"The Place that God will Choose"

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Jerusalem in the Bible
Yeshivat Har Etzion

Shiur #12: "The Place that God will Choose"


By Rav Yitzchak Levi



            In this shiur we shall focus on the significance of the expression, "the place that God will choose," which appears 21 times in the Torah.  We shall explore the general context in which the expression appears, its location, and its meaning.  A cursory review of all these sources reveals that all, without exception, appear in Sefer Devarim.  This is obviously related to the fact that Moshe declares all of Sefer Devarim just before the nation is due to enter the Promised Land.


            In Sefer Shemot the Torah devotes lengthy discussion to the Mishkan (desert Tabernacle), but with no indication of its location.  Sefer Devarim makes no mention of the Mishkan at all, but there is extensive reference to "the place that God will choose."  The comparison of these two perspectives leads us to the conclusion that there is a place that God is destined to choose, whose location the Torah refrains from indicating explicitly, where the Temple is destined to be built.


            From this we understand, in fact, that there is a place that God will choose, whose exact location is not mentioned by the Torah at this stage, and that it will be at this place that the future Temple will arise [1].


Different appearances of the expression


            Let us examine the different appearances of "the place that God will choose" in Sefer Devarim, and the context in which the expression appears in each case:


Chapter 12 – context of the obligation to offer sacrifices and to eat at this place, and thereafter in the context of eating meat out of physical appetite.

Chapter 14 – context of ma'aser sheni

Chapter 15:20 – context of the firstborn

Chapter 16:2-16 – context of the three pilgrim festivals

Chapter 17:8-10 – context of the High Court

Chapter 26:2 – context of the first fruits

Chapter 31:11 – context of the commandment of hak'hel

The commandments mentioned in these verses pertain directly to the "place which God will choose."


To gain a better understanding of the meaning of the expression, let us examine its significance in its first appearance in Devarim 12:1-19.  First – a review of the relevant verses:


"These are the statutes and the judgments which you shall observe to perform in the land which the Lord God of your fathers gives you to possess all the days that you live upon the land.  You shall surely destroy all the places where the nations whom you will drive out served their gods, upon the high mountains and upon the hills, and under every leafy tree.  You shall shatter their altars and break their monuments and burn their "asherim" with fire, and hew down the carvings of their gods, and destroy their name from that place.  You shall not do so to the Lord your God.  For to the place that the Lord your God will choose from among all of your tribes, to place His Name there – you shall seek out His dwelling place and you shall come there.  And you shall bring to there your burnt offerings and your sacrifices and your tithes and the offering of your hand, and your vows and your freewill offerings, and the firstlings of your cattle and your flocks.  You shall eat there before the Lord your God, and rejoice in all of your endeavors – you and your household – which the Lord your God has blessed.  You shall not do as all that we do here today – each person whatever he deems proper.  For you have not yet reached the rest and inheritance that the Lord your God gives you.  When you pass over the Jordan and dwell in the land which the Lord your God bequeaths to you, and He gives you rest from all your enemies about, that you may dwell in safety, then the place which the Lord your God will choose to cause His Name to rest there – to there you shall bring all that I command you; your burnt offerings and your sacrifices and your tithes and the offering of your hand, and all of your choice vows that you shall vow to God.  And you shall rejoice before the Lord your God – you and your sons and your daughters, and your man-servants and your maidservants, and the levite who is in your gates, for he has no portion and inheritance with you.  Guard yourself lest you offer your burnt offerings in every place that you see; only in the place which God will choose, in one of your tribes – there you shall offer your burnt offerings and there you shall do all that I command.  Although you may slaughter animals and eat their flesh to your heart's content, as the blessing of the Lord your God, which He gives you in all of your gates – the impure and the pure may eat of it, as the gazelle and the deer – only the blood shall you not eat; you shall pour it upon the ground like water.  You may not eat within your gates the tithes of your corn and wine and oil, or the firstlings of your cattle and your flocks, or your vows which you vow or your freewill offerings and the offering of your hands.  Only before the Lord your God shall you eat it, at the place which the Lord your God will choose – you and your son and your daughter, and your man-servant and your maidservant, and the levite who is in your gates – and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God in all your endeavor.  Guard yourself lest you abandon the levite all of your days upon your land."


Let us examine some of the points arising from this chapter:


A.  "In your gates" – The place that God will choose


            In this chapter, we find two expressions relating to different places: There is "in your gates," and there is "the place which God will choose."  The latter is a single place, and it is chosen by God.  "Gates," on the other hand, exist in every town and city; every town has its own character, every city its gates.  The gates are the point of entry to the city, and it is there that judicial proceedings are conducted.  In other words, we may say that the gates represent the city in which man lives and resides, as opposed to the place that God will choose – which is Jerusalem and the Temple; the city in which the Holy One chooses to dwell.


B.  "To place" – "To dwell"


            Within the chapter itself, there is a distinction between different expressions: "The place which God will choose to PLACE His Name there" (three appearances), and "The place that God will choose to MAKE HIS NAME DWELL there" (five appearances).


