Lecture 43: The History of the Resting of the Shekhina - "The Place Which the Lord Shall Choose" (Part II)

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy



            In the previous lecture, we began to explain the expression, "the place which the Lord shall choose." In this framework, we explored the Torah passages containing the term "place" ("makom") and examined the word's meaning. We saw that in the wake of the Akeida and the story of Yaakov in Bet-El, the term "place" received broad and deep meaning throughout Scripture. In this lecture, we will continue the discussion, focusing on the selection of Jerusalem and the status of Shilo in Scripture.


V.        TO PUT – TO REST


            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 asherot 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… (12:2-5)


            A distinction is made throughout the chapter between different terms: "The place which the Lord your God shall choose to put His name there" (three instances), as opposed to "The place which the Lord your God shall choose to rest His name there" (five instances). What is the meaning of each term?


            Rashi (Devarim 12:5, 11) distinguishes between "putting," which is a temporary phenomenon, and "resting," which denotes the permanent resting of the Shekhina. It should be noted that this distinction is not accepted by all of the commentators.


            In light of the words of Rashi, it is possible that the term "to put" refers to Gilgal, Nov, and Giv'on, which share certain features that reflect the reality of a temporary Mishkan. In all three places, the ark was not found in the Mishkan: in Gilgal, the people were constantly engaged in wars of conquest and the ark went out to war with them, and in Nov and Giv'on the ark became entirely separated from the site of the Mishkan and was located at first in Kiryat Anavim and later in the City of David. One direct consequence of the ark's absence from the Mishkan is the allowance of bamot, as the mishna states: "In Gilgal, Nov, and Giv'on bamot were permitted" (Zevachim 14:5-7).[1]


            In these senses, Gilgal, Nov, and Giv'on constituted a different reality than that of the Mishkan in the wilderness and in Shilo and the Mikdash in Jerusalem (first, second, and third Temples). According to the Ba'al Ha-Turim's calculation (Bereishit 24:16), the Shekhina rested in a total of eight different places; according to what we have said, it can be argued that in three of the eight places the Shekhina's resting was very temporary in nature.[2]


            The verses referred to above deal with "putting" or "resting" the name of God. What does "the name of God" mean in this context?


            At first glance, this term bears the general sense of glory. What it means is that God will rest His presence, His Shekhina in this place, and this is the uniqueness of the place.


            Alternatively, this term refers to the ark of the covenant. Thus, for example, we find in the account describing how David brought the ark up to Jerusalem that the ark is referred to by this designation:


And David went up and all of Israel to Ba'ala, that is to Kiryat-Ye'arim, which belonged to Yehuda, to bring up from there the ark of God the Lord, who dwells above the keruvim, by whose name it is called. (I Divrei Ha-yamim 13:6)


            And in the parallel verse in the book of Shmuel we find:


And David arose and went with all the people that were with him from Ba'ale-Yehuda, to bring up from there the ark of God, whose name is called by the name of the Lord of hosts who dwells upon the keruvim. (II Shmuel 6:2)


            These verses are slightly difficult, and at first glance it is not clear what is called and by what name. Rashi (ad loc.) explains:


The ark's name is called. And what is its name? The name of the Lord of hosts which is upon it. (Rashi, s.v. asher nikra)


            The Radak comments on the verse in Divrei Ha-yamim:


And in the book of Shmuel it is explained: "The name of the Lord of hosts who dwells upon the keruvim." Therefore it was given a name. And the fact that it was given a name in this place, and not in any other place, is because the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, was hallowed upon it when it was in Sedeh-Pelishtim. (Radak, ad loc.)


