Lecture 32: The History of the Resting of the Shekhina (Part XVI) - "In All Places Where I Pronounce My Name"

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy




            In the previous lecture, we discussed the commandment, "An altar of earth you shall make to Me" (Shemot 20:20) and the relationship between it and the passage dealing with the altar in the commandment regarding the building of the Mishkan. In this lecture, we will deal with the second half of the verse:


… In all places where I pronounce My name, I will come to you and I will bless you.


I.              "I Pronounce My Name"


Let us start with these words, even though they are not the focus of our lecture. According to the plain sense of the text, Scripture is describing the resting of God's Shekhina as a phenomenon that extends from heaven downwards: God pronounces His name, comes to man, and blesses him. Accordingly, we are dealing with a direct continuation of the revelation at Mount Sinai, which was essentially a revelation of God in a particular place (see lecture no. 20 in last year's series), the objective of which was the revelation itself.


The word "azkir," "I will pronounce," is, however, puzzling. It seems that it would have been more appropriate for the verse to have read, "tazkir," "you will pronounce."[1] This is both because the structure and content of the verse imply that we are dealing with a human act, to which God will respond by coming to man and blessing him, and because of the context of the verse – immediately following the command to build an altar of earth. Indeed, the Sifrei (Nasa, sec. 39) understands the verse in the context of the pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton in the Mikdash:


Rabbi Yonatan says: Surely it says: "In all places where I pronounce My name" - this verse is inverted: In all places that I reveal Myself upon you, there you shall pronounce My name.


            In other words, God takes the initiative and reveals Himself, and in the wake of this revelation, man pronounces His name.[2]


II.            "In All Places (Be-Khol Ha-makom, Lit., 'In All The Place')"


"All" Or "The Place"


            Our primary interest in this lecture is in the phrase "be-khol ha-makom," literally, "in all the place."


            When we carefully examine the phrase, we see that it has an internal contradiction: The words "be-khol" and "ha-makom" – with the definite article, the letter heh – cannot be joined together. This difficulty was well-formulated by the linguist and Biblical scholar Yechiel Bin-Nun (words in bold are found that way in the original - and so, too, in the rest of the citations from that work below):[3]


The definite article explains the indefinite, and thus it constricts the realm of the possible; it fences off a particular element and sets it apart from the set to which it belongs. The indefinite noun "makom," that is to say, "a place," refers to one place, but we do not know which place among the set of all places. It, therefore, potentially refers to an unlimited number of the elements of that set. The definite noun, "ha-makom," "this known place" pushes away from our consciousness all the unlimited number of elements, with the exception of one, the one that our awareness latches onto…

From this perspective, the word "kol" serves the very opposite function, for it comes to generalize the concept and broaden its scope. "Kol makom" and "ha-makom" are almost opposites. By right then, the combination of "kol" and the definite article, the heh, is impossible…


            Fundamentally, there are three possible solutions to this problem: To take hold of the generalization ("kol") and ignore the particular ("ha-makom") – in which case the verse permits the offering of sacrifices in all places; to take hold of the particular and ignore the generalization – in which case the verse is dealing with one particular place and nothing more than that; or to reconcile the two. Effectively, the first alternative is impossible, for Scripture states explicitly: "Take heed to yourself that you offer not your burnt offerings in every place that you see" (Devarim 12:13). We are left, then, with two ways to understand the words "be-khol ha-makom" – both of which find expression in the words of Chazal. As we shall see, the dominant path is to reconcile the two terms. But let us first see the less accepted understanding, which reads the verse exclusively in light of the definite article.


"Be-khol Ha-Makom" – In The Mikdash


            The aforementioned Sifrei understands that the verse is referring to the Mikdash in Jerusalem:


This is an inverted verse: Wherever I reveal Myself to you, there you shall pronounce My name. And where do I reveal Myself to you? In the Mikdash. You, too, shall only pronounce My name in the Mikdash. From here they said: The Tetragrammaton may not be pronounced in the provinces.[4]


            According to this approach, "be-khol ha-makom" means "the place." So, too, explains Rabbenu Bachye (ad loc.): "That which it says 'be-khol ha-makom' with the definite article, to allude to the house of sacrifices which is called makom, which Shlomo built for the sake of the Holy One, blessed be He."


