Lecture 44: The History of the Resting of the Shekhina - "The Place Which the Lord Shall Choose" (Part III)

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy





            In the previous lectures, we dealt with the meaning of the expression, "the place which the Lord shall choose." We discussed the nature of the selection of Jerusalem and the status of Shilo. In this lecture, we will continue with this topic and focus on the selection of Jerusalem as a holy site.




            The Torah formulates the choice of the place in the future tense: "The place which the Lord your God shall choose" ("yivchar"). Why?


            There are several ways to explain this phenomenon:


1)            It is possible to understand the verb "yivchar" as an extended present, that is to say, an action that begins in the present but continues into the future, as, for example, in the case of "u-farsa lo yafris" ("but does not part the hoof") (Vayikra 11:5).


2)            On the other hand, it may be suggested that while God already chose the place in the past, it is only in the future that He will reveal His choice to us.


The Torah already relates to the selection of the place in the account of the akeida (Bereishit 22) when God instructs Avraham to go there. If this is the case, the place had already been chosen, and it had even been alluded to that the place would in the future serve as a site of pilgrimage; all that remains is to reveal the choice. There are sources in Chazal that note God's selection of the place already at the time of creation by way of the sacrifices offered on Mount Moriya by Adam, Kayin and Hevel, and Noach; according to these sources, the place had certainly already been chosen.


The plain sense of the Torah, however, testifies to the fact that God has not yet chosen the place. The story of the akeida and the midrashim of Chazal can be understood as attesting to the unique qualities of the place, even if the actual selection was not yet made.


3)            The selection of the place has, in fact, not yet been made.[2] The reason for this is that God wishes to leave room for man to participate in the selection.


This is what the Ramban writes in his commentary to the Torah section dealing with the appointment of a king:


My opinion according to the plain sense is that the meaning of "whom [the Lord your God] shall choose" is that whoever rules over nations does so by God's choice. Thus, [the Sages] said [that] even the superintendent of a well is appointed in heaven. It says: "Then you may appoint a king over you" - whoever it has been decreed about in heaven that he shall rule. And similarly according to the plain sense, "The place which the Lord your God shall choose" – wherever a Mikdash is built there to God, it is all by the will of God. (Devarim 17:15)


            According to the Ramban, then, God did not choose a fixed place from the outset; rather, when the Mikdash is built in a particular place, it will become evident that this was the place chosen by God. In other words, developments in real life will clarify God's chosen place. Theoretically, this could be wherever the people of Israel choose, provided that the Temple is actually built there.


4)            God left the choice to man, without detracting from the Divine selection of the place.


Just as with respect to spiritual concepts there is a mutual relationship between inherent essence (segula) and selection (bechira), so, too, here – man's choice reveals the essence of the place, and in miraculous manner, man successfully chooses the place in which that special essence is found.[3] According to this approach, a real and not merely imaginary choice is made – man truly chooses, and God does not determine/reveal the place until man has reached it. This is the approach that seems to follow from the prophetic account of David's selection of the place in the story of the threshing floor of Aravna the Yevusi. This also seems to be the meaning of the Sifrei on the verse, "There you shall seek Him, at His dwelling, and there you shall come" (Devarim 12:5): "You might say that you should wait until a prophet tells you. Therefore the verse teaches: Seek and find, and afterwards the prophet will tell you…" This is what happened with David, who sought the place and found it, after which the prophet confirmed his choice.


There are several ways to understand why God waits for man to exert himself in this regard:


                      · It seems from the Sifrei that it falls upon the people of Israel to seek out the site of the Mikdash. This seems to be based on the idea that the essence of the place lies in the closeness between God and the people of Israel. For this reason, God waits for his people to manifest their yearning for closeness, and only then does He reveal the site of the Mikdash.


                      · According to the Rambam, the reason that the place was not revealed until the people of Israel sought it out is God's desire for unity among the nation. The Divine revelation and selection of the place only became possible after the people of Israel became unified.