            We see from these verses, then, that the term "name" is used in reference to the ark of testimony. According to this understanding, it is possible to understand several difficult verses in Scripture that use the identical term:


            In the description of the consecration of the Mikdash in Divrei Ha-Yamim, Shlomo describes the selection of Jerusalem as follows:


But I have chosen Jerusalem, that My name might be there; and have chosen David to be over My people Israel. (II Divrei Ha-yamim 6:7)


            In Yehoshafat's speech before going out to war, he says:


And they dwelt in it and have built You a sanctuary there for Your name, saying, "If, when evil come upon us, sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we stand before this house, and in Your presence, for Your name is in this house, and cry to You in our affliction, then You will hear and help." (II Divrei Ha-yamim 20:8-9)


            And in the days of Menashe, it is stated:


Also, he built altars in the house of the Lord, of which the Lord had said, "In Jerusalem shall My name be forever." (II Divrei Ha-yamim 33:4)


            According to this understanding, all of the aforementioned verses relate to the ark found in the house of God, which is the most important revelation of His presence. The ark itself, and the broken tablets of the Law found therein, symbolize God's presence, and this is God's "name" in this world.




            In Devarim 12, the Torah explains the meaning of "the place which the Lord shall choose." Many understandings of this concept have been proposed, but we will follow in the footsteps of Rav D. Z. Hoffman in his explanation.


            Verses 2-3 deal with the obligation to utterly destroy the places where the Canaanites worshipped their idols: "Upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every leafy tree."


            Verses 4-7 contrast the worship of God with the worship of the Canaanites: "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." It is precisely to this place that all of one's sacrifices, teruma, and tithes must be brought.


            The aim of this command is that, as opposed to idol worshippers who chose the site at which to serve their gods, we who serve God offer sacrifices only at the place chosen by God Himself.


            In verses 8-14, Scripture relates to the prohibition of bamot, the prohibition to build an altar outside of the place of God's choice. According to the details reported in these verses, an allowance regarding bamot was practiced when Israel camped on the eastern bank of the Jordan. Here, the emphasis is on the fact that there is only one place and not many places. The one place testifies to the one God.


            Verses 15-18 forbid the slaughter and consumption of consecrated animals outside the Mishkan. The uniqueness of the single place lies in the fact that the entire service connected to the sacrifices must be performed there (the slaughter, the consumption, etc.).




            The Torah declares that in the future there will be a place chosen by God. A fundamental point must be clarified: Is the Torah referring exclusively to Jerusalem – one single place for which there is no substitute - or does it perhaps mean that in every generation the Mishkan will stand in only one place, and this is called the chosen place even if this selection is not for all time.


            In similar fashion, Rav Hoffman asks whether Mount Eival - which is mentioned in the book of Devarim (27:7) as a place where "you shall offer peace offerings, and shall eat there, and rejoice before the Lord your God" - is defined as a "place which the Lord shall choose."


            Rav D. Z. Hoffman concludes that the expression, "The place which the Lord shall choose to put His name there," is identical in meaning to the expression, "The place where I shall pronounce My name" (Shemot 20:21). Any place where the Shekhina rests is fit for the offering of sacrifices. It is therefore permissible, even at times that bamot are forbidden, to offer sacrifices in certain places, that is, in those places where God revealed His Shekhina. The allowance is not only in Jerusalem, and at all times and in all generations; rather, wherever the Shekhina rested, it was permitted to offer sacrifices.[3]


            Cassuto writes in similar fashion:[4]


The meaning of the expression, "The place which [the Lord] shall choose," is different, and it does not refer to only one place. It comes merely to establish that it is forbidden to the people of Israel to offer sacrifices wherever they please; service is permitted only in a place confirmed by a priest or a prophet in the name of God. This place can be Jerusalem, and it can be a different place or places, even more than one at the same time, provided that they are confirmed in the name of God by a person who is authorized [to issue such a confirmation]. Only after the authorized officials established that from then on the Mikdash in Jerusalem alone would be the chosen place for the [Divine] service… was service in other places regarded as forbidden. Proof to this [assertion] that Scripture is referring to various places is found in the book of Devarim itself (27:4-7), regarding the building of a sanctuary and the offering of sacrifices on Mount Eival, immediately following the conquest of the Land. We see, then, that Jerusalem is included in the concept of "the place which the Lord shall choose," just as are included all the other places that will be confirmed by a recognized authority in Israel in the name of God. Confirmation regarding Jerusalem was already given a long time ago, in the allusions found in the book of Bereishit.[5]


