Friday, August 29, 2008

Table Talk - Re'eh 5768: God's Place

In no less than five places in Chapter 12, Moshe refers to the“place which the Lord your God shall choose.” (see verses 5, 11, 14, 18 and 21):
כִּי אִם-אֶל-הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר-יִבְחַר ה' אֱלֹהֵיכֶם, מִכָּל-שִׁבְטֵיכֶם, לָשׂוּם אֶת-שְׁמוֹ, שָׁם--לְשִׁכְנוֹ תִדְרְשׁוּ, וּבָאתָ שָּׁמָּה.

וְהָיָה הַמָּקוֹם, אֲשֶׁר-יִבְחַר ה' אֱלֹהֵיכֶם בּוֹ לְשַׁכֵּן שְׁמוֹ שָׁם--שָׁמָּה

כִּי אִם-בַּמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר-יִבְחַר ה', בְּאַחַד שְׁבָטֶיךָ--שָׁם, תַּעֲלֶה עֹלֹתֶיךָ

כִּי אִם-לִפְנֵי ה' אֱלֹקיךָ תֹּאכְלֶנּוּ, בַּמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר יִבְחַר יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בּוֹ

כִּי-יִרְחַק מִמְּךָ הַמָּקוֹם, אֲשֶׁר יִבְחַר ה' אֱלֹקיךָ לָשׂוּם שְׁמוֹ שָׁם
The appearance of such similar language in such close proximity is striking. Clearly Moshe places great emphasis on "the place", so much so that if forms a central them in Parshat Re'eh.
What is this unnamed place that Moshe repeatedly refers to in the Torah? Midrash Sifrei (on Devarim 72:5) answers based on the rest of the verse: לשכנו תדרשו ובאת שמה -- “unto His habitation shall you seek.” You seek and find, and then the prophet will tell you. This is what we find with King David [who sought out the Temple Mount in Jerusalem]. And how do we know that he followed the instructions of the prophet? As it is written, '[The prophet] Gad came to David on that day and said to him, Go up, build an altar unto the LORD in the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite,' the location of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem today.,
It's fascinating to me that in the tradition of the Midrash, Yerushalayim is not something that God chooses unilaterally and we accept. If He had done so, it would have been fine with us. But that's not the case. It must be a place "that we seek" together with God. It's not a one-way street. It's a partnership between God and the Jewish people. Sure, he shows us the place, but we must seek it, build it and establish it as His holy city.