                      · Another way to explain the order of events is suggested by the Radak. The Radak explains that the Divine selection of the place depended on the establishment of the earthly kingdom. The kingdom of Israel serves as God's throne in this world, and therefore it was only through it that God's kingdom could be revealed.[4] In the wake of the king's yearnings for the revelation and selection of the place, God chose a place. The complete selection of the place, however, would only be made during the days of Shlomo.[5]




            The last question to be dealt with in the framework of this lecture is connected to the very selection of the city. Why does God have a need or interest to select a city?[6] Already in the Torah we find that the objective of the selection is "to put His name there" or "to rest His there" (Devarim 12:8, 11). But why did this place have to be a city? Why not suffice with the selection of Mount Moriya, similar to Mount Sinai?


            We find no direct reference to this issue in either the verses themselves or in the words of Chazal or the Rishonim.


            In order to deal with this question, I wish to examine the concept of selection in the Torah.


1)         The selection of people


In various places in Scripture, we find that particular people are selected:


                     ¨                     The selection of Israel: "For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a special people to Himself, above all peoples that are upon the face of the earth." (Devarim 7:6)


                     ¨                     The selection of the priests: "And this shall be the priests' allotment from the people… For the Lord your God has chosen him out of all your tribes to stand to minister in the name of the Lord, him and his sons for ever." (Devarim 18:3-5)[7]


                     ¨                     The selection of David and Shlomo:[8] "Yet the Lord God of Israel chose me before all the house of my father to be king over Israel forever. For He has chosen Yehuda to be the ruler; and out of the house of Yehuda, the house of my father, and among the sons of my father he took pleasure in me to make me king over all Israel. And of all my sons (for the Lord has given me many sons), He has chosen Shlomo my son to sit upon the throne of the kingdom of the Lord over Israel" (I Divrei Ha-yamim 28:4-5). This represents the selection of David and Shlomo and the establishment of the Davidic monarchy.


In other words, with respect to people, we find the selection of the people of Israel, the priesthood, and the monarchy.


2)         The selection of a place


Regarding the selection of places in the Torah, we find "the place which the Lord shall choose." In the Prophets and in the Writings, the term "selection" with respect to a place is limited to the city of Jerusalem, to Zion,[9] and in one instance to the Temple.[10] It is interesting that nowhere in Scripture is the term "selection" used in connection with Eretz Yisrael,[11] the term being limited almost exclusively to the city of Jerusalem.


Let us examine the contexts in which mention is made of the selection of Jerusalem:


                     ¨                     In Shlomo's prayer at the dedication of the Mikdash, the selection of the city of Jerusalem is mentioned twice (I Melakhim 8:15, 44, 48).


                     ¨                     In the meeting between Achiya the Shiloni and Yerov'am (I Melakhim 11:12, 32, 36), it is emphasized that Jerusalem had been chosen, and it is therefore inconceivable that the break-up of the monarchy will lead Yerov'am to choose an alternative site for the worship of God.


                     ¨                     In the context of the kingdom of Rechav'am (I Melakhim 14:21).


                     ¨                     Regarding the rejection of the city in the days of Menashe (II Melakhim 23:26).


                     ¨                     In the context of the destruction of the city, mention is made of its selection: "And he set the carved idol of the ashera that he had made in that house, of which the Lord said to David and to Shlomo his son, 'In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all tribes of Israel, will I put My name for ever" (II Melakhim 21:7 and II Divrei Ha-yamim 33:30).


                     ¨                     Twice, Zekharya mentions the renewed choice of the city in the days of the return to Zion following its rejection at the time of the destruction (e.g., 1:17; 2:16; 3:2).


What emerges from Scripture is that only the city of Jerusalem and the Mikdash were selected. Let us return now to our question: Why was it necessary for a city to be chosen? What is special about its selection?