            Rashi (Devarim 12:5,11) distinguishes between "placing" – meaning a temporary, transient phenomenon, and "causing to dwell" – meaning a permanent dwelling of the Divine Presence.  It should be noted that this distinction is not universally accepted among all the commentators.  Nevertheless, according to Rashi's explanation, the reference in the expression "to place" would be to Gilgal, Nov, and Giv'on, which share similar characteristics and all of which represent the phenomenon of a temporary Sanctuary location.


            In all three cases, the Ark is not located in the Mishkan: in Gilgal this is because the nation is intensively occupied with wars of conquest, and the Ark goes out with them to battle.  In Nov and Giv'on the Ark is completely separate from the site of the Mishkan – first in Kiryat Anavim, and later on in the City of David.  A direct result of the absence of the Ark in the Mishkan is a situation in which bamot (altars outside the Temple) are permissible.  In Gilgal, Nov, and Giv'on bamot were indeed permitted [2].

In these senses, Gilgal, Nov, and Giv'on are different from the situation of the Mishkan in the desert, in Shilo, and in Jerusalem (First, Second and Third Temples).  According to the Ba'al ha-Turim (Bereishit 24:67), the Divine Presence resided in a total of eight places.  According to this calculation, we may posit that in three of these places the dwelling of the Divine Presence was more temporary in nature than in the other five [3].


C.  Significance of the choice


            In Devarim 12, the Torah explains the innovation of the concept of a "place that God will choose."  Many interpretations have been offered as to the significance of this concept in the chapter; we shall adopt here the explanation of Rav D. Hoffman.


Verses 2-3 deal with the obligation to destroy the places in which the Canaanites performed their idolatrous worship: "Upon the high mountains and upon the hills, and under every leafy tree." 

Verses 4-7 contrast Divine worship with the idolatry of the Canaanites: "You shall not do so to the Lord your God, but to the place which the Lord your God shall choose from among all your tribes, to place his Name there – you shall seek out His dwelling place and you shall come there."  It is specifically to this place that all sacrifices, offerings, and tithes must be brought.


            The point of the command here is that, in contrast to the pagans, who themselves choose the place where they perform their worship, the servants of God are commanded to sacrifice only at the place that God Himself will choose.


            In verses 8-14 the text addresses the prohibition of bamot – the prohibition against building an altar outside of the place that God will choose.  According to the details of the verses, there was an effective license for bamot while Israel encamped on the eastern side of the Jordan.  Here the emphasis is on the fact that there is only one place; not a multiplicity of places.  The one, single place testifies to and symbolizes the One God.


            In verses 15-18 we find a prohibition against the slaughter and consumption of sacrificial animals and their consumption outside of the Mishkan.  The uniqueness of this one place lies in the fact that any Divine worship related to sacrifices must be performed specifically here (the slaughter, the eating, etc.).


D.  What is "place"?


            What we deduce from verses 6-7 is that at the place that God will choose we eat consecrated foods of lesser sanctity and ma'aser sheni.  According to this conclusion, it turns out that in referring to the "place that God will choose" the Torah means not only the altar, the courtyard, or the Temple precinct, but rather Jerusalem as a whole [4].


E.  Exclusivity of Jerusalem


            The Torah explains that there will be a place that God will choose.  We need to clarify a fundamental point: does the Torah refer specifically to Jerusalem – a single place that is selected, with no replacements or alternatives – or does it mean that in every generation there is one place where the Mishkan rests, and this is called the "chosen place," even if this selection is not eternal?


            It would seem, from a review of the sources, that it is only in relation to Jerusalem that there is an explicit, detailed description of the selection of the place.  No such description exists with regard to any other of the places where the Mishkan rests.  In II Shemuel 24 and in I Divrei Ha-yamim 21, we find a description of the revelation of the site of the Temple in the threshing floor of Aravna the Jebusite.  In both sources the prophet tells David to build an altar there: "Gad came to David on that day and said to him: Erect an altar to God on the threshing floor of Aravna the Jebusite" (II Shemuel 24:18).  In Divrei Ha-yamim, the text adds that after David purchases the place from Aravna, he offers sacrifices: "David built there an altar go God, and he offered up burnt offerings and thanksgiving offerings, and he called upon God and He answered him with fire from heaven, upon the altar of the burnt offering" (verse 26).


            The prophet indicates the place where the altar should be built, thereby revealing to the King the Divine selection of the place [5].


            These expressions of Divine choice precede the discovery of its significance by David; it is only by virtue of the Divine choice that David chooses this place.  Such a choice exists only in the case of Jerusalem, therefore our thesis is that the expression, "the place which God will choose" is actually directed exclusively towards one special place – the city of Jerusalem.  The other stations where the Mishkan dwelled in the desert and in Eretz Yisrael were not chosen in advance by the Holy One with a view to resting His Presence there. [6].


