Parshat Re'eh – Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald
In our parsha we are commanded to lay one of the foundations of the Jewish nation, building "Beit HaBechirah" (the Temple) and establishing the "spiritual capital" of Am Israel. "...to the place which the Lord your G-d will choose from all your tribes to put His name there, you will seek His habitation and you will come there." (Devarim 12:5)
This capital will unite "under one roof" the center of spirituality, sovereignty and rule. "The Temple of the King, the ruling city." (Lecha Dodi)
Further in the parsha, the Torah commands the entire nation to go up and convene in its spiritual capital "Beit HaBechirah" three times a year. "Three times a year all your males will appear before the Lord your G-d in the place which He will choose. On the Festival of Matzot, on the Festival of Shavuot and on the Festival of Succot…" (Devarim 16:16)
Does this mitzvah only have spiritual significance? Or strategic significance as well?
The Torah deliberately doesn't name the place where the "Beit HaBechirah" will be, only that it will be in "the place which G-d will choose." As if the main point isn't the place itself, but it's being chosen by G-d. And the "seeking" itself is important in itself: "You will seek"- seek with the aid of a prophet! Could we wait until the prophet tells us? No! It is written: "you will seek His habitation and you will come there." Search and find it and the prophet will tell you afterwards. (Sifri Re'eh 8) With human effort and desire to locate "the place which G-d will choose." To fit the human choice to the Divine choice.
The Sages of the Talmud and the Rambam emphasized this dimension of the Divine choice by using the name "Beit HaBechirah" (literally the House of the Choice). (Sanhedrin 20b and the Rambam, who named the laws of the Temple Hilchot Beit HaBechirah and not Hilchot Beit HaMikdash, even though he used the second term afterwards.)
(It is noteworthy that the unique expression "the place which G-d will choose" first appears in our parsha. It appears only in Sefer Devarim and out of the twenty-two times it appears, sixteen are in our parsha.)
There is a connection between the choice of the spiritual capital and the political capital. The building of the "Beit HaBechirah" depends upon the appointment of the kingship, which will build it in the future. (The mitzvah to appoint a king is also "whom the Lord your G-d will choose" as is written "Put a king over you whom the Lord your G-d will choose.") (Devarim 17:16)
"Israel were commanded three mitzvot (to be fulfilled) when they entered the land: to appoint a king… and to build Beit HaBechirah, as it is written: You will seek His habitation and you will come there." (Rambam, Hilchot Melachim 1,1) The Rambam writes that appointing a king precedes building the Temple and from this we see that the mitzvah of building Beit HaBechirah cannot be fulfilled until there is a kingdom in Israel. (Sheilat David Kuntres Drishat Zion VeYerushalaim)
Only afterwards is Jerusalem revealed as the place of G-d's choice. David locates the place with the help of Shmuel the prophet: "And David and Shmuel went to sit at Nayot Ba-Ramah (literally the beauties at the height)." (I Shmuel 19:18-19) This is interpreted: "They were sitting on the height, occupied with the beauty of the world (Beit HaMikdash)." (Zevachim 54b) Rashi explains: "To locate the place of the Beit HaBechirah from the Torah." King David would later say to his son Shlomo: "It is all written, as G-d allowed me to understand." (I Diverie HaYamim 28:19)
When "the place which G-d will choose" was discovered, it became clear that it is also "chosen" by virtue of its greatness. Among its other qualities, "The "even shetiyah" was there, which was the starting point of the creation of the world. (Rambam, Beit HaBechirah 2,2) Above all, that it belongs to all of Israel and not to one specific tribe.
David HaMelech is the one who plans and prepares the foundations for Bet HaBechirah, but it is his son Shlomo who eventually builds it.
Why is constructing Beit HaBechirah the task of the sovereign, the king, and not a spiritual leader like a Cohen or a prophet?
Why was its construction delayed until the establishment of a sovereign kingdom of all of Israel, which developed from tribal leadership to a kingdom, from parochial tribalism to one sovereign entity?
The appointment of a king who reflects the sovereignty of the entire nation depends on the choice of the entire nation, of all the tribes, to unite around his rule. Beit HaBechirah also represents the entirety of Am Israel. Its construction wouldn't be possible unless Am Israel is united "like one man, with one heart."
The capital city contains the ruling institutions and the royal palace. Therefore it is one of the symbols of reign, and it has strategic importance. The connection between the spiritual capital and the capital of rule is a two-sided coin, where each side complements the other. "It is all one thing: the national and holy wholeness of the Mikdash and kingdom." (Sichot HaRav Zvi Yehudah Kook, Chayei-Sarah תשל"ו) This is in complete opposition to – lehavdil – the Christian creed which separates them:"Give unto G-d that which is G-d's and give unto Caesar that which is Caesar's."
The presence of the seat of rule in the spiritual capital demonstrates a central quality of the unique spirituality of Judaism: that it isn't spirituality detached from the dimensions of practicality or national sovereignty.
On the other hand, the government's location in the spiritual capital shows the value of Am Israel's national existence, of its sovereignty and purpose, which emanate from its unique spiritual world and not only from the necessities of national survival.