Preparing the Jewish people for their entry into the Promised Land, Moses paints a harmonious picture of one place where all will gather to celebrate and serve G‑d:
And you shall cross the Jordan and settle in the land the L‑rd, your G‑d, is giving you as an inheritance… And it will be, that the place the L‑rd, your G‑d, will choose in which to establish His Name there you shall bring all that I am commanding you: Your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, your tithes, and the separation by your hand, and the choice of vows which you will vow to the L‑rd. And you shall rejoice before the L‑rd, your G‑d you and your sons and your daughters and your menservants and your maidservants, and the Levite who is within your cities.1
The pilgrim festivals are central to this portion. The Torah commands us how and with whom to celebrate, but there is a glaring omission: although mentioned more than 10 times in the parshah, “the place the L‑rd your G‑d will choose” is left unnamed.
Moses spent 40 years teaching Torah and passing on the mitzvot with intricate detail. He transmitted the highly detailed laws of the sacrifices, including everything from which types of animals may be used to the location on the Temple where the animals should be offered. Yet the place where all this would happen is undisclosed. Why did Moses keep the location of the spiritual capital a secret? Why does the name of the city where the Holy Temple will be built remain a mystery?
Maimonides suggests three possibilities:
If the surrounding nations would know the future site of the Holy Temple, they would fortify the place with their strongest armies in an effort to stymie Jewish worship there.
If the current residents of the Temple Mount would realize the spiritual significance the place has to the Jewish people, they would do all they could to destroy and deface it.
The third reason (which Maimonides favors as the “strongest”) is that the Temple mount is in the portion of Judah and Benjamin. If the other tribes would know that it would not be in their portion, they would begin to quarrel over that spot, each one wishing to host G‑d in their own territory. G‑d solved this problem by only revealing His chosen location after Israel was ruled by a king who would be able to maintain peace even as some tribes were elevated over others.2
A more spiritual answer can be found in the verse where the phrase “the place the L‑rd, your G‑d, will choose” is used for the first time:
But only to the place which the L‑rd, your G‑d, shall choose from all your tribes, to set His Name there; you shall seek His presence and come there.3
“You shall seek His presence,” says the Torah. G‑d will choose Jerusalem only after the people themselves choose a place they feel is appropriate for His home. Only the Jew, who is part and parcel of the physical reality, can create a permanent dwelling place for G‑d in this physical world. Only after King David chose the site of Jerusalem, did G‑d, through the prophet, agree with the choice, establishing Jerusalem, and the Temple Mountain, as the spiritual capital of the world.
The holiness of every place G‑d chose for Divine revelation was temporary. The physical location of Mount Sinai, for example, did not retain its holiness. The one place chosen by humans (who did not wait for a sign from on high, but fulfilled the command to “seek His presence”) was the place that achieved permanent and everlasting holiness.
What is the lesson for us? To become the person we want to be, we cannot wait for inspiration from above. Inspiration alone will not change us for the better, unless we choose to get involved, to become a partner, to contribute to the effort, to do our part to “seek His presence.” G‑d will choose to send you Divine inspiration and success, but it will have a permanent effect only after you do your part in building your spiritual Jerusalem.4
1. Deuteronomy 12:10-12.
2.Guide to the Perplexed, 3:45
4.Inspired by the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Likutei Sichot vol. 30 p. 120.