F.  The status of Shilo


            According to the author of Seder Olam Rabba (as well as the Rambam, Laws of the Temple, 1:4) the Mishkan stood in Shilo for 369 years.  This is a very long period of time, starting in the days of Yehoshua (Chapter 18), including the entire period of the Judges and the life of Eli, up until its destruction (I Shemuel 4).  The Tanakh uses various names with reference to the Mishkan.  In Sefer Yehoshua, the prophet writes: "All the congregation of Bnei Yisrael gathered at Shilo, and they installed the OHEL MO'ED (Tent of Meeting) there, and the land was conquered before them" (Yehoshua 18:1), while in Shoftim we find: "They placed the carved image of Mikha, which he had made, all the days that GOD'S HOUSE (Beit Ha-Elokim) WAS IN SHILO" (Shoftim 18:31).  On one hand it is called a "tent"; on the other hand it is referred to as a "house."  Chazal, in the Mishna (Zevachim 14:6) resolve this contradiction: "When they came to Shilo, bamot were forbidden; there was no roof there, only a structure with stone beneath and curtains above, and there it rested."


            This being the case, Shilo was different from all the other stations of the Mishkan, in terms of both the length of time that the Mishkan rested there and the nature of the Mishkan structure [7].  Therefore, in the case of Shilo, we need to clarify whether this place, too, is considered as a "place that God will choose."


            Let us consider the Mishkan's move from Gilgal to Shilo.  The prophet declares (Yehoshua 18:1): "All the congregation of Bnei Yisrael gathered at Shilo, and they installed the Ohel Mo'ed there, and the land was conquered before them."  There is no description of the move itself no intervention by a prophet, no revelation, not even a consultation of the Urim ve-Tumim by Yehoshua and Elazar as to whether to move to Shilo.


            Thus it would seem, on the basis of a literal reading of the texts, that the selection of Shilo is not a Divine choice.  It appears to be a choice by Yehoshua, leader of the generation that entered the land.  So long as the wars of conquest were going on, the camp and the Mishkan remained in Gilgal, and at the end of each battle they were returned to Gilgal.  During the course of the settlement of the land the tribes of Yehuda, Ephraim, and half of the Tribe of Menashe settled on the mountain ridge.  Now, Yehoshua moved the camp and the Mishkan to Shilo, a central location on the mountain ridge within the inheritance of Ephraim, in order to move on, from this spot, with the settlement of the seven tribes that had not yet taken over their inheritance at Gilgal.  The Mishkan would now be located in the inheritance of the tribe of the nation's leader.  This point is of fundamental importance, since by means of the selection of this place a connection is created between the national leadership and the place of Divine worship, later consolidated as a connection between kingship and the Temple [8].  Hence it would seem that the transfer of the Mishkan to Shilo was the result of a choice made by Yehoshua, leader of the nation, rather than by God.


            An additional, apparent proof that Shilo is not the "place chosen by God" is provided in the Torah's stipulation (Devarim 12:11-12) that the selection of the place of the Divine Presence takes place after the inheritance of the land and a situation of rest from enemies [9]: "[When] You shall cross over the Jordan and dwell in the land which the Lord your God gives you, and He shall give you rest from all your enemies around, that you may dwell safely, then the place which the Lord your God will choose to make His Name dwell there – to there you shall bring all that I command you…."


            The completion of the conquest and inheritance, and a situation of rest from enemies, is a precondition to the Divine selection of the place.


            The Gemara (Sanhedrin 20b) reaches the conclusion that the annihilation of Amalek precedes the building of the Temple.  This conclusion is based both on the verses in Parashat Re'ei and on the situation described in the days of David.  The Rambam rules likewise in his Laws of Kings (1:2): "The annihilation of the descendants of Amalek precedes the building of the Temple, as it is written: It was, when the king dwelled in his house and God had given him rest all about from all his enemies, that the king said to Natan, the prophet: I dwell in a house of cedars….'"


            It is difficult to posit that when Yehoshua transferred the Mishkan to Shilo, the conquest was already complete, the division of land into tribal inheritances had concluded, and perfect rest had been attained.  The prophet himself testifies explicitly (Yehoshua 18:1-2): "All of the congregation of Bnei Yisrael gathered at Shilo, and they installed the Ohel Mo'ed there, and the land was conquered before them, but there remained of Bnei Yisrael seven tribes that had not yet divided up their inheritance." Hence we conclude that Shilo is not the place that God chooses.


            In contrast to the conclusion that would appear to arise from the literal text, Chazal nevertheless explain in several sources that Shilo is, in fact, to be considered as a "place that God will choose." 


            Commenting on Devarim 12:5, the Sifri notes: "One sources says, 'From one of your tribes' (14), while another reads 'From [among] all of your tribes (5).'  'From one of your tribes' – this refers to Shilo; 'From all of your tribes' – this is Jerusalem."


            Likewise, the Sifri comments on verse 9: "'To rest and inheritance' – 'inheritance' ('nachala') refers to Shilo, 'rest' ('menucha') is Jerusalem, as it is written (Tehillim 132), 'This is My resting place (menuchati) forever; here I shall dwell, for I have desired it' – according to Rabbi Shimon.  Rabbi Yehuda maintains the opposite."


            Likewise on Devarim 26:2 – "You shall go to the place which God will choose – this is Shilo and the Eternal House."