            It seems, however, that if we examine the relevant passages, we find that only with respect to Jerusalem is there an explicit and detailed account of the selection of the place. No such description is found regarding any other place where the Mishkan stood. Two passages describe the revelation of the site of the Mikdash in the threshing floor of Aravna the Yevusi, one in the book of Shmuel and the other in the book of Divrei Ha-yamim. In both places, the prophet tells David to build an altar in the threshing floor of Aravna the Yevusi: "And Gad came that day to David, and said to him, 'Go up, rear an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Aravna the Yevusi'" (II Shmuel 24:18). In Divrei Ha-yamim, Scripture adds that after David purchased the place from Aravna, he offered sacrifices: "And David built there an altar to the Lord, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings, and called upon the Lord; and He answered him from heaven by fire upon the altar of burnt offering" (I Divrei Ha-yamim 21:26).


            When the prophet tells David where to build an altar, he thereby reveals to David that the place was chosen by God.[6] When fire descends from heaven and consumes the sacrifice, it serves as Divine confirmation that the offering was favorably received and that the site was indeed chosen by God.[7]


            These expressions of Divine selection preceded the revelation of its significance by David, and it was only because of the Divine selection that David chose this place. Such a selection took place only in Jerusalem; therefore, our argument is that the expression, "the place which the Lord shall choose," relates essentially to only one place – the city of Jerusalem. The rest of the Mishkan's stations in the wilderness and in Eretz Yisrael were not chosen in advance by God for Him to rest his Shekhina there.[8]




            According to the author of Seder Olam Rabba (as well as the Rambam, Hilkhot Bet Ha-Bechira 1:4), the Mishkan stood in Shilo for 369 years. This is a very long period that began already in the days of Yehoshua (chapter 18) and includes the entire period of the Shoftim and the days of Eli until Shilo's destruction (I Shmuel, chapter 4).


            Scripture refers to the Mishkan in Shilo by various designations. In Yehoshua, it says: "And the whole congregation of the children of Israel assembled together at Shilo and set up the Tent of Meeting there. And the land was conquered before them" (Yehoshua 18:1). In Shoftim, however, we read: "And they set up for themselves Mikha's carving, which he had made, all the time that the house of God was in Shilo" (Shoftim 18:31). On the one hand, the Mishkan is described as a tent, while on the other hand, it is viewed as a house. Chazal in the mishna (Zevachim 14:6) resolve the contradiction: "They came to Shilo and bamot were forbidden. There was no ceiling there, but rather a stone structure at the bottom and curtains on top. This was the 'rest' (Devarim 12:9)."


            We see, then, that Shilo was different than all the other stations of the Mishkan, both in terms of the length of time that the Mishkan stood there and with respect to its physical nature and structure.[10] Special consideration must therefore be given to the question of whether or not the Mishkan in Shilo can be regarded as a place chosen by God.


            Let us examine the transfer of the Mishkan from Gilgal to Shilo. The book of Yehoshua says as follows: "And the whole congregation of the children of Israel assembled together at Shilo and set up the Tent of Meeting there. And the land was conquered before them" (Yehoshua 18:1). There is no description of the transfer, there is no prophetic intervention, there is no revelation, and there is not even an inquiry on the part of Yehoshua and Elazar by way of the urim ve-tumim regarding whether to go to Shilo.


            It seems, then, that according to the plain sense of the biblical text, the selection of Shilo was not a Divine selection. Shilo appears to have been chosen by Yehoshua, the leader of the generation of those who entered Eretz Yisrael. As long as the wars of conquest were being fought, the camp and the Mishkan were set up in Gilgal, and they returned there at the end of each campaign. In the course of the settlement, the tribes of Yehuda and Efrayim and half the tribe of Menashe settled on the central mountain massif. At this time, Yehoshua moved the camp and the Mishkan to Shilo, to a central point on the mountain range in the territory of Efrayim, in order to continue from there the settlement of the other seven tribes. The Mishkan was situated in the territory of the leader's tribe. This is a point of fundamental significance because this choice of location created a connection between the government and the center of ritual, which was later transformed into a connection between the kingdom and the Mikdash.[11]

We see, then, that the transfer of the Mishkan to Shilo was based on the human choice of Yehoshua, the people's leader, and not Divine selection.