            An answer to our question may be proposed based on the words of the gemara in Zevachim:


It was taught: Just as there was a camp in the wilderness, so was there a camp in Jerusalem. From Jerusalem to the Temple Mount is the camp of Israel. From the Temple Mount to Nikanor Gate is the camp of Levi. From there on is the camp of the Shekhina, and these are the curtains of the wilderness. (Zevachim 115b)


            Following this gemara, the Rambam rules:


There were three camps in the wilderness: the camp of Israel, which was four camps; the camp of the Levites, as it is stated: "And they shall encamp round about the tabernacle" (Bamidbar 1:50); and the camp of the Shekhina, from the entrance to the courtyard of the Tent of Meeting and on. And corresponding to them, for [future] generations, from the entrance to Jerusalem to the Temple Mount is like the camp of Israel; and from the entrance to the Temple Mount to the entrance to the Temple courtyard, which is Nikanor Gate, is like the camp of the Levites; and from the entrance to the Temple courtyard and on is the camp of the Shekhina. And from the low wall surrounding the Temple courtyard and the women's courtyard had an elevated status in the Temple in Jerusalem. (Hilkhot Bet Ha-Bechira 7:11)


            We see, then, that Jerusalem parallels the camp of Israel. The selection of the city implies the selection of a place that represents the entire people. Like the camp of Israel in the wilderness that was situated around the camp of the Levites and the camp of the Shekhina, the city of Jerusalem is situated around the Temple Mount and around the Temple courtyard.


            Jerusalem, as opposed to the site of the Mikdash, is a city. A city is fundamentally a profane place, a place where profane life carries on in its fullest, the dirt, the impurity, the lusts, the passions, family life, work life, cultural life and more. It is in the city that the fullness of life in all senses is found. The novelty in the selection of a city is that such a place – in which all facets of life are found – is turned by way of that selection into a place of holiness.


            The uniqueness of Jerusalem lies in the fact that at its heart stands the Mikdash, which leaves its impression on the entire city. This is also the conclusion that follows from the definition of Jerusalem regarding the eating of consecrated foods (Keilim 1:5 and on): "Inside the wall has greater sanctity… What is its sanctity? That sacrifices of lesser sanctity (kodshim kalim) and the second-tithe may be eaten there" (Kodshim kalim are sacrifices that were offered on the altar and can be eaten throughout the city). The city of Jerusalem draws its character from the Mikdash that stands at its center.


            Chazal teach us that in order to expand the limits of Jerusalem, a Sanhedrin, the Urim and Tumim, and other things are needed. What this means is that the expansion of the city is essentially the expansion of its sanctity, and thus the process requires the fulfillment of certain conditions.


            In this context, the Rambam has a very interesting position. The mishna in Rosh Ha-Shana states:


When the holiday of Rosh Ha-Shana fell on Shabbat, they would blow [the shofar] in the Mikdash, but not in the provinces (medina). (4:1)


            In his commentary to the mishna, the Rambam explains this as follows:


We have already explained several times that "Mikdash" refers to all of Jerusalem, and "medina" to the rest of Eretz Yisrael.[12]


            In other words, according to the Rambam, the entire city of Jerusalem is defined as "Mikdash." The Temple's impact upon Jerusalem is so great that with regard to certain issues the city itself is called "Mikdash."


            According to this, God chose the city in order to turn a place of natural life into a place of sanctity. In the chosen city, profane life is elevated and refined. It can be said that the selection of Israel as "a priestly kingdom and holy nation" becomes manifest in Jerusalem. The selection of the priesthood spreads, as it were, across the entire camp of Israel that is represented by Jerusalem.




            The selection of the city of Jerusalem can be explained in another way as well. In several places we find that the prophets draw a connection between the selection of Jerusalem and the selection of David. In Divrei Ha-yamim it says:


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.[13] (II Divrei Ha-yamim 6:5-6)


            When the prophet relates to the split of the kingdom, he tells Shlomo (I Melakhim 11:13): "Nevertheless, I will not rend away all of the kingdom, but I will give one tribe to your son for David My servant's sake, and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen." What this parallelism means is that God's selection of Jerusalem is connected to the Davidic monarchy. The city represents the kingdom of Israel and the kingdom of Israel is God's throne in this world (I Divrei Ha-yamim 29:23: "Then Shlomo sat on the throne of the Lord as king").