According to all of these sources, Shilo is indeed defined as a "place which God will choose."


            Hints to Chazal's view may be brought from two sources:

The prophet Yirmiyahu declares (7:12), "Go, then, to My place which is in Shilo, where I first caused My Name to dwell."  The expressions "My place" and "where I caused to dwell" point clearly to Devarim 12 – to 'the place which God will choose to cause His Name to dwell there."


            In Tehillim 78 we find: "He was greatly disgusted (va-yim'as) with Israel and He forsook the Mishkan in Shilo, the tent where He dwelled amongst men… and he rejected (va-yim'as) the tent of Yosef and did not choose the tribe of Ephraim, but he chose the tribe of Yehuda, Mount Zion, which He loved" (verses 59, 67).


            The expression "me'isa" (rejection, disgust) is apparently the opposite of "choosing"; hence, the rejection of the "tent of Yosef" can only take place only after the place has previously been chosen.  Likewise the phrase, "And did not choose the tribe of Ephraim" means that He no longer chose it – i.e., He chose it, and then ended this choice.


            This being the case, we conclude that Chazal regard Shilo, too, as a "place which God will choose."


            One possible way of understanding the discrepancy between the literal text and the view of Chazal focuses on the fact that Shilo is defined as "menucha" – rest, i.e., a temporary and imperfect reality.  The existence of such a reality gives rise to the question of whether it should be regarded as a "place that God chooses."  Perhaps the very reality of the Divine Presence resting in the same place for 369 years led Yirmiyahu, on the eve of the destruction of the First Temple, to compare Shilo to the Temple in Jerusalem, and to warn the nation that just as God had dwelled there but the place had nevertheless been destroyed, the same fate would await Jerusalem.


            In any event, we have noted the tension between the view supported by the literal reading of the sources, according to which – ideally – Shilo was not chosen, and the view of Chazal, who regard Shilo as a place that God did choose.


"Choosing" in the future tense [10]


            "The place which the Lord your God will choose" – the Torah chooses to formulate the Divine choice in the future tense.  There are different ways of understanding this:


1.                    We may understand that the significance of this form of the verb, "will choose," is like the present perfect – i.e., something that starts in the present and continues into the future, as in "it does not have a cloven hoof" (lit. "it will not have a cloven hoof") (Vayikra 11:5).

2.                    We may explain that God has indeed already chosen the place, but only in the future will He reveal His choice.

3.                    Simply, as far back as the Akeida (Bereishit 22) the Torah relates to the choice of the place by the very fact that God commands Avraham to go there.  This being the case, the place is already chosen, and there is even a hint that this place will serve in the future as a pilgrimage site; all that remains is to reveal the choice.  There are sources in Chazal that indicate that the Divine choice of this place dates back to the Creation of the world, by pointing to sacrifices offered at Mount Moriah by Adam, Kayin and Hevel as well as Noach.  According to this view, the site was certainly chosen much earlier.

But still, the literal text in the Torah is telling us that God has not yet selected the place.  We may explain that the story of the Akeida and the midrashim of Chazal testify to the unique and special nature of the place, but the actual choice of it had not yet been made.

4.  The choice has truly not yet been made [11].  The reason for this would be that God chooses to leave room in this matter, too, for human choice.

In this vein the Ramban explains, on the commandment to appoint a king (Devarim 17:15): "My opinion, based on the literal text, is that the reason for [the Torah saying] will choose is because anyone who rules over nations is [put in that position] by God.  Thus they said: Even the person appointed over a well is appointed there by God.  Thus, when the Torah says, 'You shall surely appoint over yourselves a king' – whoever it turns out to be, is Divinely appointed to rule, and all in accordance with the literal text: 'the place which the Lord your God will choose' – ANYWHERE THAT THEY BUILD THE TEMPLE TO GOD – IT WILL ALL REFLECT GOD'S WILL."

If the Ramban is correct here, then there is no fixed place that is determined in advance by God.  Rather, when the Temple will actually be built in a certain place, it will be revealed that it was the will of God [13].  In other words, reality itself will clarify which place God chooses.  Theoretically, then, it could turn out to be any place that is determined by Bnei Yisrael, on condition that the Temple is actually built there.

5.  God leaves the choice in human hands, and this in no way lessens its Divine choice.


Just as in spiritual concepts there is an interplay of "segula" (the inherent positive and negative properties) and "bechira" (free choice of good and evil), so too, here man's free choice actually reveals the inherent uniqueness of the place.  And, miraculously, man indeed succeeds, in his choice, in choosing the place that is inherently unique [12].  What arises from this is that there is indeed a real, tangible choice, not a pseudo-choice: man does indeed choose, and God does not establish or reveal the place until man reaches it.  This also arises from the prophetic description of the selection of the place by David, in the episode of the threshing floor of Aravna the Jebusite.  It would seem that this is also the intention of the Midrash in the Sifri, on the verse, "You shall seek out His dwelling place and you shall come there": "Can you wait until you are told by a prophet? [No, therefore] we are told; 'Seek and find it, and then the prophet will tell you…."  This is what happened in the case of David, who sought and found the place, and who then received confirmation from the prophet.


