Beit Midrash

  • Shabbat and Holidays
  • Jerusalem Day
To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated in the memory of

Hana Bat Haim

Jerusalem - Seek Her Out and Find Her

The Torah refers to Jerusalem as “the place which God shall choose,” but does not inform us as to where this place is or what its name is. By concealing the Holy City from us and forcing us to seek her out, God aimed at endearing Jerusalem to us.


Rabbi David Dov Levanon

1. "The Place Which God Shall Choose"
2. Seeking To Bestow Merit; Seeking To Endear
3. Taking Pains to See God
4. When was Temple's location revealed?
5. Longing for Zion

"The Place Which God Shall Choose"
Jerusalem is not mentioned explicitly in the Torah. The Torah refers to Jerusalem as "the place which God shall choose" (In the Torah portion "Re'eh" Jerusalem is mentioned sixteen times; in "Shoftim," three times; in "Ki Tavo," once; and in "VaYelekh," once. This makes for a total of twenty-one times, the numerical value of which equals the ineffable name of God in Hebrew, "EHYEH." This holy title was the first name of God revealed to Moses as he stood before the burning bush, and it is with this name that God reveals Himself to His people, saying, "This is My eternal name, and this is My remembrance for all generations"), but we are not informed as to where this place is that God shall choose or what its name is.

The question is, why does Scripture conceal Jerusalem's name and location until the time of King David?

Seeking To Bestow Merit; Seeking To Endear
Authorities address this question (See Chizkuni on Deuteronomy 12:5; Abarbanel, ibid.; Rambam, "Moreh Nevuchim" 3:45; Kli Yakar; see also Rabbi Eitan Shendorfi's work "Hadar Yerushalayim"), and it appears that there is a fundamental explanation which is connected to the inner nature of Jerusalem's chosenness. This can be seen in the words of our Sages (Sifri, Re'eh, Deuteronomy 12:5, ch. 62), "'But to the place which the Lord your God shall choose...his habitation shall you seek' - according to a prophet. One might assume that this means waiting until a prophet tells you, however we find that it teaches 'his habitation shall you seek,' i.e., first seek, and then a prophet will tell you ."

The Almighty wished that we should seek out Jerusalem, and only afterwards would it be revealed to us by a prophet. Therefore He concealed Jerusalem's location in order to give us the opportunity to seek it out. And our finding Jerusalem depends upon the intensity of our search. We find this to have been the case initially, when God commanded Abraham regarding the Binding of Isaac. He commands him without revealing the exact location for the binding: "Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell you" (Genesis 22:2), and Rashi (ad. loc) explains that God does not reveal to Abraham where "this place" is because "the Almighty first delays the righteous and only later informs them, and this is done in order to increase their merit . Another example of this is the verse, 'Go forth to the land that I will show you'" (Genesis 12:1).

We find, then, that Rashi likens the Binding of Isaac to Abraham's first trial, where God also employs the expression, "Go forth" yet conceals the destination. There, on Genesis 12:1, Rashi comments, "And He does not immediately reveal which land [Abraham is going to], in order to make it desirable in his eyes and give him merit for each individual command.

Yet, how will the land become more desirable if God does not reveal the destination? The answer to this is that, generally, in order for something to become desirable, we must take pains on its behalf. If the same thing were to be achieved without pains, it would lose its desirableness. Therefore, God refrained from revealing to Abraham his place of destination in order to cause him to exert himself in his efforts to find it, and thus cause it to become desirable to him.

And perhaps this is what is meant by the wording of the Midrash as brought by Rashi, "in order to make it (the land) desirable to him and to reward him for every single step." He adds the words "for every single step" in order to emphasize the difficulty that exists in walking to an unknown destination, and how much faith a person needs for this. Not for naught is this considered Abraham's first trial, and the purpose of all this is to make the land beloved to him.

Taking Pains to See God
Proof of this comes from the fact that God commands Abraham to go to Mount Moriah yet does not reveal to him its location. When he arrives it says, "And he saw the place from afar," and Rashi cites the Sages who teach that "he saw a cloud attached to the mountain." And the Midrash adds that he asked his two servants if they saw anything unusual and they responded that they saw nothing. Abraham said, if so, "Stay here with the donkey," i.e., you are not worthy of approaching this site. We find that not just anybody merits seeing the greatness of this place and discerning the presence of Divinity upon it. Only Abraham and his son Isaac, who went to pains in order to discover its location, in order to carry out God's will, merited seeing it and perceiving the Divine presence upon it.