            Further support for the argument that Shilo is not "the place which the Lord shall choose" may be found in the Torah's requirement in Devarim 12 (vv. 10-11) that the selection of the site of God's Shekhina will be made after God gives Israel the land to inherit and gives them rest from their enemies:[12] "But when you traverse the Jordan, and dwell in the land which the Lord your 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 that I command you…."


            Completion of the conquest and rest from the enemies seem to be necessary pre-conditions for the Divine selection of the place.


            The gemara in Sanhedrin (20b) concludes that the eradication of Amalek precedes the building of the Mikdash. The gemara bases this both on the verses in Parashat Re'eh and on the situation in the days of David. So, too, rules the Rambam in Hilkhot Melakhim (1:2): "The destruction of the seed of Amalek precedes the building of the Temple, as it is stated: 'And it came to pass, when the king sat in his house, and the Lord had given him rest round about from all his enemies; that the king said to Natan the prophet, 'See now, I dwell in a house of cedar.'"


            It is difficult to argue that when Yehoshua moved the Mishkan to Shilo the conquest of Eretz Yisrael had already been completed, that the land had already been divided up and distributed to the twelve tribes, or that rest from Israel's enemies had already been achieved. The prophet himself states (Yehoshua 18:1-2): "And the whole congregation of the children of Israel assembled together at Shilo and set up the Tent of Meeting there. And the land was conquered before them. And there remained among the children of Israel seven tribes who had not yet received their inheritance." Thus, it would appear that Shilo was not "the place which the Lord shall choose."[13]


            As opposed to the conclusion that emerges from the plain sense of Scripture, Chazal in several places understand that Shilo is, in fact, regarded as a "place which the Lord shall choose." The Sifrei states as follows:


One verse states "in one of your tribes" (v. 14) and another verse states "out of all your tribes" (v. 5). "In one of your tribes" – this is Shilo. "Out of all your tribes" – this is Jerusalem. (Sifrei Devarim  12, 5)


            And similarly, in the continuation of the Sifrei on v. 9:


"To the rest and to the inheritance." "The inheritance" – this is Shilo. "The rest" – this is Jerusalem. As it is stated: "This is my resting place forever: here will I dwell; for I have desired it" (Tehillim 132:14); these are the words of Rabbi Shimon. Rabbi Yehuda says: The reverse.


            And similarly, the Sifrei on Devarim 26:2:


"And you shall go to the place which the Lord your God shall choose" – this is Shilo and the permanent house [the Temple in Jerusalem].


            According to these sources, Shilo is in fact defined as a "place which the Lord shall choose."


            Allusions to this understanding of Chazal may be found in two biblical passages:


·          The prophet says to the people of Israel: "But go now to My place which was in Shilo, where I set My name at the first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of My people Israel" (Yirmiyahu 7:12).


The terms, "My place" and "where I set My name," clearly direct us to Devarim 12, to "the place that the Lord shall choose to rest His name there."


·          In Tehillim 78, we read: "God heard this, He was wroth, and greatly abhorred Israel: so that He forsook the tabernacle of Shilo, the tent where He made His dwelling among men… And He rejected the tabernacle of Yosef, and chose not the tribe of Efrayim, but chose the tribe of Yehuda, the Mount Zion which He loved" (vv. 58-66).


The term "rejected" is the opposite of "chose," thus implying that the tent of Yosef was rejected after having been chosen. So, too, the words, "and He chose not the tribe of Efrayim," mean that He no longer chose them, implying that He had once chosen Efrayim, but now no longer does.


            We see, then, that according to Chazal, Shilo also falls into the category of "the place which the Lord shall choose."