            There are different ways of explaining why God waits for human endeavors to come first. From the Sifri it would appear that Bnei Yisrael need to seek the place of the Temple.  This apparently arises from the fact that the essence of the place is closeness between God and the nation of Israel. Therefore, God waits for an awakening of longing and closeness on the part of the nation, and only afterwards does He, for His part, reveal the site of the Temple.


            The Rambam explains that the reason that the place is not revealed until Am Yisrael seeks it is based on God's desire for unity amongst the nation.  Only from amidst unity of Am Yisrael is the Divine revelation and choice of the place made possible.


            Another reason for this order is proposed by the Radak.  He explains that the Divine choice of the place is dependent upon the consolidation of the earthly kingdom of Israel.  The kingship of Israel is God's throne in the world; therefore it is only on this basis that the revelation of God's Kingship is made possible [14].


            In the wake of the king's arousal to reveal the place and its chosenness, God, for His part, indeed chooses that place.  But the full choice is actually expressed only in the time of Shelomo [15].


Selection of the city


            The last question that we shall address in the present shiur relates to the actual selection of the city.  Why does the Holy One have any need to or interest in choosing a city? The Torah admittedly tells us that the purpose of the choice is in order "to put His Name there," or to "cause His Name to dwell there" (Devarim 12:5,11).  But the question remains – why must the chosen place necessarily be a city?


            We find special attention to this question – not in the verses themselves, but in the words of Chazal and the Rishonim.


            In order to understand this issue, let us briefly explore the concept of "choice" in the Torah.


Choice of man


            In several places the Torah tells us that various people are chosen:


Choice of Israel: "For you are a holy nation to the Lord your God, and God has chosen you to be for Him a chosen nation from among all the nations that are upon the face of the earth" (Devarim 14:2, and Devarim 7:6, etc.).


Choice of the kohanim: "This shall be the allotment to the kohanim from the nation… for the Lord your God has chosen him from among all your tribes, to stand and serve in the Name of God – he and his sons, all the days" (Devarim 18:3, and also 21:5) [16].


Choice of David and Shelomo [17]: "The God of Israel chose me from all of my father's house to be king over Israel forever, for He chose Yehuda as ruler, and out of the house of Yehuda – my father's house, and out of my father's house – it is I that He wanted to coronate over all of Israel.  And of all my children – for God has given me many children – He chose Shelomo, my son, to sit upon the throne of God's Kingship over Israel" (I Divrei Ha-yamim 28:4-5).  The selection involves David and Shelomo, and this is the permanent establishment of the kingship of the house of David.


In other words, on the level of choosing people, we find that there is a choice of Israel, of the kohanim, and of the dynasty of kingship.


Choice of place


            When it comes to chosen places, the Torah mentions "the place that God will choose."  In the Books of the Prophets and the other Writings, the concept of choice of place is reserved for the city of Jerusalem, Zion [18], and – on one occasion – the Temple [19]. 


            It is interesting that Tanakh makes no mention of the choice of Eretz Yisrael [20].  The choice of place actually relates exclusively to the city of Jerusalem.


            Let us examine the contexts in which we find reference to "choosing" in relation to Jerusalem:


-                   In Shelomo's prayer, at the inauguration of the Temple, mention is made of the selection of the city twice (I Melakhim 8:16,44,48).

-                   In the encounter between Achiya ha-Shiloni and Yerav'am (I Melakhim 11, 12, 32,36), emphasis is placed on the fact that Jerusalem has been chosen, and therefore it is out of the question for Yerav'am to choose an alternative site for Divine service, with a splitting of the kingdom.

-                   In the context of the kingship of Rechav'am (I Melakhim 14:21)

-                   In the rejection of the city in the days of Menasheh (II Melakhim 23:27).

-                   In the context of the destruction of the city we also find mention of its chosenness: "He placed the carved image of the asheira which he had made in the house concerning which God had told David and Shelomo, his son: In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen from all the tribes of Israel, I shall place My Name, forever" (II Melakhim 21:7 and II Divrei Ha-yamim 33:30).

-                   Zekharia recounts twice the renewed selection of the city in the days of the return to Zion from the Babylonian exile, after its rejection in the destruction of the Temple (for example, 1:17; 2:16; 3:2).


What arises clearly from these sources is that only the city of Jerusalem and the Temple were chosen.  Let us return, then, to our question: why is it necessary that specifically a city be chosen; what is special about its selection?


The city as an expression of the "Camp of Israel"


            The key to answering our question may be found in the Gemara, in Zevachim 116b:


"Like the camp in the desert – so was the layout in Jerusalem.  From Jerusalem to the Temple Mount was the Camp of Israel; from the Temple Mount to Nicanor's Gate was the Camp of the Levites, and from there onwards (inwards) was the Camp of the Divine Presence; these were the same divisions as existed in the desert."


