Lecture 42: The History of the Resting of the Shekhina - "The Place Which the Lord Shall Choose"

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy

 

INTRODUCTION

 

            In this lecture, I wish to examine the meaning of the expression, "the place which the Lord shall choose," an expression that appears 21 times in the book of Devarim. I wish to consider the general context in which the expression appears, its location, and its meaning.

 

            It is immediately evident that this expression is found exclusively in the book of Devarim. It stands to reason that this is connected to the fact that the book of Devarim relates what happened and what was said on the eve of Israel's entry into the Land.

 

            The Torah deals with the Mishkan in the book of Shemot as well, but without noting its location. The book of Devarim does not relate at all to the Mishkan, but it frequently speaks of the place which the Lord shall choose.

 

            By integrating what is stated in the two books, we can conclude that a place exists that God will choose in the future, and there the future Mikdash will be built, although the Torah does not give its precise location.[1]

 

I.          THE VARIOUS APPEARANCES OF THE EXPRESSION

 

In this section, I will discuss the various places where the expression, "the place which the Lord shall choose," is mentioned in the book of Devarim and the context in which it appears in each instance.

 

The places in which the expression is found are as follows:

 

                      ·          Chapter 12 – the obligation to offer sacrifices and eat them in this place, and similarly regarding the eating of meat to satisfy the appetite.

                      ·          Chapter 14 – the eating of second-tithe.

                      ·          Chapter 15, 20 – the eating of a firstborn animal.

                      ·          Chapter 16:2-16 – the three pilgrim festivals.

                      ·          Chapter 17:8-10 – the seat of the Great Sanhedrin.

                      ·          Chapter 26:2 – the bringing of first-fruits.

                      ·          Chapter 31:1 – the mitzva of hakhel.

 

Each of the mitzvot in which this expression is mentioned is directly connected to the place which God shall choose.

 

In order to fully understand the meaning of this expression, let us examine what it means the first time it is used in Devarim 12. For this purpose, let us first examine the verses themselves:

 

You shall utterly destroy all the places, in which the nations whom you are to dispossess, served their gods, upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every leafy tree. And you shall overthrow their altars and break their pillars, and burn their asherim with fire; and you shall hew down the carvings of their gods, and destroy the name of them out of that place. This you shall not do to the Lord your God. But to the place which the Lord your God shall choose out of all your tribes to put His name there, there shall you seek Him, at His dwelling, and there shall you come. 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 in all that to which you put your hand, you and your households, wherein the Lord your God has blessed you. You shall not do after all the things that we do here this day, every man whatever is right in his own eyes. For you have not as yet come to the rest and to the inheritance, which the Lord your God gives you. But when you traverse the Jordan, and dwell in the land which the Lord you God gives you to inherit, and when He gives you rest from all your enemies round about, so that you dwell in safety; then there shall be a place which the Lord your God shall choose to cause His name to dwell there; there shall you bring all your tithes, and the offering of your hand, and all your choice vows which you vow to the Lord. And you shall rejoice before the Lord your God, you and your sons, and your daughters, and your menservants, and your maidservants, and the Levite who is within your gates; for he has no part of inheritance with you. Take heed to yourself that you offer not your burnt offerings in every place that you see; but only in the place which the Lord shall choose in one of your tribes there you shall offer your burnt offerings, and there you shall do all that I command you. Nonetheless, you may slaughter animals and eat their flesh to you heart's desire, according to the blessing of the Lord your God which He has bestowed on you, throughout all your gates, the unclean and the clean may eat of it as they do of the gazelle and the deer. Only you shall not eat the blood; your shall pour it upon the earth like water. 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, or any of your vows which you vow, or your freewill offerings, or offering of your hand; but you must eat them before the Lord your God in the place which the Lord your God shall choose, you, and your son, and your daughter, and your manservant, and your maidservant, and the Levite who is within your gates. And you shall rejoice before the Lord your God in all that to which you put your hand. Take heed to yourself that you forsake not the Levite as long as you live upon the earth. (Devarim 12:2-19)

 

            This chapter makes several points relevant to our discussion, and we shall try to examine them below.