We can perhaps understand the gap between the plain sense of Scripture and the words of Chazal if we assume that Shilo is defined as a rest stop, a temporary and incomplete phenomenon. It is this situation that gives rise to the question of whether or not it can be regarded as a place chosen by God. The very fact that the Shekhina rested in Shilo for 369 years might possibly have brought Yirmiyahu, on the eve of the destruction of the first Temple, to draw a comparison between Shilo and the Temple in Jerusalem, and to warn the people that just as God had rested in Shilo, but nevertheless the place was destroyed, this could similarly become Jerusalem's fate.


In any event, tension exists between the plain sense of Scripture, according to which Shilo had not been chosen by God from the outset, and the view of Chazal that Shilo is, in fact, a "place that the Lord shall choose."


In the next lecture, we will continue to discuss this topic. We will examine the phenomenon of choosing in Scripture, and we will focus on the selection of Jerusalem as a holy place.


(Translated by David Strauss)


[1] This is an extremely interesting issue. The Meshekh Chokhma in his commentary to Devarim 12:8, s.v. lo ta'asun, expands on the topic, citing various relevant sources, and discusses them in light of Scripture. Among other sources, he cites the following passage from the Yerushalmi (Meggila 1:12): "Rabbi Yasa in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: This is the sign - whenever the ark is inside, bamot are forbidden; when it goes out, bamot are permitted. Rabbi Zeira asked Rabbi Yasa: Even [when it goes out] for a short time, as in the case of Eli?…" There is a clear connection between the ark being in the Mishkan and the prohibition of bamot because the ark serves as God's throne in this world. Therefore, when the aron has a clearly defined location, God cannot be worshipped elsewhere, but when there is no place in which God has chosen to rest His name, He can be worshipped anywhere. This is not the forum to expand upon the issue. 

[2] Yona Krieger wrote an article on this topic in Shema'atin 111, p. 13ff; there, he expands on several aspects in addition to those discussed here.

[3] This is also the position of Yechiel Bin-Nun in his book, Eretz Moriya, Tevunot, (Alon Shevut, 5766), pp, 26-27.

[4] From D. Cassuto, "Yerushalayim Ba-Torah," in Eretz Yisrael 3, (Jerusalem, 5717), pp. 15-17.

[5] Regarding the argument that the altar on Mount Eival makes it impossible to relate to Jerusalem alone as the place that the Lord shall choose, it may be suggested that God reveals Himself in many places, but such a revelation does not necessarily turn the place into a place chosen by God.

[6] It is interesting that the Divine choice relates to the site of the altar, and not to the Mikdash or Holy of Holies. When the Rambam relates to the issue of place he writes: "The location of the altar is exceedingly precise, and we are never to change its position, as it is stated: 'This is the altar of the burnt offering for Israel' (I Divrei Ha-yamim 22:1)" (Hilkhot Bet Ha-Bechira 2:1). The verse that the Rambam cites as his proof-text is taken from our passage (I Divrei Ha-yamim 22:1): "And David said, 'This is the house of the Lord God, and this is the altar of the burnt offering for Israel.'" It seems that it is precisely the altar, which more than anything else gives expression to man's service of God, which must be built in its precise location in accordance with Divine choice, and according to the Rambam, the place becomes sanctified in the wake of man's actions.

[7] It is interesting to note that regarding the period of the return to Zion as well, the gemara testifies in Zevachim 62 that "three prophets went up with them from the exile… one of them to instruct them about the site of the altar."

[8] The Radak, in his commentary to II Divrei Ha-yamim 6:2, s.v. olamim, writes: "Because Shilo, Nov, and Giv'on were not permanent, because they were not the chosen place, about which it is stated, 'to the place which the Lord shall choose,' but only this place which is Mount Moriya, where our father Avraham bound his son Yitzchak, and called it Adonai-Yir'eh, saying, 'In the mount the Lord will appear.' For He will appear on that mountain in future generations. And when David saw that he was answered there, and that God sent down a fire upon his burnt offerings, he understood that this is the chosen place, and he said, 'This is the house of the Lord God, and this is the altar of the burnt offering for Israel.'" In similar fashion, the Siftei Chakhamim on Rashi, Devarim 12:14, writes: "We do not find that God chose any place but Jerusalem. The rest of the places, e.g., Gilgal, Giv'on, Nov and Shilo, were chosen by Israel on their own." This is also the position of the Netziv in Emek Ha-Netziv on the Sifrei Re'eh (sec. 10, end of p. 94b): "We do not find regarding the aforementioned sites of the Mishkan that they were based on the words of a prophet."