In light of the Gemara, the Rambam rules (Laws of the Temple 7:11): "There were three camps in the desert: the Camp of Israel – which consisted of four parts; and the Levite camp – as it is written, 'there and around the Mishkan they shall encamp'; and the Camp of the Divine Presence, which extends from the opening of the courtyard of the Ohel Mo'ed, inwards.  Correspondingly, for all future generations: [the area extending] from the entrance to Jerusalem until the Temple Mount [is considered] like the Camp of Israel; from the entrance to the Temple Mount to the entrance of the courtyard, at Nicanor's Gate is considered like the Levite camp, and from the entrance to the courtyard inwards is the Camp of the Divine Presence.  Thus Jerusalem, the city, surrounds the Temple Mount, which surrounds the courtyard."


            Jerusalem, in contrast to the site of the Temple, is a city.  A city is fundamentally a profane place, a place where everyday life is carried out in full: the dirt, the impurity, the desires, the lusts, family life, work relations, cultural life, recreation, etc.  The city gives expression to all spheres of life in the fullest sense, with all of their components.  The message inherent in the choice of a city is that such a place – where all aspects of life are manifest – becomes, through choice, a place of holiness.


            The uniqueness of Jerusalem lies in the fact that at its heart stands the Temple, and its influence is felt throughout the city.  We arrive at the same conclusion from the definition of Jerusalem for the purposes of eating consecrated foods (Mishna in Kelim 1:5 and onwards): "Inwards from the wall is a higher degree of sanctity… and what is its sanctity? That consecrated foods of lesser sanctity, as well as ma'aser sheni, may be eaten there." The "consecrated foods of lesser sanctity" are sacrifices that were offered upon the altar and which may thereafter be consumed anywhere throughout the city.  The city of Jerusalem draws its character from the Temple at its heart.


Chazal teach that the procedure for enlarging the borders of Jerusalem requires the Sanhedrin, the Urim ve-Tumim, and other conditions.  The significance of this is that the enlarging of the borders actually entails an extension of its sanctity, and this procedure obviously is then subject to special conditions.


            In this context the Rambam's view is very interesting.  The Mishna in Rosh Ha-shana (4:1) teaches: "In the event that the holiday of Rosh Ha-shana fell on Shabbat, they would sound [the shofar] in the Temple, but not throughout the country."


            The Rambam explains, in his Commentary on the Mishnayot, "We have already explained on several occasions that 'the Temple' refers to all of Jerusalem, while 'the country' refers to the rest of Eretz Yisrael." (Likewise in the Commentary on the Mishnayot on Ma'aser Sheni 3,4 and Shekalim 1,3 and Sukka 3,10).


            In other words, according to the Rambam, Jerusalem as a whole is defined as "the Temple."  The influence of the Temple on Jerusalem is so great, that for certain purposes the city itself is called the Temple.


            If this is so, God chooses the city in order to turn a place of natural life into a place of sanctity.  In the chosen city, profane everyday life is elevated to its source and refined.  We may say that in effect Jerusalem reveals the choice of Israel as a "kingdom of priests and a holy nation."  It is as though the selection of the kohanim spreads to include the entire camp of Israel, as represented in Jerusalem.


The city as the dwelling place of kingship


            The selection of a city, specifically, may also be explained in another way.


            In several places we find that the prophets link the selection of Jerusalem to the selection of David.  In II Divrei Ha-yamim 6:5-6 we read, "From the day when I took My nation out of the land of Egypt I have not chosen any city from among all the tribes of Israel, to build a house that My Name may be there; nor have I chosen any man to be ruler over My nation, Israel.  But I have chosen Jerusalem, for My Name to be there, and I have chosen David, to be over My nation, Israel" [21].


            When the prophet discusses the splitting of the kingdom, he tells Shelomo (I Melakhim 11:13), "But I shall not tear away all of the kingdom; I shall give one tribe to your son, for the sake of David, My servant, and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen."  The significance of the parallel is that, in fact, God makes a choice that is connected to the kingship of the house of David.  The city represents the kingship of Israel, and the kingship of Israel is actually God's throne in the world (I Divrei Ha-yamim 29:23 – 'Shelomo sat upon the throne of God, as king").


            On the basis of the connection between the selection of Jerusalem and the kingship of Israel, we may say that the choice of the city is meant to facilitate the revelation of the Kingship of God through the agency of the earthly kingdom, with its capital – Jerusalem.  Kingship is the vessel through which God reveals Himself to the nation, and hence the parallel between the selection of the city and the selection of the kingship of the house of David is an important one.  Jerusalem is an earthly capital city – a city of kingship, which facilitates a more perfect revelation of God's Kingship, and this is the reason for its selection.


            What arises from all of the above is that, in a certain sense, all of the choices and selections that God makes are included in Jerusalem: Israel, the priesthood, and the kingship.  And it is specifically via the city that a full manifestation of God's Kingship and His sanctity is facilitated.




            In this shiur we discussed the issue of the choice of the place.  We examined the appearances of the expression "the place that God will choose" – what the word "place" includes, the significance of the choice, the status of Shilo, and why the Torah formulates this choice in the future tense.