            According to this explanation, it stands to reason that this verse appears here, following the revelation at Mount Sinai and before the command to build the Mishkan, to set the direction for the future. Now you shall be commanded about the Mishkan, but keep in mind that this is only the beginning of the journey to the ultimate goal – the Mikdash in a fixed and permanent place.


"Be-khol Ha-Makom" – To Include Nov, Shilo, and Giv'on


            Many, on the other hand, understand that the verse is not referring to one particular place, but to several places in which, over the course of the generations, God pronounced His name - and to be more precise, to the various stations of the Mishkan. Thus, for example, Midrash Lekach Tov writes (ad loc., cited by Torah Sheleima, Yitro 535): "'Be-khol ha-makom' – to include Nov, Shilo and Giv'on." This is also the interpretation of the Ibn Ezra and the Chizkuni (ad loc.).[5]


            If, indeed, the verse refers to the various stops of the Mishkan, why does it appear before the command to build the Mishkan? We will deal with this question more fully below. For now, let us say that this can be understood according to the Rambam's position (Sefer Ha-Mitzvot, positive commandment no. 20) cited in the previous lecture, that the verse is referring to the period during which offering sacrifices on the bamot was permitted. Before the Torah issues a detailed command regarding the Mishkan, the Torah first fills in the picture and describes the situation in which it is permissible to serve God even outside the Mishkan.[6]


Partial Definiteness


The explanations that we saw thus far clearly try to reconcile the words "be-khol" and "ha-makom." What is the linguistic justification for doing so? Here we go back to Bin-Nun,[7] and from this point on we shall proceed in his footsteps (with various additions).


Bin-Nun sees the phrase "be-khol ha-makom" as a classic example of a wider phenomenon in the Bible, which he calls "yidu'a chelki," "partial definiteness." In other words, the heh serves as "a definite article… that does not impose full definiteness on the noun – the known one – but partial definiteness – a particular one."[8] In this way, he explains two other places where the phrase "kol ha-makom" is used in the sense of partial definiteness:[9]


Thus Avraham said to Sara when they went out on their dangerous journeys in places where there was no fear of God: "This is your kindness which you shall show to me; at every place (kol ha-makom) where we shall come, say of me, He is my brother" (Bereishit 20:13).

This is the clearest example of "kol ha-makom" in the sense of partial definiteness. At each of the particular dangerous places which we shall decide to visit – each time it being one particular place – say of me, He is my brother. They did not conduct themselves in this manner in every place, for in Hebron there was certainly no such danger. This ploy was also not used in one specific place, for there were many dangerous places. This is the reason that partial definiteness is used here.

There is another explicit verse in Devarim (11:24): "Every place (kol ha-makom) whereon the sole of your foot shall tread shall be yours."

Every place of those particular places that you decide to conquer at the appropriate time – shall be yours. Thus, not "the (specific) place (ha-makom)," and not "every place (kol makom) whereon the sole of your foot shall tread," but rather "kol ha-makom" – all those places that you shall conquer when you are keeping "all these commandments (kol ha-mitzva)" (ibid. v. 22).


            And now he explains our verse:


This verse in the book of Shemot as well, which speaks of the sacrifices, burnt offerings and peace offerings "in all places where I pronounce My name"… does not permit sacrifices "in every place that you see" (= choose; Devarim 12:13). This verse does not stand in contradiction to the Torah's requirement in the book of Devarim that sacrifices only be offered in one place "which the Lord your God shall choose"…

The expression "be-khol ha-makom" means in every particular place where God will pronounce His name at a particular time. At any given time, only one place will be designated as "the place," even though more than one place will be chosen by God. But there will be [only] one place at a particular time, and each such place will be called "the place." This, in the final analysis, is the essence of the "centralization" principle in the book of Devarim. In every generation, only one place will be designated for the service of God, until a permanent kingdom is established for the entire nation, and with it also a permanent place for the service of God… That particular place, where you shall sacrifice at a particular time, will always be the place where God will rest His name there, just as in the book of Devarim – "the place which the Lord your God shall choose… to put His name there" (12:5).


A Single Mobile Place


            Whereas the explanations brought above limit the partial definiteness to the various stations of the Mishkan, Bin-Nun expands the idea and, based on this verse, suggests the idea of "a single mobile place" (as it is called by the editor): At any particular time, there is only one central site of service, but from time to time and from generation to generation this place changes and moves. Each time it is found in the place where God mentions/puts His name, that is, where He rests His Shekhina.