And because he merited seeing this, Abraham named the place "God will see," a name which has two meanings. The first meaning (Rashi) is that "God will see" this place and will choose to rest his presence upon it because of the merit of Israel, i.e., "God will see" Israel. The second is that we will see God's presence upon it. Abraham hence states, "It is therefore said, 'On God's mountain, He will be seen'" and Rashi comments, "In the generations to come people will say of it, 'On this mountain the Holy One, blessed be He, shows Himself to His people.'" That is, according to the degree of our desire to see God, so He reveals Himself to us. And hence the commandment for generations, "Each of your males must see the face of the Lord God" (Exodus 23:17). And the Sages, expound upon these words, saying, "Just as one goes [up to Jerusalem on the Festival] to see, so does he go [there] to be seen" (Sanhedrin 4b).

It appears that, if we look closely, this interpretation is trying to tell us that to the degree that a person hones himself to see God, so does God see him. God reveals Himself fully if we are worthy. When it comes to Jewish law, the Sages learn from here that a person who is blind in one eye is exempt from the commandment to see and be seen in Jerusalem during the festival. What this implies is that a person who cannot see in both eyes is unable to see the Divine presence (Balaam was blind in one eye and therefore misunderstood his prophetic inspiration. "Noam Elimelekh" explains that Balaam saw God's greatness with his one eye, yet failed to see his own degradation with his other eye. As noted, a Jew who wishes to see the Divine presence must be capable of grasping both of these aspects).

Upon this backdrop we are better able to understand the significance of the Sages' portrayal of Satan delaying Abraham while on his way to sacrifice Isaac - he appears as a great mountain; he appears as a sea that cannot be crossed. Abraham enters it up to his nose, causing the water to become dried up. All of this comes in order to strengthen the bond between Abraham and his final destination. His love for this place grows according to the enormity of these obstructions and obstacles, and it is this that allows him to claim Mount Moriah as an eternal possession.

Rambam (in Moreh Nevuchim) writes that the reason that Jerusalem's location was not revealed is so that there not be discrepancy between the tribes; each tribe is bound to want the Holy Temple be located in its own territory. And it would appear that this is part of the problem that is caused by desiring Jerusalem, for the Holy City is supposed to by outside of any personal consideration, even if such a dispute appears to be based upon pure motives, and pettiness can easily lead to argument which, in turn, will deter the Divine presence.

When was Temple's location revealed?
Scripture indicates that the location of the Temple was revealed to King David toward the end of his life, after he carried out a census ("Seder Olam" indicates that it took place two years before David's death). After the plague broke out among the people, David is told by Gad the Prophet to construct an altar upon the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.

However, the Talmud (Zevachim 54b) indicates that David discovered the place of the Temple even before being appointed king: "'So David fled, and escaped, and came to Samuel to Ramah, and told him all that Saul had done to him. And he and Samuel went and dwelt in Naioth.' (First Samuel 19:18) - [The Sages ask,] What does Naioth have to do with Ramah? Rather, they were sitting in Naioth and occupying themselves with the 'Beauty of the World' ("they were deliberating over the site of the Holy Temple" - Rashi)." This event took place when David was less than thirty years old.

We further find (in tractate Sukkah) that when David dug the foundation of the altar, he reached the abyss. This threatened to flood creation, until David made Ahithophel the Prophet reveal the proper course of action. However, in the words of Rashi (Makkot 11b), "this is bewildering, for David did not buy the threshing floor from Araunah the Jebusite until the incitement incident which was three years after the death of Ahithophel. This being so, we have to say that though he had not yet bought the threshing floor, David was aware [of its location] since his youth when he was anointed king, and he and Samuel sat together in Naioth in Ramah and probed the Book of Joshuah and found the location of the Temple, as it is written, 'Until I find out a place for the Lord, a habitation for the mighty One of Jacob' (Psalms 132:5)."

