– Author: Rav Eitan Aviner

One of the biggest questions which much ink been has spilled over is why Jerusalem is never mentioned by name at any point in the Torah.  In over twenty different verses throughout the Torah, it is referred to as “The place which Hashem will choose”[1].  However, the first time it appears by name is in the book of Joshua.  But seemingly, such a pivotal place in Jewish theology should have a more explicit mentioning.  What is behind the mystery of the heart of our nation?

The Rambam[2] was bothered by this and offers three explanations as to why Jerusalem is never referred to by name in the Torah.

Guide to the Perplexed 3:45

There is no doubt by me that the place which was designated to Avraham by prophecy [for the binding of Yitzchak] was known by Moshe Rabbeinu and by the multitudes… The reason that the Torah does not mention it by name, rather just hints to it as “the place which Hashem will choose”, is threefold [lit. has three wisdoms to it].  The first is that the nations of the world will not conquer or fight over it when they become aware that it is the place on earth that is the purpose of the Torah.  The second is that it should not be destroyed and brought to waste by the hand of those who control it.  The third, which is the strongest of them all, is so that every tribe of Israel will not come and request it to be part of their lot and have control over it.  This would cause machloket to befall upon it, just as machloket befell upon the priesthood.  For this reason, the commandment to build the Beit HaBechira is only after the rising of the king, as he will be commanded to build it and remove the machloket from upon it.

ספר מורה הנבוכים חלק ג פרק מה

ואין ספק אצלי גכ שהמקום אשר ייחדו אברהם בנבואה היה ידוע אצל משה רבינו ואצל רביםואשר לא התבאר בתורה ולא נזכר בפרט, אבל רמז אליו ואמר אל המקום אשר יבחר ה וגו’, יש בו אצלי שלש חכמות. האחת מהן, שלא יחזיקו בו האומות וילחמו עליו מלחמה חזקה כשידעו שזה המקום מן הארץ הוא תכלית התורה. והשנית, שלא יפסידוהו מי שהוא בידם עתה וישחיתוהו בכל יכלתם. והשלישית, והיא החזקה שבהם, שלא יבקש כל שבט היותו בנחלתו ולמשול בו, והיה נופל עליו מן המחלוקת והקטטה כמו שנפל בבקשת הכהונה. ולזה באה המצוה שלא יבנה בית הבחירה אלא אחר הקמת מלך שיצוה לבנותו ותסתלק המחלוקת

The Rambam’s first two explanations seem to be reasons based on strategic intent.  Hashem did not want all the nations of the world to fight over Jerusalem, knowing that it is the center of the destiny of our nation.  Alternatively, Hashem did not want one of the nations of the world, which at one time may have control over it, to destroy it for the sake of preventing our destiny there from coming into fruition.  Both of these reasons seem to be external reasons, as they do not touch upon the essence of what Jerusalem means.  They provide logic in Hashem’s strategic plan for not revealing by name the place He will choose.

The third explanation of the Rambam, on the other hand, seems to be a fundamental reason.  Jerusalem was not referred to by name in order that the tribes of Israel will not be aware of its location, and bring strife amongst themselves concerning whose portion it will be allotted to.  It is only after a king is established amongst the nation, whereupon he will be in position to build the Mikdash and bring unity amongst the nation, that the place that Hashem has chosen was revealed.

This idea that Jerusalem will only be revealed after the anointing of a unifying king is actually based on a passage in the Talmud.

Talmud Bavli – Sanhedrin 20b

It was taught – Rebbi Yosi said that three mitzvot were commanded to Israel upon their entrance to The Land: to establish upon them a king, to eradicate the seed of Amalek, and to build the Mikdash.  I would not know which mitzvot should be done first, therefore the verse states ‘For there is a hand on the throne of the Eternal, [that there shall be] a war for Hashem against Amalek’.  This is to say that the kingship should be established first, for there is no throne other than kingship, as it says ‘Shlomo on the throne of Hashem as king’.  But still I would not know whether to build the Mikdash first or eradicate the seed of Amalek first.  Therefore it says ‘And He will give you rest from all your enemies surrounding you… And it will be, that the place Hashem, your God, will choose’.  This is to say that the eradication of the seed of Amalek comes first.