            This idea is already manifest in the book of Bereishit, long before the Mishkan was erected. The patriarchs journey throughout the land, and God is with them, appearing always in one particular place; but this place keeps changing, in accordance with the location of the patriarchs and of God who is with them. Thus, God reveals Himself to the patriarchs in Alon-Moreh, east of Bet-El, and in Bet-El itself, in Elonei Mamre which is in Hebron, in Gerar, in Be'er-Sheva, and, of course, on Mount Moriya. The revelation, however, is always only in one place, and never in more than one place at the same time.


            The mobility of the site of God's revelation is especially striking with respect to Sinai. Thus says Moshe in his blessing:


The Lord came from Sinai, and rose up from Se'ir to them; He shone forth from Mount Paran, and He came from holy multitudes; from His right hand went a fiery law for them. (Devarim 33:2)[10]


            The Ramban (ad loc.) describes the process at length:


He says that God came to Israel from Sinai, because from there He rested His Shekhina in their midst and never departed from them. The idea is that the Glory descended on Mount Sinai… and there it remained all the days that Moshe ascended and descended… and when he was given the second set of tablets, the Shekhina rested in the Mishkan… and from there he received all of God's utterances throughout the period of the wilderness.

And He rose up from Seir to them – because after they set out from Sinai on their first journey, the cloud rested in the wilderness of Paran, and from there he sent out the spies… And the people were put under a ban and the Divine word was not with Moshe until they came to Se'ir on the border of [the territory of] the descendants of Esav at the end of the fortieth year… When they came then to Se'ir, God was an everlasting light for them and the days of their mourning were completed…

He shone forth from Mount Paran – He observed them and put their affairs to the light of His countenance from Mount Paran. And the explanation is that the beginning of their entry into the great wilderness was from Paran…


            That is to say, from the time of Israel's stay at Sinai and on, the Shekhina revealed itself in Israel in different forms and in different places – each time in one place, in accordance with the stations of Israel's wanderings. This understanding accords, of course, with the phenomenon of the wanderings of the Mishkan in the wilderness, and afterwards its presence in Eretz Yisrael. God rested His Shekhina in the Mishkan, which was located in one place, but over the course of time the Mishkan moved from station to station and from place to place.


            The Ibn Ezra explains the aforementioned verse, in light of parallels in Scripture, as referring to God's coming to Israel's assistance during war:


We find that Devora said: "Lord, when You did go out of Se'ir, when You did march out of the field of Edom" (Shoftim 5:4)… and in the book of Tehillim: "O God, when You did go out before Your people, when You did march through the wilderness; sela" (Tehillim 68:8), and afterwards it is written: "The earth shook" (ibid. v. 9)… And Chabakuk said: "God comes from Teiman" (Chabakuk 3:3), who is of the descendants of Edom – "Teiman, Omar" (Bereishit 36:11), as is the meaning of "from the field of Edom." Now, these all speak of wars. And the proof: "Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered" (Tehillim 68:2)…

This is the explanation: God came from Sinai, that is, the Glory that entered into Israel, the beginning of its entry being at Sinai. And He rose up from Se'ir, that is, all the years that Israel was in the wilderness, God did not demonstrate His might among the nations until Israel came to the field of Edom… They are close, Se'ir and Paran. The meaning is clear: From the place of Se'ir, when they came to Se'ir, then the Glory rose up for Israel and appeared from the mountain of Paran.


            The implication of the Ibn Ezra's words is that when necessary, such as at a time of war, the Shekhina appears not only in the Mishkan, but in other places as well. Indeed, throughout the books of Yehoshua, Shoftim and Shmuel we find God revealing Himself even in places where the Mishkan is not found, and sacrifices are offered to God in other places, even at a time when bamot are forbidden.


