Parshat Re’eh: Searching for Jerusalem

When we read in our Torah portion about Jerusalem, we notice that the location of the Holy City was unknown to the people who stood at the entrance to their land.

Jerusalem street 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Jerusalem street 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Anywhere in the world where a Jew prays, he faces Jerusalem. The source of this custom is in the words of King Solomon, on the day that he dedicated the Holy Temple, 2,838 years ago: “And they shall pray towards the land that You gave to their forefathers, towards the city that You chose, and towards the House that I built for Your name.” (Kings I, 8:48) The location of Jerusalem is known to all today, and the Western Wall in its midst, adjoining the Temple Mount, is a magnet for millions of people from all corners of the earth.
But when we read in our Torah portion about Jerusalem, we notice that the location of the Holy City was unknown to the people who stood at the entrance to their land. Moshe, our teacher, in his farewell speech to the people of Israel refers to Jerusalem as “the place that God will choose” (Deuteronomy 12:18).
We might infer from these words that, at that point in time, the spot on which to build the Temple had not yet been chosen. However, we read in B’reishit, the Book of Genesis, of Jerusalem as the place where the Temple would one day be built. Our father Jacob, on his journey from his father’s house to his uncle who lived in Haran, stops in Jerusalem, identifies the place and declares: “How awesome is this place! This is none other than God’s House, and this is the gate of heaven.” (Genesis 28:17) Surprisingly, even in the case of Jacob, where we learn that the location of the Beit Hamikdash was already identified many years before the Jewish people entered the Land of Israel, the Torah did not clearly come out and mention Jerusalem, rather it called it “the place.”
Jerusalem had already been chosen, but one who reads the Torah does not know where it is. It seems that there is a reason why the Torah conceals the site of the Temple and lets the people search it out and find it on their own.
This concealment leads us to the insight that the Torah has a reason not to reveal the city of the Temple! God recognizes the great value of human endeavor to find the right place. When the Jewish nation searches for the spot where the Beit Hamikdash will be built, it will consider and ponder the meaning of this site, and the special characteristics that are meant to be found there in order to locate it.
The nation is meant to find on its own the exact spot where it should build its capital city, and within that city, to build the Temple. Then after the search for and location of that site, it will become the nation’s place, and not just the place that God has chosen.
This lesson is meant to become part of our everyday lives. Often it seems that the Torah mentions so many mitzvot that man cannot choose his own path in life, one that fits his character and personality traits. But the truth is that the mitzvot are a framework that creates an entire way of life that allows a personal relationship with God. We have to put effort into finding our own individual path within the Torah’s commandments, and find the proper fashion for each of us within that framework and put our own personal content in each mitzva, to create personal meaning in the observance of all the Torah commandments.
The search for the proper way to live our lives is similar to the search for the correct place for the nation to build the Beit Hamikdash. This site was already determined many years ago, but it is the nation’s task to seek it out and find this place, in order that it be their place – the place that they searched for and found, so that it may serve the profound connection with the Creator and as a source of meaningfulness.
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz is rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.