 

II.         THE EXPRESSION "THE PLACE" ("HA-MAKOM")

 

The expression, "the place," appears several times in the Torah in the book of Bereishit, but I wish to dwell on this expression as it is used in connection with Mount Moriya and Bet-El.[2]

 

Avraham is commanded to go to the land of Moriya and offer his son as a burnt offering on one of the mountains. We see from the verses that the "land of Moriya" is a defined area that appears to have been known to Avraham. In the continuation, when he arrives in the land of Moriya, Avraham is commanded to offer his son as a burnt offering on a well-defined and specific mountain: "one of the mountains which God will tell him of."

 

We might have expected Scripture to reveal to us the location of this place, but the description offered is very vague: "He went to the place of which God had told him." On the one hand, this is very obscure, but on the other hand, we are dealing here with a very specific place. When we examine the entire chapter, we see that throughout the chapter the Torah systematically refrains from mentioning the precise name of the mountain or its location in the land of Moriya.[3]

 

Another point arising from this chapter is the repetition of the word "the place" several times over the course of the chapter:

 

     §   "And he went to the place of which God had told him" (v.3).

     §   "Avraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place from afar off" (v. 4).

     §   "And they came to the place which God had told him of" (v. 9).

     §   "And Avraham called the name of that place Adonai-Yir'eh; as it is said to this day, 'In the mount the Lord will appear'" (v. 14).

 

What clearly emerges from these verses is that the expression refers to the place to which God had wanted Avraham to go: "upon one of the mountains which I will tell you of."[4] But what is the meaning of the word "place" ("makom") in this context?

 

In Scripture, the word "makom" is used in two fundamental senses:

 

1)   To note a place or location of various kinds.

2)   To note a ritual site, a sacred site, and even a sanctuary.[5] In several places in Scripture, the word "makom" denotes a sanctified place. Thus, for example, in Shlomo's prayer at the dedication of the Temple: "That Your eyes may be open to this house night and day, towards the place ('ha-makom') of which You have said, "My name shall be there" (I Melakhim 8:29).

 

That specific place toward which Avraham goes, lifts up his eyes, and arrives at was a special place.

 

What happens at that "place?" After Avraham makes all of the preparations for bringing a sacrifice (Bereishit 22:9-10), builds an altar, arranges the wood, binds Yitzchak, places him on the wood, and takes the knife to slaughter him, an angel of God appears to him and tells him not to do anything to Yitzchak. Avraham discovers on his own the uniqueness of "the place" in a way that Scripture does not spell out, and by virtue of his readiness to sacrifice his own son he merits Divine revelation.

 

It is this revelation that reveals to Avraham the Divine character of "the place." In the wake of this revelation, Avraham lifts up his eyes, sees a ram and sacrifices it, and then gives the place a special name: "And Avraham called the name of that place Adonai-Yir'eh; as it is said to this day, "In the mount the Lord will appear" (22:14). In this context, giving the place a name[6] signifies giving the place new meaning. In the wake of the revelation to Avraham in this place, the special connection between the place and God becomes manifest.

 

A similar phenomenon is found in the account of Yaakov's dream in Bet-El (Bereishit 28:10-12). As in the story of the binding of Yitzchak, here, too, the Torah refers to the place as "the place" without telling us where it is, and here, too, in the wake of a Divine revelation, Yaakov gives the place a name after the uniqueness and sanctity of the place have become evident:

 

And he lighted in a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took of the stones of the place, and put them under his head… And Yaakov awoke out of his sleep, and he said, "Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not." And he was afraid, and said, "How dreadful is this place! This is no other than the house of God and this is the gate of heaven…" And he called the name of that place Bet-El. (Bereishit 28:11, 16-17, 19)

 

            The parallels between the two stories brought Chazal to locate the revelation to Yaakov at Mount Moriya (see, for example, Chullin 91b). Even though the plain sense of the text implies that the revelation took place in Bet-El in the northern part of the territory of Binyamin rather than on Mount Moriya,[7] because of the parallels that we saw above, and because the essence of the revelation is identical in nature to the Mikdash, Chazal concluded that we are dealing with the same place.

 

            In the wake of these passages, the idea of Mount Moriya as a "place" having special significance with respect to Divine revelation will receive added significance for later generations. Throughout Scripture, Mount Moriya is referred to as "the place," this designation bearing far broader meaning than simply a place.