            Our principal hypothesis was that the Divine selection is formulated as a future act in order to leave room for human effort and endeavor.  In other words, God selects the place by virtue of the actions of Am Yisrael.  God waits, as it were, for seeking and action on the part of Am Yisrael, and only by virtue of this will God choose the place in which to rest His Presence.


            This principle entrusts Am Yisrael with a great responsibility and awards much weight to their actions which facilitate, as it were, and invite the Divine choice.  We explained the importance of human action preceding the Divine choice on the basis of various ideals: seeking the place, unity, or kingship.  Even when it comes to the place that, more than anywhere else symbolizes God's Presence in the world, the Divine choice waits for human action – as evidenced in practice in the days of David.


            In the coming shiurim, we shall address the topography of Jerusalem and its significance, as background to the inheritance of Binyamin serving as the site of the Divine Presence.



[1] It is interesting that the Rambam, in his treatment of the commandment to build the Temple. (Laws of the Temple 1:1), brings as the source of the commandment the verse in Parashat Teruma "They shall make me a Sanctuary (Temple) that I may dwell in their midst" (Shemot 65:8), but when he relates to the commandment to build the Temple in his Laws of Kings, he brings as the source of the commandment the verse in Parashat Re'ei: "You shall seek His dwelling place and you shall come there" (Devarim 12:5).  From this we may deduce that from the halakhic perspective, too, there are two mutually complementary issues: the construction of the Mishkan and the Temple, as discussed in the Laws of the Temple, and the Divine choice of the site where it is to be situated – as discussed in the Laws of Kings.

[2] This is an extremely interesting subject.  The Meshekh Chokhma, in his commentary on Devarim 12:5, elaborates at length, bringing various sources and discussing them in light of biblical texts.  Inter alia, he quotes the Yerushalmi in Megilla (1:12): "R. Yissa said in the name of R. Yochanan – This is a sign: so long as the Ark is inside (the Mishkan) – the bamot are forbidden; if it comes out – bamot are permitted.  R. Zeira asked before R. Yissa: even for a year, such as with Eli." There is a clear connection between the presence of the Ark inside the Mishkan, and the prohibition of bamot, because the Ark expresses God's Throne in the world.  When He has a clear, designated place, there is no possibility of serving Him in any other place.  When there is no place that God has chosen to make His Name rest there, we may serve Him in every place.  We shall not elaborate further here.

[3] Yona Krieger writes an interesting article on this subject, Shema'atin 111 up to 13 and onwards, where he elaborates on further aspects in addition to those that we have discussed above.

[4] The Mishna in Kelim (1:6 onwards), defines Jerusalem as "inside the wall," where consecrated foods of lesser sanctity and ma'aser sheni may be eaten.

[5] It is interesting that the Divine selection concerns the place of the altar, rather than of the Sanctuary or the Holy of Holies.  When the Rambam discusses the issue of the site he says: "The place of the altar is very precise, and it is never moved from its place, as it is written: 'This is the altar of burnt offerings for Israel' (Laws of the Temple 2, 1).  The verse that the Rambam brings as proof for this law is taken from the text in question (I Divrei Ha-yamim I 22:1): "David said, This is the House of the Lord God, and this is the altar of burnt offerings for Israel."  It would seem that it is specifically the altar, supreme expression of human service, that must be orientated and built with great precision in accordance with the Divine choice.  And according to the Rambam, the sanctity of the place assumes validity in the wake of human activity.  We shall not elaborate further here.

[6] It is interesting to note that in the period of the return to Eretz Yisrael from the Babylonian exile, the Gemara notes (Zevachim 62a) that "Three prophets arose with them from the exile… one of them to testify as to the place of the altar."

[7] Radak, in his commentary on II Divrei Ha-yamim 6, writes: "Shilo and Nov and Giv'on were not eternal, for they were not the 'place that was chosen,' as it is written: 'To the place which God will choose' – for that place is Mount Moriah, where Avraham bound Yitzchak, his son, and called it 'Hashem Yir'eh,' and he said, 'On the mountain God will see' – for on that mountain [God's Presence] would be seen for all future generations.  And David, when he saw that he was answered and that God sent down fire from the heaven onto his burnt offerings, then he knew that this was the chosen place, and he said: 'This is the house of God, and this is the altar of burnt offerings for Israel.'" The Siftei Chakhamim, commenting on Rashi on Devarim 12:14, writes: "Nowhere do we find that God chooses any place other than Jerusalem; the other places – such as Gilgal and Giv'on and Nov and Shilo – were chosen by Bnei Yisrael themselves."  The Netziv, in Emek ha-Netziv on Sifri Re'ei (piska 10, end of page 94b) likewise writes: "We find no evidence that the above resting places [of the Mishkan] were determined by word of a prophet."

[8] The structure of the Mishkan at Shilo was an intermediate one. On one hand, it was no longer the Mishkan of the desert and of Gilgal, which consisted of wooden planks and curtains.  On the other hand, it was not the permanent Temple structure in Jerusalem, built from stone.  It was a structure whose lower portion was stone, as in the permanent Temple, and whose upper portion was curtains – as in the Mishkan of the desert.  This structure embodies great symbolism. It reflects the situation of the period of the judges in both political and spiritual terms. On one hand – stronger than during the period of Yehoshua; on the other hand – not yet permanently established and stable, as in the period of the established monarchy.

