“To the place which the Lord, your God will choose”
THIS week’s sidrah mentions Jerusalem, not by name, but by alluding to it as “the place which God has chosen”. This phrase is mentioned 15 times throughout Deuteronomy. Before this, the children of Israel are introduced to the changes which must take place when they enter the Land of Israel, which include laws detailed in succeeding sedarot.
The reference to Jerusalem relates to many aspects of the city: it is the place where we bring korbanot (sacrifices); where we eat ma’asersheni (tithes); where we travel to on the chagim (festivals) and the place of the Supreme Court. Jerusalem functions as a space of religious life, social life, Torah learning and national justice for all Israel. Many of its functions demanded on-site staff who were themselves obligated to live in Jerusalem: the Cohanim (Temple priests), Supreme Court judges and Torah teachers.
Importantly, our sidrah suggests that this place, as yet unspecified geographically, is where we actively “seek out the divine presence”. It can only be found if we show interest in it and actively participate in finding and building it. Our search for the divine presence in the world prompts God to reveal the city Jerusalem to us.
It is incumbent on us all to “seek out God” actively. In our generation, where the state of Israel exists after 2,000 years of exile, creating a city where God’s presence is realised, by enforcing justice and promoting peace, is not simply an opportunity but an obligation.