From Rashi's words we learn that David knew the location of the Temple before the incitement episode and the census of the nation. How, then, can this be resolved with the sources which tell us that David did not know where the Temple was to stand until his last days?

In addition, Rambam says (Hilkhot Beit HaBechirah 2:2), "According to prevailing tradition, the place where David and Solomon built the altar upon the threshing floor of Araunah is the same location upon which Abraham bound Isaac, and it is the place where Noah built [his altar] when he left the ark, and this is the altar upon which Cain and Abel offered [sacrifices], and upon it Adam offered a sacrifice when he was created..." The expression "a prevailing tradition" implies that this was a well-know tradition for generations, and this being so, the location was known as a holy site, and if so, in what sense was it "discovered" later on?

Rabbenu Bachya (Deuteronomy 12:5) writes that this place was reputed and well known amongst the nations, and all were aware of its greatness. After citing Rambam in "Moreh Nevuchim" where he writes that God concealed the location of this site, Rabbenu Bachya concludes, "And this is the reason that Scripture conceals the location of this place...for though all were aware of the greatness of Mount Moriah, they did not know that this was the place which God would choose." In other words, people did not make the connection and conclude that this would also be the location of the Holy Temple.

In light of this we are able to understand God's commanding Abraham to "go forth from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father's house, to the land that I will show you" (Genesis 12:1) when in fact prior to this Scripture tells us that "Terach took his son Abram (the future Abraham)...he left Ur Casdim, heading towards the land of Canaan. They came as far as Charan and settled there" (ibid. 11:31). We see that Terach and his family were on their way to the Land of Canaan, and they already knew their desired destination. So what change was wrought with the words, "to the land that I will show you"? A possible explanation to this question is that the intention is that only when they arrive there will they merit seeing the land's goodness.

Longing for Zion
In the Talmud (Yoma 39b): "R' Hiyya ben Abin said in the name of R' Yehoshua ben Karhah: An old man told me: Once I walked towards Shiloh and I could smell the fragrance of the incense [coming] from its walls." It is difficult to accept this statement literally, for how is it possible that after hundreds of years R' Yehoshua ben Karhah could still smell the fragrance of the incense from the time when the Sanctuary stood in Shiloh. Rather, after much inquiry and investigation in order to find the location of the Shiloh Sanctuary, R' Yehoshua ben Karhah merited discovering it, to the point that he even felt as if he could smell the fragrance of the incense that was once burned there, between the walls of the Sanctuary.

In this manner we may also explain the the following Talmudic source (Zevachim 62a). The question being addressed is, how did the Babylonian returnees know where the altar had stood?
"As for the Temple, it is well, for its outline was distinguishable; but how did they know [the site of] the altar? - Said R' Eleazar: They saw [in a vision] the altar built, and Michael the great prince standing and offering upon it. While R' Isaac Nappaha said: They saw Isaac's ashes lying in that place. R' Samuel ben Nahman said: From [the site of] the whole house they smelt the odor of incense, while from there [the site of the altar] they smelt the odor of limbs." It is impossible to say that they actually saw Isaac's ashes there, for Isaac was never slaughtered! And even if we understand this to refer to the ashes of Isaac's ram, it is difficult to contend that these ashes could have lasted and been found after so many years. Rather, these Sages were able to feel the sanctity which the site possessed.

The Sages likewise felt that the Temple's reconstruction would be according to the degree that we desire it. R' Yochanan ben Zakkai instituted a number of decrees which would serve as reminders of the Temple. He understood the words, "Zion, for whom nobody longs" (Jeremiah 30:17) to mean that, indeed, we must long for Zion. It is very important to desire Zion if we wish it to be speedily restored. In a similar vein, Or HaChaim writes that the redemption will come about when Israel yearns for Jerusalem as much as possible.

Therefore we must be awakened on this day, Jerusalem Day, to lift Jerusalem's memory up above our highest joy, to yearn for her. If we do this we will merit bringing about the fulfillment of the verse, "Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all you who love her; rejoice for joy with her, all you who mourn for her" (Isaiah 66:10), and the adage of the Sages, "Whoever mourns over Jerusalem merits seeing her solace."
Most translated sources in the above article are taken from or based upon the Soncino Classics Library, CD-Rom edition.

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