Earthly cities, heavenly cities

By Aviad Kleinberg , 5/4/2009

In Genesis 4:12, God curses Cain: "When you till the ground," he announces, "it shall no longer yield its strength for you. A fugitive and a vagabond you shall be on the earth." Cain accepts his fate with resignation; or so it seems. Just five verses later he abandons the life of vagrancy the Lord has chosen for him. "And Cain knew his wife and she conceived and bore Enoch. And he built a city and called the name of the city after his son, Enoch."

The first city was not built by one of God's favorites, then. It was built by the unloved brother, as an act of defiance. The Almighty, it seems, prefers more rural settings. On the sixth day, we are told, he planted a garden to the east of Eden. It was there that human beings were supposed to dwell, had they not sinned. As we all know, they have sinned. Where did they live before Cain built his city? In the countryside apparently, tilling the inhospitable land and eating bread in the sweat of their brows. It isn't surprising that they got tired of it after awhile. Tilling the land is an acquired taste. After Cain built Enoch, more and more of the sons of Adam found that the bucolic charms of nature are a taste they cannot acquire. Where does one find some real entertainment after dark in this place, they wondered. Where, in other words, is the nearest city?

The nearest city was usually not too far away. From the very start cities were somewhat dubious, morally speaking. This is not what God intended for us. He wanted us to sweat in the fields, go to bed at sunset and get up at sunrise. We had other plans. Getting up late and going to bed very late (if at all), cities turn their backs on nature (God-made and man-made) and on the decent work of the plowman. They are the seats of commerce, of culture, of indecent pleasures, of sinful self-indulgence. City air, as the medieval maxim asserted, sets you free.

Of course, there is a price to pay for freedom. Unbeknownst to us, God was building his own city in his own kingdom, the heavenly Jerusalem. Having too much pleasure down here could mean finding the pearly gates locked and barred. There is no fooling around in the heavenly city, just constant praying and praising of the Lord.

Earthly Jerusalems try to emulate their heavenly counterpart. They may turn their backs on nature like all cities, but their gazes are fixed on God and their hearts cling to the spiritual. Earthly Tel Avivs, however, are a different matter altogether.

Happy Birthday, Tel Aviv.
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