 

            Thus, for example, the book of Devarim, as stated above, uses the expression, "the place which the Lord shall choose," over twenty times.

           

            Similarly, in Shlomo's prayer at the dedication of the Mikdash:

 

That Your eyes may be open to this house night and day, towards the place of which You have said, "My name shall be there." That You may hearken to the prayer which Your servant shall make towards this place… If they pray towards this place, and confess Your name." (I Melakhim 8:29-35)

 

            In the wake of these passages, the term "place" assumes the additional sense of sanctified place, even when it is not referring to Mount Moriya.[8]

 

            We see this, for example, at God's special revelation to Moshe on the mountain of God, "For the place on which you stand is holy ground" (Shemot 3:5). Similarly, Yehoshua at Gilgal hears from the angel: "Put of your shoe from off your foot; for the place on which you stand is holy…" (Yehoshua 5:15).[9]

 

            Similarly, in the book of Shmuel, when the ark is returned by the Pelishtim to Israel: "And they said, 'Send away the ark of the God of Israel and let it go back to its own place, that it slay us not and our people'" (I Shmuel 5:11). This is seen in Yeshayahu's famous prophecy as well: "Thus says the Lord, The heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool; where is the house that you would build for Me? And where is the place of My rest?" (Yeshayahu 66:1). Here, the parallelism is between the house and the place of rest. The site of the Mikdash is the place of God's rest, as David proclaims in his prayer: "As for me, I had it in my heart to build a house of rest for the ark of the covenant of the Lord…" (I Divrei Ha-yamim 28:2).

 

            So, too, in the book of Yirmiyahu: "Because they have forsaken Me, and have estranged this place, and have burned incense in it to other gods, whom neither they nor their fathers have known, nor the kings of Yehuda, and have filled this place with the blood of innocents" (Yirmiyahu 19:4). And similarly in the famous prophecy of Yechezkel: "Then a spirit took me up, and I heard behind me a voice of a great rushing, saying, 'Blessed be the glory of the Lord from His place'" (Yechezkel 3:12).[10]

 

            The prophet Yeshayahu even draws a clear parallel between the place where God rests and the geographical location: "In that time shall a present be brought to the Lord of hosts, by a people tall and smooth, even by a people terrible from their beginning onward; a nation mighty and conquering, whose land the rivers have divided, to the place of the name of the Lord of hosts, Mount Zion" (Yeshayahu 18:7).

 

            For our purposes, Mount Moriya is "the" place. This is the first instance in the Torah of the word "place" in the sense of holy place, and therefore the special revelation and the giving of a name by Avraham alludes to the significance of the place for later generations.

 

            It is striking that in rabbinic Hebrew one of God's name is "Makom." The midrash states as follows:

 

"And he lighted in a certain place." Rav Huna said in the name of Rav Ami: Why is the Holy One, blessed be He, given the name "Makom?" Because He is the place of the world but the world is not His place. From that which is stated, "Behold there is a place by Me" (Shemot 33:21) – the Holy One, blessed be He, is the place of the world, but the world is not His place. (Bereishit Rabba [Vilna], sec. 68)

 

            The world does not constitute the full revelation of God, but God reveals Himself in the world. God's name, "Makom," gives expression to God's appearance in the world and His connection to it. It is therefore interesting that in biblical Hebrew the word relates to a holy place, that is, a place that has a special connection to God. In this sense, nothing can express God's connection to the world in general and to this place in particular in the way that Mount Moriya can. It is not by chance that Chazal claimed that this is the place from which the world and man were created. It is, as it were, the primal meeting place between God and all of creation.

 

III.        THE MEANING OF THE EXPRESSEION, "THE PLACE," IN OUR CHAPTER[11]

 

In the book of Devarim, the people of Israel are commanded as follows:

 

You shall utterly destroy all the places, in which the nations whom you are to dispossess served their gods, upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every leafy tree. And you shall overthrow their altars and break their pillars, and burn their asherim with fire; and you shall hew down the carvings of their gods, and destroy the name of them out of that place. This you shall not do to the Lord your God. But to the place which the Lord your God shall choose out of all your tribes to put His name there, there shall you seek Him, at His dwelling, and there shall you come. (Devarim 12:2-5)

 

            As opposed to the command to destroy all the places where the nations practiced idol worship, the people of Israel are commanded to worship God in "the place," which the Lord shall choose. What are "the places" mentioned in this passage?