            Based on the connection between the selection of Jerusalem and the selection of Israel, it can be argued that the selection of the city was intended to allow the revelation of God's kingdom with the help of the earthly kingdom, whose capital is Jerusalem. The kingdom is the governmental tool through which God reveals Himself to the nation – and therefore the correspondence between the selection of the city and the selection of the Davidic monarchy is significant. Jerusalem is a national capital – a royal city that allows for a more perfect revelation of the kingdom of God, and this is the reason for its selection.


            What emerges from what has been said is that, in a certain sense, the selection of Jerusalem embraces all the selections made by God: Israel, the priesthood, and the monarchy, and it is precisely through the city that a full representation of God's kingdom and sanctity is possible.


            The flip side of the same coin is that the Mikdash is found inside the city. The Mikdash leaves its impact on the site of the monarchy.




            In the last three lectures, we dealt with the topic of the selection of the place of the Mikdash. We examined the various instances of the expression, "the place which the Lord shall choose," what is included in the word "place," what is the significance of the selection, what is the status of Shilo, and why the Torah formulates the selection in future tense.


            Our principal argument is that God's selection was formulated in the future tense in order to allow for human striving and seeking. In other words, God chooses a place by virtue of Israel's actions. God, as it were, waits for the people of Israel to actively seek Him out, and only then does He choose the place for the resting of His Shekhina.


            This principle casts enormous responsibility on the people of Israel and great force to its actions, for, as it were, they allow God to make His choice and invite Him to do so. We explained the importance of human action preceding God's choice based on several rationales: seeking out the place, unity, and monarchy. Even in a place that symbolizes more than anything else God's presence in the world, God waits for man to act before He chooses, as occurred in practice in the days of David.


(Translated by David Strauss)


[1] The starting point of our discussion is that "the Torah speaks in the language of man," for, of course, the dimension of time does not pertain to God Himself.

[2] According to this understanding, it is clear why no one raises the possibility of identifying Bet-El as a place chosen by God, despite the fact that, as was mentioned in previous lectures, Bet-El was undoubtedly the mikdash of the patriarchs – where Ya'akov asserted that God reveals Himself, where the ladder stood joining heaven and earth, and where there was a matzeva and an altar and all the components of a mikdash, all established by the patriarchs in a natural manner. Bet-El, however, was not a place "which the Lord shall choose;" it was not a place where the selection of Israel found expression; and Yerov'am's actions, setting up the calves in Bet-El, did not turn it into a place that God would choose. Moreover, it is situated near the border separating between the descendants of Rachel – Yosef (Efrayim) and Binyamin - as opposed to Jerusalem, which is situated between Yehuda and Binyamin and unites the descendants of Rachel with those of Leah.

[3] This is similar to the issue of "Divine knowledge and free choice."

[4] We bring these opinions here in very terse manner because we expanded upon them in lecture no. 33, which dealt with the question why Jerusalem is not mentioned by name in the Torah.

[5] A separate lecture will be devoted to the details of the process of the selection of the city and the Mikdash, and therefore we will not go into greater detail here.

[6] It should be mentioned that, according to the plain sense of the text, it is not clear that we are dealing with a city. Here we are following Chazal, who understand that the verses in our passage refer to Jerusalem.

[7] The selection of the priests and Aharon in particular is explicitly mentioned in the context of the rebellion of Korach and his company. There, the entire passage revolves around the selection of Aharon and the recognition of this fact by Korach and the entire people.

[8] Selection also takes place in the process of their anointment (e.g., Shaul – I Shmuel 10:24; David – I Shmuel 16:8-10; Shlomo – I Divrei Ha-yamim 28:5, 10; 29:1).

[9] Tehillim 132:13: "For the Lord has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His habitation."

[10] II Divrei Ha-yamim 7:16: "For now I have chosen and sanctified this house, that My name may be there for ever; and My eyes and My heart shall be there perpetually."

[11] A hint to the selection of Eretz Yisrael is found in Tehillim 47:5: "He chooses our inheritance for us, the pride of Yaakov whom He loves."

[12] This approach is also found in his commentary to the mishna - Ma'aser Sheni 3:4, Shekalim 1:3, and Sukka 3:10.

[13] In the parallel story in I Melakhim 8:16, the selection of the city depends on the selection of the king. This matter requires further expansion, but we will not enter into this issue here.