Parshat Re’eh: Why is Jerusalem Chosen?

Sara and Rabbi Mark Fishman are former Straus-Amiel shlichim in Montreal, Canada, where Mark served as a Senior Rabbi at Congregation Beth Tikvah

Sara and Rabbi Mark Fishman e1690706242846

In Parshat Re’eh we are told that three times a year the Jewish People are to come to the “place that He [God] will choose”. We are taught that the people are to offer their sacrifices and celebrate “before Hashem” (Devarim 16:16). Ask any school child which ‘place’ is being referred to and they will easily tell you that the verse refers to the city of Jerusalem. Yet upon further inspection it is not at all clear that this location is so easily identified.

Further, assuming that the verse is speaking about Jerusalem, why does the Torah not spell this out explicitly? In other words, why does the Torah not mention the future capital? Indeed, Jerusalem is not mentioned once anywhere in the Torah. This leads one to wonder: Why in fact was Jerusalem chosen as the capital in the first place?

A number of theories are put forward by the classic commentators. Perhaps Jerusalem was chosen as the capital due to topographical considerations. The larger city of Jerusalem is built on two hills, the lower and the upper. This gave the city a natural protection on the one hand, and due to the proximity of the Gichon Spring, access to the city’s water needs.

The Rambam proffers a novel interpretation in his Guide for the Perplexed (Book 3; Ch. 45). He suggests that had the nations of world known the special status Jerusalem would be elevated to they would battle violently to control it, or alternatively, he suggests that they would have completely destroyed it, thus preventing others from having it.

In an opposite approach, Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim Luntschitz in his famed Kli Yakar (published 1602) writes that Hashem deliberately keeps the choice of Jerusalem a secret lest the Jewish people would come to belittle the previous locations of where the Mishkan temporarily settled. The cities of Gilgal, Shiloh, Nov and Givon are all elevated today by their mere association with the Mishkan. Had Jerusalem been given its pride of place at the outset, these cities would have been considered insignificant.

The Malbim (Rabbi Meir Leibush Weiser, d.1879) writes that Jerusalem was chosen as the capital for purely political considerations. In an effort to unite the tribes into one consolidated and unified nation, in particular Yehuda and Binyamin, King David needed to choose a neutral territory[1]. Jerusalem did not belong to any particular tribe and as such could belong to all of them.

The above three approaches all seem to give practical and pragmatic reasons for Jerusalem’s chosen status. Yet did it not already gain status in the eyes of the nation due to its importance in the era of the Avot? Perhaps not! The Avot set up multiple altars in a variety of locations including Shechem (Bereishit 12:6 and 33:18), Beit El (Bereishit 28 and 35:1), Hevron (Bereishit 13:18) and Beer Sheva (Bereishit 21:33). These locations are seemingly the spiritual centres of the land in the period of the Avot. True, the Binding of Yitzhak will take place in Jerusalem, yet the Torah never spells this out explicitly. In a nod to the general geographic location we are told about: “one of the mountains”, in the “land of Moryiah[2]”.

The reasons for Jerusalem to be chosen as the capital are thus varied. However, the considerations of the above commentators hint that each reason is not necessarily mutually exclusive but rather complimentary. Be it political, topographical or to avoid scorn (either the gentile nations or the tribes towards the earlier locations of the Mishkan). What we are left with is the understanding the Jerusalem can serve as a place of unity. A location of great natural gifts and a city of strength. No wonder that King David will write of this place: Jerusalem is a city built up and united together (Tehillim 122:3). May we continue to marvel at our incredible capital and as the verse concludes: “May we give thanks to the name of God” (ibid. 4).

[1] However, see the Talmud Bavli, Yoma 12a and Avot DeRebbi Natan, Ch. 35 for additional opinions as to whether Jerusalem was divided equally among all of the tribes, whether it was split between Binyamin and Yehuda only, or perhaps was owned by no one. For a fuller treatment see Yisrael Ta-Shma’s article: מעמד ירושלים בחלוקת הארץ.

[2] It is only due to a verse in Divrei HaYamim II 3:1 which locates the site as being where David sacrificed on the threshing floor of Aravnah the Jebusite, that we know the location of the akeida took place in Jerusalem at all.

Rabbi Fishman spent twelve years at Congregation Beth Tikvah as both assistant and subsequently as Senior Rabbi of the congregation. He was been privileged to work with the greater part of their 750 member families in the capacity of halakhic advisor, educator, mentor, and counsellor – all of which are incredibly fulfilling roles. His focus was widespread – from growing the membership base with new families, giving shiurim, creating new programming for teens and young adults, fundraising, and partnering with community organizations to deepen the reach of the synagogue.


Latest posts

Join our Mailing List

Get weekly divrei Torah, news, and updates directly in your inbox from Ohr Torah Stone.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
.pf-primary-img{display:none !important;}