating how the material world can expose different facets of the Torah. Each city’s significance is rooted in historical and religious narratives, attracting pilgrims, scholars, and seekers of spiritual enlightenment. Their unique paths in history, how each remarkably managed to survive into the modern world, is a testament to the enduring spiritual power they represent. These cities continue to serve as living testimonies to the faith and traditions that have shaped the Jewish identity throughout the ages.