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Understanding The Place That God Did Choose

August 29, 2014

The expression “the place the Lord shall choose” as reference to the Sanctuary first occurs at the beginning of Parashath R’ei (Deuteronomy 12), and is then used dozens of subsequent times. This is notable in that the previous books of the Torah referred to the tabernacle of the desert as specifically being “the tent of meeting” or the “tabernacle,” and it is implied elsewhere in Exodus and Leviticus that the tabernacle will one day be superseded by a (permanent?) “temple (lit. house) of the Lord thy God” (Exodus 23:19 and 34:26) which would have the status of the tabernacle.

What was Moses trying to tell us by using such a complicated and lengthy term, “the place He shall choose”? Perhaps, as suggested by some commentators, Moses is alluding to the law that the sanctuary would eventually require a permanent location, unlike the desert tabernacle. The Hizquni offers that no place was specified by the Torah because the sanctuary would be housed in a number of locations, like Shiloh and Nov.

Why use the language of b’hira, choice, and why is that in the future tense?

First let us begin to understand what choice and choseneness mean when applied elsewhere in the Bible. I could identify three chosen beings aside from the place of the Temple. The patriarchs, Aaron and the Levites, and David were all chosen by God for some higher purposes: The patriarchs were chosen to found God’s nation, Aaron and the Levites were chosen to serve in the sanctuary , and David was chosen to rule the people. In all of these examples, our sages explained that up until they were chosen, the potential to be chosen , to rise to the occasion  and merit to to be chosen, was open to all. Before the advent of Abraham, any person who would have recognized the Creator on his own and begin to preach ethical monotheism would have been chosen. As the sages said, Abraham came and claimed all of the reward. Before Aaron and the Levites demonstrated their conviction and commitment to God’s service, the priesthood (in the more general sense) was open to any firstborn. Before David, the Kingship could have been granted to any other Jewish leader. In this light, it seems that before David and the prophet set themselves to the task of locating the the place of the Temple, there was some uncertainty as to whether Jerusalem was to be chosen. The sages discuss how others, like Doeg, considered other locations to be superior candidates. Or, one could make an argument, as later generations did, and based on early allusions in Genesis, that Beth-El or Sh’chem were the chosen places. Jerusalem was thus “chosen” at some point in David’s lifetime.

This understanding is incomplete for two reasons:

1. With regards to the chosen people I enumerated, they actually did something to excel and earn distinction, whereas, Jerusalem did nothing (in the active sense) to suddenly merit being chosen.

2. It seems from many midrashic traditions that Jerusalem had been designated as the place for the Temple since creation, e.g., that Adam had been created from the dust of the altar, and both Adam and Noah had already used the place for sacrifice. Maimonides goes so far as to argue that all of the patriarchs and the leading prophets starting with Moses were aware that Jerusalem was the place of the Temple all along, but the matter was kept a secret so that the tribes would not fight each other in determining whose portion would include Jerusalem and so that the gentile nations would not increase their efforts in preventing the Jews to control Jerusalem, as eventually happened once the knowledge did became widespread and as continues to this very day.

A friend then suggested that the term b’hira in the case of Jerusalem means that eventually a prophet would come and declare the place as worthy, but not that the place was suddenly “chosen” in the sense a human would choose something. This suggestion is supported by verses from the Book of Kings and the later prophets, which describe Jerusalem as having been chosen, in the past tense, after Solomon completed the construction of the Temple. However, the term b’hira also typically implies that there were other options, and as such, it would might be appropriate to use other terms for the act of the prophet declaring the divine will in cases such as these. For example, l’haqdish, to sanctify or dedicate, which is also used with regards to the Temple and the Jerusalem, heiratzuth, as in nirtza, meaning pleased with an offering.

Another friend then suggested that b’hira in the case of Jerusalem does involve other options before the fact: By the prophet declaring the place chosen he was also excluding any other place, although those places might not have been such hefty competition. That is, although Jerusalem was unlike the chosen people listed above in that it did not make certain choices that demonstrated its qualifications above the others, it was similar to them in the fact that once they were “chosen”, no one else could replace them. The Jewish People, the Kohanim and L’wiyim, and the Davidic line will never be replaced. So too, Jerusalem was “chosen” in the sense that once it was designated as the place of the Temple, no other place would every be fit for the Temple.

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