            Thus, for example, the people of Israel gathered "before God" (Yehoshua 24:1) in the great assembly arranged by Yehoshua in Shekhem before his death; the tribe of Yosef went up against Bet-El in war – "and God was with them" (Shoftim 1:22); the people of Israel offered sacrifices to God at Bokhim (ibid. 2:5); God went out before Barak the son of Avino'am in his war against Sisera (ibid. 4:14-15); the angel of God appeared to Gid'on at the threshing floor in Ofra, and Gid'on erected an altar to God and offered sacrifices upon it (ibid. 6:11-12, 24-26); Yiftach uttered "all his words before the Lord in Mitzpeh" (ibid. 11:11) in his war against the people of Amon; and in the incident involving the concubine in Giv'a, the people of Israel went up to Bet-El with the ark, offered sacrifices "before the Lord," wept "before God," and built there an altar (ibid. 20:18, 26-7; 21:2, 4). Throughout this period, the Mishkan was in Shilo (Yehoshua 18:1, 8-10) and the prohibition of bamot was in force (Zevachim 14:6). And, of course, in the continuation, following the destruction of Shilo, when bamot were once again permitted (ibid. m. 7), we find that Shmuel and Shaul built altars and offered sacrifices in other places, as the hour dictated (see I Shmuel 7:9-10, 17; 13:9; 14:35).


In the words of Bin Nun: "A single God reveals Himself each time in a single place, as necessary, and in accordance with the historical event, and at that time sacrifices were offered to Him at the site of the revelation."


            This period is summed up in God's words to David through the prophet Natan when God denies David's request to allow him to build a house for God:


Thus says the Lord, "Shall you build Me a house for Me to dwell in? For I have not dwelt in any house since that time that I brought up the children of Israel out of Egypt, even to this day, but I have walked in a tent and in a tabernacle. In all the places where I have walked with all the children of Israel…" (II Shmuel 7:5-7)


            Throughout this period, God walked in a tent and in a tabernacle in the midst of the people of Israel and revealed Himself in various ways in the place where He chose to pronounce His name at that particular time.


            Bin-Nun goes even further and argues that even after the permanent Mikdash was built on Mount Moriya, God continued to reveal Himself outside of it whenever necessary. The clearest example of this is Eliyahu's offering of sacrifices on Mount Carmel (I Melakhim 18:30-38) – God chose to reveal Himself to Israel at that time in order to fight the worship of the Cana'anite-Tzidonite Ba'al in the kingdom of Israel. According to Bin-Nun, the essence of the novelty of Eliyahu's temporary ruling (Yevamot 90b) was not the allowance to offer sacrifices outside the Mikdash; Eliyahu "merely discovered by way of prophecy that the Shekhina had revealed itself at that time on Mount Carmel, and therefore, it was not only permissible, but rather obligatory to offer sacrifices there at that time – before God – and in that way they would be found pleasing to Him."[11]


            According to Bin-Nun's approach, the place where this command was received has deep significance. At the revelation at Mount Sinai, the sanctity of place (albeit temporary sanctity; see at length, lecture no. 20 in last year's series) was revealed for the first time to Israel. Immediately afterwards, God says, "In all places where I pronounce My name, I will come to you and I will bless you." In other words, the sanctity of place does not put distance between God and man; on the contrary, the place is holy because of the pronouncement of God's name, by virtue of God's drawing near to His people and resting His Shekhina among them at all times in accordance with the circumstances of the hour.


These words are also an appropriate introduction to the command to build the Mishkan. The Mishkan is not intended to put distance between man and the Shekhina. The Mishkan is not an entity that stands by itself; it is one of the ways that God reveals Himself to man (along with appearance through an angel, God's going out to war among His people, prophecy, and others), all of which invite man to relate to the revelation and serve God in the place where the revelation occurred – that place being determined, as stated, by the circumstances and the state of the individual or the people at that time.


            To conclude this section, I wish to note that Bin-Nun's thesis seems to me to go too far. Is it really true that the building of the Mishkan – and even more so, the construction of the permanent Mikdash in Jerusalem – did not change the manner in which the Shekhina rests in any essential way? Is it really possible that even the building of the Mikdash and the application of the permanent prohibition of bamot do not fundamentally disqualify Divine revelation and service somewhere else? It seems to me that it is difficult to accept such a far-reaching position.