 

            As for the sites of idol worship that the Torah commands be destroyed, the Torah seems to be referring to the places of worship together with the idols and everything connected to them, and not to the land itself.[12] This is the way the Chizkuni understands the verse (ad loc.):

 

Scripture is referring to the vessels used in connection with idol worship, for the places themselves cannot be destroyed, and furthermore the land itself does not become forbidden.

 

            In other words, the command relates to the ritual sites and the articles used for idol worship, but it does not precisely define the parameters of the place.

 

            What is "the place" in which the people of Israel are commanded to worship God? Do these verses intimate that Mount Moriya had been selected as the holy place? Rav D. Z. Hoffman answers this question in the negative, explaining the matter as follows: Scripture has not yet fixed any particular place. "The place which the Lord shall choose" merely stands in contrast to "the high mountains, the hills, and the leafy tree," which are places chosen by man.

 

What is the scope of "the place" under discussion? The commentators do not relate clearly and directly to this question, and theoretically we can speak of different scopes: from the altar on which the sacrifices are actually offered, through the main courtyard, through the camp of the Levites, and to the entire city.

 

According to Chazal's understanding of the continuation of the aforementioned chapter (vv. 6-7), the implication is that sacrifices of lesser sanctity and second tithe are eaten in the place which the Lord shall choose. According to this, the expression "the place which the Lord shall choose" refers not only to the altar, the courtyard, or the site of the Mikdash, but to the entire city of Jerusalem.[13]

 

It is very possible that the Torah intentionally fails to mention Jerusalem and deliberately employs an exceedingly general expression, "the place which the Lord shall choose," without more precise definition. Chazal's identification of this expression as a city clarifies a point that the Torah had deliberately concealed.

 

In light of the fact that Jerusalem is not mentioned by name, neither at Avraham's meeting with Malkitzedek the king of Shalem, nor at the Akeida, it is reasonable to assume that here, too, the Torah intentionally conceals the name of the city, and even the fact that we are dealing here with a city at all. By doing so, the Torah strengthens the idea that we are discussing a human act that is not pre-determined.

 

Only in the days of Shlomo will it become clear that the place of God's choice is a city: "And so they return to You with all their heart and with all their soul in the land of their enemies, who led them away captive, and pray to You towards their land which You did give to their fathers, the city which You have chosen, and the house which I have built for Your name" (I Melakhim 8:48).

 

It stands to reason that it is precisely in the days of Shlomo, when there is a city with a Temple in its heart, that the Temple leaves its impression on the entire city and God chooses the entire city. The site of mundane day-to-day life becomes sanctified by virtue of the Mikdash that stands at its center.

 

IV.       "WITHIN YOUR GATES" – THE PLACE WHICH THE LORD SHALL CHOOSE

 

In the continuation of the chapter discussed above (Devarim 12), reference is made to two different places: "Your gates" and "the place which the Lord shall choose." There is a fundamental difference between the two places, which is very striking in this chapter. "The place which the Lord shall choose" is a single place chosen by God. "Gates," on the other hand, are found in every city, and in every city they bear a different character. A city's gates serve as the entryway into the city, and it is there that justice is carried out. In other words, gates represent the city in which man lives, as opposed to "the place which the Lord shall choose," which refers to Jerusalem and the Mikdash, the city in which God chose to rest His Shekhina. Gates refer to the civil dimensions of a city, as opposed to the word "place" which refers to a sanctified site.

 

In the next lecture, we will continue our discussion of this issue, and focus on the selection of Jerusalem and the status of Shilo in Scripture.

