The name Yerushalayim – Jerusalem – appears 667 times in the Bible. Yet, Moshe never refers to it by that name. Indeed, he never even identifies the precise location of our holy city and the future Temple. Instead, beginning in our parsha, whenever referencing the national and religious center of the Jewish people, he refers to it with the mysterious designation: “The place God will choose to dwell His Name (or presence) there.”
What is more surprising is that Moshe expects us to find this place by ourselves! “You shall seek out His Presence and come there” (Devarim 12:5). How are we supposed to find it? If God chooses the location, doesn’t He need to let us in on the secret? It seems as if God and Moshe are setting us up for failure.
The Midrash Sifre on Devarim explains as follows: “‘You should inquire it’ – by means of a prophet. Perhaps you should wait until the prophet tells you (the location)? Says the verse: ‘You shall seek out His Presence and come there.’ Seek it out and find it and afterward the prophet will confirm it for you.”
In fact, continues the Midrash, this is exactly how Yerushalayim was ultimately located. As King David states in Tehillim (132:1-5): “God, remember unto David all his suffering. How he swore to God, and vowed to the Strong One of Jacob. If I enter the tent of my home, if I go upon the bed that is spread for me. If I allow sleep to my eyes, slumber to my eyelids. Before I find a place for God, resting places for the strong one of Jacob.”
David went out and found Yerushalayim. He lost sleep and refused to enjoy the comforts available to him until he was able to locate “the place God will choose.” His initiative was met with Divine providence and only then does the prophet Natan confirm the selection of Yerushalayim.
Finding God’s presence in the world requires human initiative and effort. This choreographed narrative of man’s search to discover the location for God’s Temple teaches us this truth. We could not just ask the prophet; we could not simply wait for God to reveal it to us. We had to seek it out first.
In truth, this idea is not just about geography. A robust and intimate relationship with God cannot occur in a vacuum or be developed when a person remains passive. We need to prepare ourselves and look for Divine inspiration and not just wait for it to hit us. As Maimonides writes, love for God is achieved through action and effort – through experiencing and contemplating the wonders of God’s world and through learning His Torah (See Rambam, Sefer Hamitzvot, Mitzvat Aseh #3 and Mishnah Torah, Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 2:2).
There is a story (told by Dr. David Pelcovitz in the forthcoming Koren Ani Tefilla siddur) of a deeply religious man who had suffered such horrible losses in his personal life that he could not bring himself to pray. His sadness was too great. Distraught over what seemed to be an end to his lifetime of prayer and communication with God, he travels to visit a rabbi in whom he could confide. “Start small,” the rabbi told him. “Just say one thing, but say it every day.” Following the advice of the rabbi, he begins reciting every day the morning prayer, “Blessed are You… who gives strength to the weary.” In time, he regains faith in prayer and rekindles his connection to God.
One of my rabbis, Rav Yehuda Amital, z”l, used to say, “ein patentim,” there are no quick fixes in Judaism. If we want a relationship with God, we need to put in the effort to develop that relationship.