III.           "In All Places" and "The Place Which the Lord Shall Choose"


The verse, "In all places where I pronounce My name" in the book of Shemot has a parallel in the book of Devarim: "The place which the Lord shall choose." Here are several examples from the passage in which this phrase first appears:


But to the place which the Lord your God shall choose out of all your tribes to put His name there… and there you shall bring your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, and your tithes, and the offerings of your hand, and your vows, and your freewill offerings, and the firstlings of your herds and your flocks. And there you shall eat before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice…

Then there shall be a place which the Lord your God shall choose to cause His name to dwell there; there you shall bring all that I command you…

You may not eat within your gates the tithe of your corn, or of your wine, or of your oil, or the firstlings of your herds or of your flock… but you must eat them before the Lord your God in the place which the Lord your God shall choose… (Devarim 12:5-7, 11, 17-18)


            Even though the command in the book of Shemot is relevant to the wanderings of the Mishkan in the wilderness, whereas the command in the book of Devarim relates exclusively to Eretz Yisrael, there is no denying the great similarity between the two passages. Two main points connect them: the word "place" and the Divine choice and initiative to pronounce His name, to put it in the place or to cause it to dwell there – in other words, to reveal there the reality of God in this world. Furthermore, wherever one of these expressions is found, the Divine choice invites a human reaction - the building of an altar, the offering of sacrifices, the bringing of tithes, etc. Finally, both expressions can be understood as referring to a single place, namely, the Temple in Jerusalem, or to a place that is indeed one at any particular time but that moves and changes from time to time in accordance with the circumstances, as many of the commentators understand regarding the verses in the book of Devarim as well.


            In light of this, the question may be raised: What novelty does the book of Devarim add to the idea of "the place which the Lord your God shall choose?"


            It may be argued that "In all places where I pronounce My name" refers to all the places where God reveals Himself, whereas "The place which the Lord your God shall choose" refers exclusively to the permanent place - the Temple. There may be an allusion to this distinction in the difference between "pronounce" in Shemot and "choose" in Devarim - the latter perhaps being more appropriate for a fixed reality.


            However, even according to those who maintain that both passages refer to one place that keeps moving,[12] there is a great difference between them. Whereas the book of Shemot relates exclusively to the altar and the sacrifices, the verses in Devarim speak about bringing tithes and eating sacrificial meat. In other words, they deal not only with the site of the Mishkan or Mikdash, but with the well-defined zone of holiness around them, where these consecrated foods are eaten.[13] "The place which the Lord your God shall choose" in the book of Devarim includes a certain expanse around the Mikdash, which is also regarded as "before the Lord" (Devarim 12:7, 12, 18).


(Translated by David Strauss)




[1] As stated by Rabbenu Bachye in his commentary ad loc., and as was noted already by the Yerushalmi, Berakhot 4:4 (there, the verse is interpreted in a different manner).

[2] The parallel passage in Sota 38a reads, however: "…This verse is inverted: In all places that I come to you and bless you, there I pronounce My name."

Rashi (on the verse in Shemot) seems to have attempted to reconcile the wording of the verse, azkir, with the interpretation that it should be understood as tazkir. He writes as follows: "In all places that I pronounce My name" – that I will give you permission to pronounce My explicit name – there, I will come to you and bless you – I will cause my Shekhina to rest upon you. From here you learn that He only granted permission to pronounce the explicit name in a place where the Shekhina comes." 

[3] In his book, Eretz Ha-Moriya – Pirkei Mikra Ve-Lashon, ed. R. Yoel Bin-Nun (Alon Shevut, 5766), pp. 219-220.

[4] The verse is understood in similar fashion in the parallels in Sota 38a and in Mekhilta Yitro, masekhta de-ba-chodesh, parasha 11.

[5] The Chizkuni notes that the Shekhina rested in all these places: "'In all places' – because the Shekhina rested in several places, e.g., Gilgal, Shilo, Nov, Giv'on, Jerusalem; and we have learned (Pesachim 3a): 'A person should always teach his disciple in a concise manner.' Therefore, the Torah never mentions a specific place, but only in general: 'to the place.'" The Ibn Ezra, on the other hand, emphasizes the presence of the ark in these places: "This means – in all places in which I will set a reminder of My name with my Glory resting there, as in Shilo and Nov, where the ark stood." This comment needs further study, for the ark was never in Nov.

[6] The Rambam's position that the command, "An altar of earth you shall make to Me," relates to the period when bamot are permitted fits in well with the second half of the verse – "in all places that I pronounce My name." Rashi's understanding, that the "altar of earth" is the altar in the Mishkan, fits in well with the opinion that the words "in all places that I pronounce My name" refer to the stations of the Mishkan.