 

(Translated by David Strauss)

 

[1] It is interesting that the Rambam, in his discussion of the mitzva to build the Mikdash in Hilkhot Bet Ha-Bechira 1:1, cites as the source of the mitzva the verse in Parashat Teruma, "And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them" (Shemot 25:8), but when he relates to the mitzva of building the Mikdash in Hilkhot Melakhim, he brings as the source of the mitzva the verse in Parashat Re'eh, "There you shall seek Him, at His dwelling, and there shall you come" (Devarim 12:5). We see, then, that from a halakhic perspective as well there are two complementary elements: the construction of the Mishkan or Mikdash building, as explained in Hilkhot Bet Ha-Bechira, and the Divine selection of the place where the Mikdash was to be established, as explained in Hilkhot Melakhim.

[2] It should be noted, however, that the Torah also uses the term "ha-makom" with respect to the city of Sedom. It is certainly possible that the term is used there in contrast to Hebron, where Avraham was living at the time, or to Mount Moriya.

[3] This is connected to the tendency to conceal the place to be chosen by God, as was discussed in the lecture, "Why Does the Torah Not Mention Jerusalem by Name?" (Jerusalem in the Bible, lecture no. 4 (http://vbm-torah.org/archive/yeru/04yeru.htm).

[4] Two authors relate to the issue of "makom" in Scripture, and we will relate to their conclusions below: 1) Moshe Sharon, "Vayifga Ba-Makom Va-Yalen Sham… Le-Mashma'ut Ha-Mila "Makom" Ba-Mikra," Mechkarim Be-Mikra U-Be-Chinukh (5756), pp. 188-198; 2) Nisan Ararat, "Ha-Geder Ha-Elohi," Beit Mikra 37, 3 (5752), pp. 193-198.

[5] Following Moshe Sharon (p. 192, note 2).

Two other terms found in Scripture to designate a particular place are "sha'ar" ("gate") and "sadeh" ("field"). Nisan Ararat, in his previously cited article, clarifies the distinction between "ha-makom," which denotes a sanctified place, and "sha'ar" and "sadeh." The expression "be-khol she'arekha" ("all your gates") refers to places where people would gather for judgment or for family sacrifices.

"Sha'ar" denotes the rule of creative man.

"Sadeh" denotes the rule of mythological nature, the ownerless areas outside the city (this is particularly striking in the Torah's demand of the people of Israel in Vayikra 17:5: "To the end that the children of Israel may bring their sacrifices, which they offer in the open field, that they may bring them to the Lord, to the door of the Tent of Meeting…," as opposed to the idol worshippers who offered their sacrifices to the se'irim.

"Ha-makom" denotes the rule of God.

Later in this lecture, I will once again and in greater detail address the difference between "she'arekha" and "the place which the Lord shall choose" (section IV).

[6] I will relate below to the substance of the names themselves.

[7] What is stated here complements what was stated in the first lecture in the series on "Jerusalem in the Bible" on the topic of "The Road to Jerusalem" (http://vbm-torah.org/archive/yeru/01yeru.htm).

[8] A detailed discussion of the sources is found in Moshe Sharon's article cited above in note 2.

[9] In Gilgal, the sanctity of the place is connected to the very entry into the Land, but there is also a special connection between Gilgal and Jericho on the one hand and Jerusalem and the Mikdash on the other. Jericho, the first city to be conquered by the people of Israel, may be seen as "the teruma of Eretz Israel." It has the sanctity of "firstness" that expresses the sanctity of all of Eretz Israel and the sanctity of the site of the Mikdash. The ban on Jericho gives expression to this point, as do the words of Chazal regarding the fat pasture ground of Jericho (Sifrei Bamidbar, sec. 81, and Sifrei Devarim, sec. 62). I will expand upon this issue in the lecture: "The Territory of Binyamin – the Territory of the Shekhina."

[10] This expression is also found in our liturgy: "From Your place ("mi-mekomekha"), O king, appear" and "From His place ("mi-mekomo") may He turn with compassion to His people."

[11] What is stated here should be joined to what was stated in lecture 32 of this series: "In All Places Where I Pronounce My Name," and especially in section III of that lecture: "'In All Places' and 'The Place Which the Lord Shall Choose.'"

[12] This is Rav Hoffman's definition in his commentary to Devarim 12:2-3.

[13] The mishna in Keilim (1:6 and on) defines Jerusalem as "inside the wall," where sacrifices of lesser sanctity and the second-tithe may be eaten.