[9]During the period of Yehoshua, the Mishkan was in Shilo, in the portion of Ephraim (Chapter 18 onwards).  During the reign of Shaul, the Mishkan was located in Nov (portion of Binyamin), and during the reign of David the Mishkan resided in Giv'on, also in the portion of Binyamin.  David brought up the Ark to the City of David.  Concerning the border between Binyamin and Yehuda, Chazal explain (Yoma 12a) that a strip of territory extended from Yehuda into the territory of Binyamin, where the Temple stood, to show the connection between the tribe of royalty and the Temple.  This close connection between the place of leadership and the place of Divine service is expressed explicitly in Tehillim 78:67-69: "He rejected the tent of Yosef, and did not choose the tribe of Ephraim; He chose the tribe of Yehuda; Mount Zion, which He loved.  And He built His Temple like the high heavens, establishing it like the earth, forever.  And He chose David, His servant, and took him from the sheepfolds…."  Likewise, several sources speak of the unbreakable bond between King David and the city of Jerusalem - and the Divine choice of both of them; in I Melakhim I 11:32-34, Achiya ha-Shiloni tells Yerav'am about the impending split of the kingdom with the following words: 'One tribe will be his, for the sake of David, My servant, and for the sake of Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen from among all the tribes of Israel."  God's expectation of Yerav'am was that he would lead and rule over the ten tribes, but continue, obviously, to serve God in the one and only Temple in Jerusalem; in the permanent and established place representing the connection between David's kingship and the Kingship of God.  But Yerav'am, on the basis of that same principle, exploited the situation so as to divide not only political leadership but also the place of worship, in clear violation of the prophecy emphasizing the eternal selection of Jerusalem and of the royalty of the house of David.  This episode is a good demonstration of the tension inherent in the connection between kingship and Temple, between leadership and Divine service.  We shall not elaborate further here.


            One of the verses that expresses this principle in the most explicit way is uttered by Shelomo, at the consecration of the First Temple (II Divrei Ha-yamim 6:5): "From the day when I took My nation out of the land of Egypt, I have not chosen any city from among all of the tribes of Israel to build a house, that My Name may be there; not have I chosen any person to be ruler over May people, Israel."  This fundamental connection between the place of kingship and the place of the Divine Presence is a broad subject to which we will devote a future shiur.

[10] This proof is brought from a beautiful article by my colleague, Itamar Nitzan: "The Status of Beit-El up until the Selection of Jerusalem," Alon Shevut, vol. 162, Nissan 5763, p. 115.

[11] The starting point of the discussion is that the Torah speaks in human terms.  Obviously, the dimension of time does not apply to God at all.

[12] According to this understanding, it is quite clear why there is no-one who raises the possibility of identifying Beit-El as the "place that God will choose."  Despite our assertion, in the first few shiurim, that Beit-El was undoubtedly the Sanctuary of the forefathers – the place concerning which Yaakov states that God reveals Himself there, the place where the ladder stands joining heaven and earth, the place of the monument and the altar, the place of all the ingredients of a Sanctuary which the forefathers establish quite naturally.  But Beit-El is not a place that GOD CHOOSES.  This place gives no expression to the choice of Israel, and the fact that Yerav'am places one of his calves in Beit-El in no way turns this into a place that God chooses.  Moreover, Beit-El is located on the border between Rachel's sons, Yosef (Ephraim) and Binyamin, unlike Jerusalem, which is located in between Yehuda and Binyamin, thereby uniting the children of Rachel and the children of Leah.

[13] A sort of path of "knowing and choosing."

[14] We have discussed here only the briefest essence of these views, because we elaborated on them at length in the fourth shiur, which addressed the question of why Jerusalem is not mentioned by name, explicitly, in the Torah.

[15] We shall devote a separate shiur in the future to the details of the process of the selection of the city and the Temple.

[16] The selection of the kohanim, and of Aharon in particular, is mentioned explicitly in the context of the rebellion of Korach and his company.  There, the whole episode turns on the concept of the choice of Aharon, and the recognition by Korach and the entire nation of this fact.

[17] Choice is also manifest in the process of their anointment as king (for example Shaul – I Shemuel 10:24; David – I Shemuel 16:8-10; Shelomo – I Divrei Ha-yamim  28:5,10; 29:1).

[18] Tehillim 132:13 – "For God has chosen Zion, He has desired it for His seat."

[19] II Divrei Ha-yamim 7:16 – "Now I have chosen and sanctified this House that My Name may be there forever, and My eyes and My heart will be there all the days."

[20] Tehillim 47:5 hints at the selection of Eretz Yisrael: "He chooses our inheritance for us; the pride of Yaakov, whom He loves – sela."

[21] In its parallel reading, in I Melakhim I 8:16, the selection of the city is dependent on the king's choice.  This matter requires further elaboration, but we shall not undertake it here.


Translated by Kaeren Fish