Parashat Re’eh indicates that once the Jews arrived in the land of Israel, they were supposed to look for a place to build G‑d’s Temple. Where they should look is very clearly defined:

"Only at the site which the Lord, your G‑d, shall choose out of all your tribes to put His name should you seek out His dwelling and come there."

Until that time the Jews were to be travelling with the portable Tabernacle that had been the "home for G‑d" during their forty years of wanderings in the desert. But once they crossed the River Jordan, they were to find a permanent place.

As we know from history, the Jews did not find that place for several hundred years. (They conquered the land in 1272 BCE, but the Temple wasn’t built until 836 BCE.) During that time (the period of the Judges), the places where they came to present their Torah-ordained sacrifices were not in Jerusalem, but to the north:

  • In Gilgal (14 years)
  • In Shiloh (369 years)
  • In Nob and Giv'on (57 years)

It wasn’t until the time of King David that the site for the Temple – Mount Moriah in Jerusalem – was purchased, and not until the time of his son, King Solomon, was the Temple built.

...the site of the Temple was known some one thousand years earlier...

And yet, as Shem miShmuel points out, the site of the Temple was known some one thousand years earlier – when Abraham took his beloved son Isaac there to offer him in sacrifice to G‑d. Rashi explains that G‑d showed Abraham exactly where Isaac was to be offered, and this was the place where G‑d would make Himself known to future generations and where sacrifices to Him would be offered.

But, as Shem miShmuel points out, it was not clear whether these Jews, the descendants of the Egyptian slaves – knew exactly where this place was, even if they knew of the existence of this special mountain. Surely, if they knew where it was, they would have proceeded there directly. So it must not have been clear to them and G‑d did not show them the place at first.

Similarly, says Shem miShmuel, we know that the date of the coming of the Mashiach is plainly written in the Torah, and yet we can’t find it. According to the Zohar, in the future we will see it clearly in the Torah, even though presently it is hidden from our eyesight. It seems that if we don’t want something badly enough, even though it might be in front of our eyes, we can’t see it.

(An entire school of psychology – Gestalt therapy – is based on what we perceive as "foreground" and "background." Sometimes by shifting our perception, we become aware of very important things that were previously only in the "background," and that can change our lives.)

Shem miShmuel points out further that the finding is commensurate with the level of searching. For that reason, the Torah commands the Jews to look for the place of the Temple. The initiative to find it has to come from below, and then a prophet will emerge to confirm that the right area has been found.

As the Rambam says, if the Jews would have looked harder for the Temple site during the period of the Judges, they would have found it hundreds of years earlier.

It must be, confirms Shem miShmuel, that the Jews didn’t find it during the period of the Judges, because they weren’t looking for it hard enough.

But what about the sites of the temporary Temples – Gilgal, Shiloh, or Giv'on?

"Because until now you still didn’t come to the rest and to the inheritance that the Lord your G‑d grants you."

..."rest" refers to Shiloh, while "inheritance" refers to Jerusalem.

The Talmud says that "rest" refers to Shiloh, while "inheritance" refers to Jerusalem. Moses, as directed by G‑d, told the Jews that the Tabernacle was only now about to arrive at its appointed destination. The Tabernacle was the center of spiritual life for the Jews, and where it was located determined how and where they would serve G‑d. Only when it had reached its "inheritance" – Jerusalem – would the ultimate service be performed. In the meantime, an interesting progression took place.

While the Tabernacle journeyed with the Jews for forty years in the desert and during fourteen years on conquering and dividing the land of Israel, it was composed of materials taken from the animal and vegetable kingdoms. The Tabernacle had wooden walls and animal skin ceilings/coverings. (Only the bases in which were anchored the wooden beams were made of metal.) However, when the Tabernacle arrived in Shiloh – where it would remain for 369 years – the wooden beams were replaced by stone walls, so that it was made chiefly of mineral and animal materials.

And finally, when the Temple in Jerusalem was built by King David and King Solomon, the entire structure was chiefly made of mineral and vegetable materials: stone and wood. It would appear as if the structure in which G‑d revealed Himself to the Jews was becoming physically lower and lower – since vegetable is lower than animal, and mineral is lower than vegetable – even as the Jews progressed upward in their spiritual development.

But, the service of the Jews in Shiloh seemed to be higher in some ways than that in Jerusalem. The Jews who brought their sacrificial offerings and their tithes could eat them anywhere within sight of the Tabernacle, while those who brought them to the Temple in Jerusalem hundreds of years later could eat them only within the city walls. Yet, Parashat Re’eh tells us that Shiloh was a temporary place of "rest," while the permanent place of "inheritance" was in Jerusalem? One would think that "inheritance" would imply a spiritually higher service.

Shem miShmuel explains:
Shiloh fell into the section of Israel that belonged to the two tribes coming from Joseph, while the Temple fell into the jurisdiction of Judah and Benjamin.

How are we to understand this?

...the Midrash called the city of Jerusalem the "heart" of the universe, while Shiloh is called the "head."

Joseph absorbed all of the Torah learning that his father Jacob transmitted to him (that Jacob himself had learned in the tents of Shem and Ever). He was therefore called the "head" of the Jews. He was the intellect, while the tribes of Judah and Benjamin were the heart. What typified Judah and Benjamin was their tremendous yearning to be close to G‑d. This we see most clearly in the Psalms of King David, who was from the tribe of Judah. Therefore, the Midrash called the city of Jerusalem the "heart" of the universe, while Shiloh is called the "head."

Holiness is often called the "head" or intellect. The person who meditates on the greatness of G‑d is bound to arrive at conclusions that boost his faith and understanding of G‑d. However, it is unusual to find a heart that is fully occupied by G‑dliness. We are born with a yetzer hara, an "evil inclination" that resides in the heart, and it is rare for the heart to completely rid itself of the evil and turn to G‑d, choosing the spiritual over the physical.

Jerusalem and its Temple were great because there, G‑dliness penetrated not only the mind, but also the heart and the emotions. The service of G‑d in the Tabernacle was more evident (the sacrifices and tithes could be eaten anywhere within eyesight) than in the Temple (where the sacrifices and tithes had to be eaten within the walls). But, at the Temple in Jerusalem, spirituality could spread to the heart (into the stones and wood), while in the Tabernacle in Shiloh it remained in the mind (in the animal and vegetable kingdoms).

[From "Inner Lights from Jerusalem" based on the Shem miShmuel and other Chassidic and Kabalistic Sources, translated and presented by Rabbi David Sterne]