[9] In one of the upcoming lectures, we will relate to Shilo as the most significant station among the Mishkan's various stations. Here, we relate solely to the question of whether Shilo is considered a "place which the Lord shall choose."

[10] The Mishkan at Shilo had a transitional structure. On the one hand, it is not the Mishkan of the wilderness and Gilgal made of boards and curtains. On the other hand, it is not the permanent stone building of Jerusalem. Rather, it is a structure the bottom half of which was stone, like the permanent temple in Jerusalem, and the upper half of which was curtains, like the Mishkan in the wilderness. The structure of this Mishkan strongly symbolizes the governmental and spiritual reality of the period of the Shoftim – on the one hand, a stronger hold on the land than during the period of Yehoshua, but on the other hand, not yet a permanent hold as in the period of the monarchy.

[11] During the period of Yehoshua, the Mishkan was in Shilo in the territory of Efrayim (from chapter 18 on); during the period of Shaul, the Mishkan was in Nov in the territory of Binyamin; and during the period of David, the Mishkan was in Giv'on in the territory of Binyamin, and David brought the ark up to the City of David. As for the border between Binyamin and Yehuda, Chazal understand (Yoma 12a) that a strip of land protruded from the territory of Yehuda into the territory of Binyamin at the site of the Mikdash, thereby expressing the connection between the royal tribe and the Mikdash. This close connection between the seat of government and the site of worship is stated clearly in Tehillim 78:67-69: "And He rejected the tabernacle of Yosef, and chose not the tribe of Efrayim; but chose the tribe of Yehuda, and Mount Zion which He loved. And He built His sanctuary like the high heavens, like the earth which He has established forever. And chose David His servant, and took him from the sheepfolds."

The inseparable connection between King David and the city of Jerusalem and the Divine selection of both appears in many biblical passages. In I Melakhim 11:32-34, in the words of Achiya the Shiloni to Yerav'am regarding the splitting of the kingdom: "But he shall have one tribe for My servant David's sake, and for Jerusalem's sake, the city which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel." God expected Yerav'am to rule over the ten tribes, while continuing to serve God in the Mikdash in Jerusalem, at the fixed site of the connection between the Davidic monarchy and the kingdom of God. Yerav'am, however, based on the same principle, exploited the situation to split up not only the ruling government, but also the site of worship – in clear opposition to the prophecy that emphasized the everlasting selection of Jerusalem and the Davidic monarchy. This passage clearly demonstrates the tension regarding the connection between monarchy and kingdom, between government and worship of God.

This principle is expressed in a most explicit manner in the following verses uttered by Shlomo at the time of the building of the first Temple (II Divrei Ha-yamim 6:5-6): "Since the day that I brought My people out of the land of Egypt I chose no city among all the tribes of Israel to build a house in, that My name might be there; nor did I choose any man to be a ruler over My people Israel; but I have chosen Jerusalem, that My name might be there; and have chosen David to be over My people Israel." This basic connection between the seat of the kingdom and the site of the resting of the Shekhina is a broad topic to which I shall dedicate a separate lecture.

[12] My colleague, Itamar Nitzan, brings this proof in "Le-Ma'amadah shel Bet-El ad Bechirat Yerushalayim, Alon Shevut, no. 162, 5763, p. 115.

[13] The fact that the Mishkan stood for 369 years at Shilo proves beyond a doubt that the place received Divine approval. We are focusing on a different question relating to the selection process, arguing that it was a human process, as opposed to God's selection of the site of the Mikdash in Jerusalem.