Centralization of Worship
Devarim 12 prohibits the building of private altars and repeatedly emphasizes the need to worship Hashem "in the place that He will choose".
- Why is worship on private altars problematic? What are the advantages and disadvantages of centralized worship? How might a person's service of Hashem differ if they always need to travel to the Mikdash to bring sacrifices, rather than offering them in their backyard?
- During which periods in Israelite history were sacrifices prohibited outside of the Mikdash? Devarim 12 suggests two conditions for the prohibition: inheritance of the land of Israel and security from enemies. What is the relationship between the two? What light does this shed on the possible understandings of the commandment? See When Were Private Altars Prohibited.
The Purpose of Shemittah
What is the purpose of the Shemittah year? While Ramban focuses on how Shemittah facilitates spiritual growth and recognition of Hashem, Shadal emphasizes how it inculcates social equality and concern for the less fortunate. Rambam offers a third option, suggesting that Shemittah serves a practical function in maintaining the fertility of the land.
- Is it possible that certain commandments were instituted only for utilitarian purposes? What other mitzvot have been given such an explanation?1
- Does the Torah promote capitalism or socialism? What do the laws of Shemittah suggest?2
- How are Shemittah and Shabbat similar? What benefits are gained from an enforced resting and refraining from work? See Purpose of Shemittah for more.
Hashem's Chosen Place
Parashat Reeh speaks of the "place that Hashem will choose." Ultimately, this referred to the Beit HaMikdash in Yerushalayim, but was this always the meaning of the term already from the time of Moshe? Were there other options for Hashem's holy site?
- When and why was Yerushalayim chosen? Was it Hashem's choice or David's? Why does the Torah not refer to the site by name? For elaboration, see Choice of Yerushalayim.
- Knowing the ultimate choice of the location of the Beit HaMikdash leads many readers to assume that this was the only choice, and to read it back into the Torah's verses. Can you think of other cases where being an "omniscient reader" might lead to certain assumptions about the text or its characters? For one example, see Purpose of the Spies in Yehoshua 2.