The Missing Municipality
In our parsha, Moshe Rabeinu’s inspired monologue begins to shift topics, transitioning from a philosophical discussion into more practical laws that will affect the Jewish People as they enter Eretz Yisrael. Despite the fact that many of these laws center around Jerusalem, the eternal capital of Israel, the word ירושלים is never actually mentioned in our portion. Instead, the phrase “המקום אשר יבחר” is used to allude to the Holy City, with this epithet being featured no less than sixteen times in the parsha. While Moshe has used flowery language many times before in this final speech, the Torah generally does not mince words for no reason, leaving us to wonder; why is the use of ירושלים’s name avoided so much in our פרשה? Why does Moshe Rabeinu seem to go out of his way, so to speak, to use המקום אשר יבחר instead?
Rambam, in ספר מורה נבוכים, presents a few different reasons why it could be. He writes that there is no doubt that Moshe Rabeinu knew that הר המוריה would eventually become the מקום המקדש and its surrounding city would retain this קדושה- yet he went out of his way not to call it out by name. He did this out of fear that people, whether Jewish or not, would take advantage of or steal from the holy sites. If Jerusalem was named in the Torah as the chosen city, then the other nations may eventually fight a great war over who could control it, and as we’ve seen in history (Crusades, Islamic regime), Moshe may have been on to something, as nations do have a tendency to fight with each other (not to mention us) over the city. Similarly, another concern that Moshe could’ve had was that, if Jerusalem was spelled out as G-d’s holy city, then the nations who, unlike the aforementioned ones, did not have any interest in controlling the ‘chosen place,’ would go out of their way to sabotage it so that the Jews would not be able to use it properly. And, in case this was not enough, Moshe was also concerned that all twelve of the tribes (even the ones in עבר הירדן) would fight over who would have Jerusalem in their territory, causing a massive civil war. Because of these concerns of war and of sabotage, Moshe went out of his way to simply say המקום אשר יבחר, instead of spelling out its name.
I believe that there is an important lesson we can learn from this. In the midst of all of the religious battles taking place in the modern day מדינה, one thing stands out; every group, whether חרדי, דתי לעומי, or even the non-observant sector, wants to believe that it has control over תורה and its effect on day-to-day life in the country. However, much like Jerusalem in the division of the land, if one “שבט” has full control over תורה observance in Israel, it will lead to a major civil war and could not end well because no one, not even the “שבטים in עבר הירדן” (non-observant Judaism) want anyone else to have full control over religious decisions in the Holy land. From our פרשה, we can learn that the only realistic solution is, just as with Jerusalem when יהושע divides up ארץ ישראל, to have every group’s needs equally taken into account when making national and halachik decisions that determine the day-to-day life of every Israeli.
With Hashem’s help, if we work hard to include all of our Jewish brethren, this effort will bring us to a time when Torah observance will be as equally distributed among the Jewish People as Jerusalem’s ownership is.
Ramban offers a slightly different perspective on this issue. Quoting the Sifrei, he writes that “כי אם אל המקום אשר יבחר ה’… לשום את שמו” would give the casual reader the wrongful impression that G-d is keeping this “special place” a secret until the right time, when He will send His presence there and then everyone will go and settle there. However, the passuk concludes “לשכנו תדרשו ובאת שמה- You shall seek out His Presence and come there- reminding us that even though Moshe doesn’t spell out the name of the city, we still have a responsibility to seek it out much as אברהם אבינו did, setting out on a trip with no definite destination because G-d told him to. So too, we also have to set out on our journey to המקום אשר יבחר, so that once we get there, G-d will לשום את שמו שם. With Hashem’s help, we will merit to see that day very soon. Shabbat Shalom.