תלמוד בבלי מסכת סנהדרין כ: 

תניא, רבי יוסי אומר: שלש מצות נצטוו ישראל בכניסתן לארץ: להעמיד להם מלך, ולהכרית זרעו של עמלק, ולבנות להם בית הבחירה. ואיני יודע איזה מהן תחילה, כשהוא אומר כי יד על כס יה מלחמה לה’ בעמלק, הוי אומר: להעמיד להם מלך תחילה, ואין כסא אלא מלך, שנאמר וישב שלמה על כסא ה’ למלך. ועדיין איני יודע אם לבנות להם בית הבחירה תחלה, או להכרית זרעו של עמלק תחלה, כשהוא אומר והניח לכם מכל אויביכם וגו’ והיה המקום אשר יבחר ה’ וגו’ – הוי אומר: להכרית זרעו של עמלק תחלה.

Rebbi Yosi is of the opinion that first a king must rule over Israel, and only then will the Mikdash be built.  Rebbi Yosi’s opinion is aligned with the idea that Jerusalem is the city of unification of Israel.  The Talmud[3] states that the portion of Jerusalem was not divided amongst the tribes.  Furthermore, King David chose to seat his throne there in Jerusalem, on the border between the tribes of Binyamin and Yehuda – on the divide between brothers from different mothers who have a history of family strife.  The choice of location seems to be an attempt to bring family unity upon the nation.  Accordingly, King David refers to Jerusalem as the city of peace[4].  The Rambam[5] codifies the opinion of Rebbi Yosi as halacha.

What comes then from the words of the Rambam is that not only is Jerusalem not referred to by name in the entire Torah, but that it’s nature was not even known to the people of Israel.  Although the significance of Har HaMoriah was known, it was not yet recognized that it would be the future place that Hashem will choose.  This, for the reasons mentioned above, was kept secret.

The Sifri takes a similar route, explaining that Jerusalems inherent nature was already designated from the beginning of time, but gives a different reason for why its identity was left a mystery for so long.

Sifri on Devarim – chapter 62

(The verse states that) ‘But only to the place which Hashem your God shall choose from all your tribes… you shall inquire after’ by the word of a prophet.  One might have thought that you must wait until the prophet tells you, therefore the verse states ‘you shall inquire after His dwelling’ – you should seek it out and find it and only after will the prophet tell you.  As such, we find by David, as it says ‘Remember, O Hashem, onto David all his affliction.  That he swore to Hashem, he vowed to the Mighty One of Jacob; That I shall not come into the tent of my house… I shall not give sleep to my eyes… Until I find a place for Hashem, dwellings for the Mighty One of Jacob’.

ספרי דברים פרשת ראה פיסקא סב

כי אם אל המקום אשר יבחר ה’ אלהיכם מכל שבטיכם, דרוש על פי נביא. יכול תמתין עד שיאמר לך נביא, תלמוד לומר לשכנו תדרשו ובאת שמה – דרוש ומצוא ואחר כך יאמר לך נביא. וכן אתה מוצא בדוד שנאמר (תהלים קלב א – ה) זכור ה’ לדוד את כל ענותו אשר נשבע לה’ נדר לאביר יעקב אם אבא באהל ביתי… אם אתן שנת לעיני … עד אמצא מקום לה’ משכנות לאביר יעקב.

As opposed to the Rambam who explains that Jerusalem was kept a mystery so that it may bring unity among the nation and not strife and conflict, the Sifri stresses the need on the part of the nation to yearn and seek out Jerusalem.  Hashem’s dwelling place and point of meeting with man can only come after it is sought out by man himself.  Perhaps the yearning for what the place represents is part and parcel of what makes the place what it is.  That desire for closeness on the part of man, and his step to bringing it into reality, is what then allows for Hashem to take His step towards us and reveal the place which He has chosen.

The common denominator between all of the above answers is that Hashem’s will for Jerusalem to be the place of His dwelling was set from the beginning of time.  It was just not revealed to man yet, for one of the reasons given above – whether it be a strategic issue, as the Rambam suggests, regarding how the nations of the world would react to such knowledge, or a fundamental issue in what Jerusalem is about, as the Rambam also suggests, regarding Jerusalem being a city of unity, or a technical issue, as the Sifri suggests, regarding the precondition to make Jerusalem what it will be – a dwelling place for Hashem, a place of meeting between Him and man.  However, in contrast to all of the above, the Ramban presents a shocking alternative.

Regarding the anointment of a king upon Israel, the verse states:

Devarim 17:15

You shall set a king over you, one whom Hashem your God chooses; from among your brothers, you shall set a king over yourself; you shall not appoint a foreigner over yourself, one who is not your brother.