The Seforno, as may be recalled, sees the earthen altar as a prototype for Divine service in its ideal form, as it was conducted prior to the sin of the golden calf – popular, simple, and modest service: "You need not make temples of silver and gold and precious stones in order for Me to draw near to you; an altar of earth will suffice." His explanation of the continuation of the verse in his commentary to the Torah is rather obscure: "In all places that I pronounce My name – that I choose for a meeting place in which to serve Me." But in his book, Kavanot Ha-Torah (chap. 6), he writes: "Any place that is truly called a house of God, e.g., study halls and the like – I will come to you and I will bless you." This explanation accords with his understanding regarding "popular" service, which finds expression in his explanation of "an altar of earth you shall make to Me" and elsewhere in his commentary to the Torah (see lecture no. 23 in last year's series) – but takes the idea much further.

[7] In his book cited in note 3. The book deals with our verse in two places. The linguistic dimension is discussed at length in the chapter, "Heh Ha-Remiza – Yidu'a Chelki," pp. 218-234. The conceptual significance of the verse is developed on pp. 29-33, in the chapter, "Eretz Ha-Emori Hafkha Le-Eretz Ha-Moriya," and it is from there that all of our citations are brought.

[8] To clarify this idea, here are two of his examples (pp. 27-28): "As opposed to 'et ha-keves ha-echad' ('the one lamb') (Shemot 29:39), we are familiar with the phrase, 'et ha-keves echad' (Bamidbar 28:4), which, according to our explanation, means: One of the two, it makes no difference which. But once only one is left, Scripture must say 've'et ha-keves ha-sheni' ('and the other lamb')… So, too, we can explain the phrase 'ba-laila hu' (three times in Bereishit, and once in Shmuel), as: on that particular night, not precisely defined." Anyone who is further interested in the phenomenon of partial definiteness should see pp. 27-39 and the chapter in that book dedicated to the topic (see previous note).

[9] He does not mention the fourth case of this expression in Bereishit 18:26, where God says to Avraham: "If I find in Sedom fifty just men within the city, then I will spare all the place (kol ha-makom) for their sakes" – apparently because there we are not dealing with partial definiteness; rather, the words mean: "the entire city of Sedom."

[10] The words in bold are emphasized in the original. The editor offers the following comment: "Prof. Moshe Bar-Asher explained the plain sense of the verse, based on the ketiv, the way that the word is spelled – eshdat (as one word). This is the singular feminine form of 'Ashdot Ha-Pisga' (Devarim 4:49), the last place of revelation to Moshe. It stands to reason that 'rivevot kodesh' alludes to the 'ten thousand (rivavot) thousands of Israel' (Bamidbar 10:36) who camped at Kadesh many days (Devarim 1:46). 'Sedeh Edom,' 'Teiman,' and 'Har Bashan' also played a role in the wanderings of the Shekhina."

[11] In the past (lecture no. 6 in last year's series), we presented the view of the Meshekh Chokhma (Devarim 12:8), according to which offering sacrifices outside of the Mishkan during the period when bamot are forbidden is conditioned on the ark being present at the site of the sacrifice, which temporarily cancels the prohibition (as is explicit in Shoftim 20:27). According to Bin-Nun's proposal, "it is entirely dependent on its being a site of revelation, be it by way of the ark or by some other means."

[12] My teacher, Rav Yoel Bin-Nun, son of Yechiel Bin-Nun and editor of his book, told me that according to his father's position there is no essential difference between the two passages; in Shemot, the principle is formulated in general terms, whereas in Devarim the applications of the principle are discussed at length and in detail.

[13] See Mishna, Zevachim 14:4-5: "When the Mishkan was erected, the holiest sacrifices were eaten inside of the enclosures, [and] sacrifices of lesser holiness in the entire camp of Israel… When they came to Shilo… the holiest sacrifices were eaten inside of the enclosures, [and] sacrifices of lesser holiness and second-tithe in all places from which the Mishkan could be seen… When they came to Jerusalem… the holiest sacrifices were eaten inside of the enclosures, [and] sacrifices of lesser holiness and second-tithe inside of the wall."