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Yerushalayim TBNL: The Place To Be Named Later

It is striking that in the 21 times that Sefer Devarim refers to Jerusalem, it describes this special city as “HaMakom Asher Yivchar Hashem, the place where Hashem will choose.” Why does the Torah not explicitly mention Yerushalayim, our beloved ir hakodesh?

Rambam’s Classic Answer #1

In his Moreh Nevuchim (3:45), the Rambam presents three answers to this question. First, Moshe Rabbeinu delivered Sefer Devarim when we were poised to invade Eretz Yisrael and conquer it from the seven nations. Had Moshe Rabbeinu announced the location of our holy city, our enemies would have made extraordinary efforts to fortify it, making it very difficult to conquer.

Our history corroborates this approach. The Jordanians in 1967 fortified Ammunition Hill and stationed their best soldiers to defend Jerusalem. Sadly, the highest casualties of the Six-Day War were in the battle for the Old City of Jerusalem.

Interestingly, Moshe Rabbeinu did not mention Jerusalem and cautioned not to spread the word outside our people. He knew such a strategy would fail since (as the Mishna, Avot 2:5, teaches) if you say something that should not be heard, it will eventually be heard.

Rambam’s Classic Answer #2

The Rambam’s second answer is that if our enemies knew that Jerusalem is our holy city, they would destroy it before our imminent invasion of Eretz Yisrael.

Sadly, we witness such a phenomenon today with our enemies destroying our holy and archaeological sites under their control (for example, Palestinians vandalizing synagogues and historical sites in Gaza and Judea and Samarea). What an awful demonstration of the deeply rooted and pervasive Jew-hatred among our enemies!

Rambam’s Classic Answer #3

The Rambam writes that his third answer is the most important one. He notes that had we known our holy city in advance, the shevatim would have fought over which tribe’s land the Beit Hamikdash would be built on.

The Rambam might prefer this answer due to the crucial lesson that emerges. We learn to take preemptive steps to avoid conflict instead of waiting to react after a fight has already materialized. Conflict avoidance is of the highest priority!

By the time Hashem announced Jerusalem as the special city, the shevatim had already grown accustomed and embraced their respective shares (nachala) in Eretz Yisrael. Therefore, they would be content with the designation of Yerushalayim as the special city, even if it is not in their nachala.

TABC Students’ Answer

We regularly address this topic at the Torah Academy of Bergen County, and students often suggest another answer. They think that had Hashem revealed Yerushalayim as the ir hakodesh, we would have neglected to conquer the full range of Eretz Yisrael. Witness today, when North American Jews make aliyah, the most popular destinations are Jerusalem and cities not too far from it, such as Beit Shemesh, Modi’in, Gush Etzion and Ma’aleh Adumim. Hashem does not mention Jerusalem in Sefer Devarim since He wants us to conquer all of Eretz Yisrael.

Rav Soloveitchik’s Answer

Jerusalem’s Rav Ahron Adler shared Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik’s answer to our question. Rav Soloveitchik observes that Hashem’s delaying the revelation of the location of the holy city is reminiscent of His deferring the sacred city’s identity and holy mountain to Avraham Avinu. In Bereishit 12:1, Hashem tells Avraham Avinu to go to the land “I shall show you.” At Akeidat Yitzchak, Hashem instructs Avraham Avinu to bring his beloved son to “one of the mountains I will show you.”

Often we do not know the direction in which Hashem is leading us. However, we trust Hashem is leading us to the proper destination. David HaMelech articulates a cornerstone of our spiritual experience by describing Hashem as “his Shepherd” (Tehillim 23:1). A contemporary equivalent is Hashem is our “pilot.” We sit on an airplane and relinquish control of our safety and destiny to someone we cannot see. Yet, we trust the unseen pilot will properly lead us to the proper place.

Similarly, Hashem does not tell us the future location of the ir hakodesh. We have the bitachon, trust, that Hashem will lead us to a destination that serves our best interests.

Conclusion—One Final Answer

The answers we have shared are hardly mutually exclusive. Rather, the manifold reasons for temporarily hiding Jerusalem’s identity highlight Hashem’s multifaceted and profound wisdom. As such, we suggest one final answer.

Rashi (Bereishit 12:1) says that Hashem delays revealing the identity of the promised land to Avraham Avinu to make the land more beloved to him. Just as a loving parent makes delays showing a much-anticipated present to make it more special and cherished to the child, so too Hashem wishes to increase Avraham Avinu’s love for Eretz Yisrael.

This extra love for Eretz Yisrael did not end with Avraham Avinu and Sarah Imeinu. It continues throughout the generations and burns bright in our individual and collective hearts.

We think Hashem adopts a similar strategy to make our holy city more beloved to our ancestors when its location was finally revealed. This special love for Jerusalem has also been transmitted to the generations. Our passion for our special city burns strongly, as strong as ever!

Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. He also serves as a rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a dayan on the Beth Din of Elizabeth.

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