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Who Named Jerusalem?

Who Named Jerusalem?



As the name Jerusalem rolls off my tongue, my mind conjures images of stone cobbled streets, upon which ancient prophets and kings once trod, and more history than a thousand books could ever hold. I was wondering what the name actually means and who made it up?


The word Jerusalem, or Yerushalayim in Hebrew, is not mentioned in the Five Books of Moses and first appears in the Book of Joshua.1 At least, it's not mentioned in full in the Pentateuch—but both halves are there. Let me explain:

Yerushalayim—more specifically, the Temple Mount—was the very spot where Abraham almost sacrificed his son Isaac. Look in the narrative there and you'll see that after he was told by an angel of G‑d not to sacrifice his beloved son, it reads:

And so Abraham named that place "G‑d will see," as it is said to this day, "On the mountain, G‑d will be seen."2

The Hebrew word for "will see" is yireh. That's the first half.

Now, what was the city called before Abraham renamed it Yireh? To discover this, we need to backtrack a few chapters. After rescuing his relative, Lot, from captivity, we read how Abraham was greeted by "Malchizedek the king of Shalem," who greeted him with bread and wine.3 An ancient tradition tells us that Malchizedek was actually one and the same as Shem, son of Noah, and that Shalem was none other than the very place that Abraham would eventually rename Yireh. So Shalem is the second half: Yireh + Shalem = Yerushalayim.

So how did Shalem and Yireh get together to become Yerushalayim?

The Midrash4 shares a beautiful glimpse into the process:

Said the Holy One, blessed be He, "If I call the place Yireh like Abraham did, the righteous Shem will complain. However if I refer to it as Shalem, the righteous Abraham will complain. Rather, I will call it Yerushalayim, and that name will contain the way it was called by both of them: Yireh Shalem."

On a deeper level, Yireh Shalem has an alternate meaning: "Complete awe." You see, on a soul level, Jerusalem is not just a patch of hilly earth or a dot on a map. It is that special place within each and every one of us where we are one with G‑d and deeply in tune with His presence. Yireh Shalem (or Jerusalem) therefore means "complete awe," a state where one is so in touch with G‑d as to be in constant rapture.5


Ibid. 14:18.


Gen. Rabbah 56:10.


Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, Likutei Torah, parshat Pekudei 4a.

Rabbi Menachem Posner serves as staff editor for
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Discussion (27)
August 13, 2015
"Uru"; city & "Salim"; divine = Jerusalem; Divine City :)
August 13, 2015
Hagar was Ismhael's mother, not Isaac's. Just to clarify. And although Sarah can be seen as "jealous", was Hagar not jealous enough to plant the seeds of anger & hatred in her son, Ishmael, so deeply that they are still alive today?
April 2, 2015
Let's have a look on Abraham proper name. So we have "Av" as father, "Rah", or "Rav" as master, god, and "im" as of multitude. All this happened after being baptized and circumcised. So we have Ab-Rah-im=Father God of Multitude. As well as Sarah.
Tirane, Albania
June 12, 2011
Could Jerusalem mean this?
In The Turkana language a combiation of two words "Erus+Alem" gives a word "Erus-alem". "Erus" is a root word for swamp while "alem" is a root word for top. The top of a hill top is known as "alem". Could someone confirm these two features in Jerusalem?
Kalemngorok, Kenya
July 6, 2010
To Steve: I like your view.
Very poetic.
Chaya Fradle
Riverside, CA, USA
July 5, 2010
Was there not two trees in the beginning? Is there not male and female, proton and electron, matter and anti-matter? Why would there not be an Inner (esoteric) and outer (exoteric) meaning to the words in the Torah?

Is the apple simply a solid? Or if we put it under a microscope what do we find?

It seems to me that it is quite possible that the words are literal. But in an inner sense.
So Abraham made a sacrifice-which means to make sacred. He sacrificed his first born.

What could be our first born? Could it possibly be our identity, personality, ego that develops mechanically thru outside forces such as a pseudo education, media, culture, etc.

And when one begins to awaken to the inner true self that one must sacrifice this first born so as to cleanse the garden of eden and its animal passions (weeds) so as to allow room for new plants and fruits to be born.

And reclaim Jerusalem within oneself. Find the silence that brings peace w/in.

What about this view?
northville, mi
July 4, 2010
that was awesome- thank you!
Kanata, ON
July 4, 2010
I always assumed the name was derived from "yerusha" (inheritance) l'am (to the nation).
Chaim Mensch
July 1, 2010
Thank you very much. I wondered about that.
Nederland, Texas
July 1, 2010
thanks for a very inspiring meaning explanation on why Jerusalem is called Jerusalem! i live 10 minutes away...and never thought\knew that!
Efrat, Israel