דברים יז:טו

שׂ֣וֹם תָּשִׂ֤ים עָלֶ֙יךָ֙ מֶ֔לֶךְ אֲשֶׁ֥ר יִבְחַ֛ר ה֥’ אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ בּ֑וֹ מִקֶּ֣רֶב אַחֶ֗יךָ תָּשִׂ֤ים עָלֶ֙יךָ֙ מֶ֔לֶךְ לֹ֣א תוּכַ֗ל לָתֵ֤ת עָלֶ֙יךָ֙ אִ֣ישׁ נָכְרִ֔י אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹֽא־אָחִ֖יךָ הֽוּא:

The Ramban, on this verse, quotes some commentators who explain that when the Torah says that “Hashem your God chooses” regarding the anointment of a king, it means that it should be done by a prophet.  And in fact, this is how the Sifri on Devarim explains the verse.  The Ramban, however, argues that such an explanation does not fit with the text, for why then would the verse go on to warn us not to appoint a non-Jew as king?  Is it not Hashem who chooses the king?  Therefore, the Ramban explains that the appointment by prophet is only if it is possible.  If the circumstances do not lend themselves to that, then it would also be permissible to appoint a king without the say of a prophet.  For such cases the Torah had to give warning regarding who shall be chosen.

But then the Ramban suggests two more answers.  “That Hashem your God chooses” is not referring to the specific king at hand, but rather the kingship of Israel in general.  Since Israel is the chosen nation, it follows that the king of Israel is the chosen king.  Alternatively, in his last answer, the Ramban suggests that the verse “that Hashem your God chooses” is not coming to add any commandment or condition to the choice of king, but rather is just stating the reality.  The choice of who will be anointed king is up to the nation themselves.  Whomever they choose, will be shown to have been the one that Hashem Himself has chosen.  The fact that he became king shows that Hashem chose him as well.  And then, in one astonishing line, the Ramban connects this to Jerusalem.

Raman on Devarim 17:15

In my opinion, the simple understanding for ‘that He chooses’ is that any [appointment] of a ruler over a nation is from Hashem.  [Accordingly], when it says ‘you shall set a king over you’, any outcome that will be must have been a decree from Heaven that he would rule…  And similarly, this is the simple understanding of ‘the place that Hashem your God chooses’.  Wherever it will be that they will build the Beit HaMikdash for Hashem, will have been by the will of Hashem.

רמבן דברים יז :טו

ודעתי בדרך הפשט, כי טעם “אשר יבחר” שכל מולך על עמים מאת האלהים היא לו… יאמר שום תשים עליך מלך כל אשר יהיה נגזר מן השמים שימלוך … וכן על דרך הפשט “המקום אשר יבחר ה’ אלהיך בו”, כל שיבנו שם בית המקדש לה’ הכל מרצון ה’:

What the Ramban here is saying[6], in essence, is that Jerusalem did not have to be Jerusalem.  ‘The place that Hashem your God chooses’ is merely saying that if in the end your choice comes into fruition, then it shows that Hashem agreed to it.  It was also “chosen” by Hashem.  Accordingly, the reason that the Torah does not refer to Jerusalem by name is because it might not have been in Jerusalem.  Hashem had agreed to King David’s decision to make Jerusalem the place of His dwelling, perhaps due to King David’s intent in choosing such a place, as explained above.  But it did not have to end that way.  It is conceivable, according to the Ramban, that if David had chosen an alternative location with the same intent, or even loftier intents, it might have been ‘the place that Hashem your God chooses’.

The place which Hashem has chosen silently waited close to 3,000 years for its mystery to be revealed.  After we lost control over Jerusalem, we waited close to another 2,000 years to get it back.  Although a process has started, we are still awaiting the complete redemption and return.  And as we wait and gaze out to those rolling hills, to that city laden in golden stone, this living ancient city is whispering to us its deepest secret of all.  As much as we are waiting for Jerusalem, Jerusalem is waiting for us.  Redemption is waiting for us.  Hashem is waiting for us.  So as I sit here, watching the sun set upon our golden Jerusalem, I have faith for the future.  It really is “in our hands”.  The choices for our future are here before us.  And if we choose right, then those choices will also be those that Hashem our God has chosen.  The secrets of this eternal Jerusalem are the secrets of our past, present and future.

[1] “המקום אשר יבחר ה’ אלקיכם”.  עיין דברים יב:ה, יז:ח, יח:ו, ועוד.

[2] עיין גם דברי רבינו בחיי לדברים יב:ה.

[3] עיין ב”ק פב:, יומא יב: וסוטה נה:

[4] וַיְהִ֣י בְשָׁלֵ֣ם סֻכּ֑וֹ וּמְע֖וֹנָת֣וֹ בְצִיּֽוֹן (תהלים עו:ג).

[5] הלכות מלכים א:א-ב

[6] הפירוש הזה לדברי הרמב”ן שמעתי מפי הרב יוסף כרמל.

– Length: