In this week’s parshah, Moses gives his second discourse. Instead of continuing to speak in general terms of the necessity to serve God and adhere to His commandments, Moses deals with laws that are to govern the Israelites when they arrive in the land of Canaan. These laws deal with religious institutions and worship, government,
criminal law, domestic life, and laws concerning the first fruits and tithes. We will focus on some of the laws outlined in this parshah.
Regarding idol worship, the Moses instructs the people: “You shall surely destroy all the places wherein the nations that you are to dispossess served their gods, upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and upon the high
mountains” (Deut. 12:2). In the Mishnah 7 chapter 3 in tractate of Avodah Zarah we are taught: “there are three categories of houses; 1) a house which was constructed in order to serve as a place of worship. Such a house is totally forbidden. 2) A house which originally was not used or intended for such worship but has been redecorated in order to serve as a house of worship. 3) The Gentile made an addition to the existing house, which was intended and used as a residence. In the latter two instances, the Jew has to demolish all the new decorations or additions and he may have use of the rest of such a house.” The Or Hachayim explains that the Talmud elaborates on this mishnah saying that if someone prostrates himself in front of any house (indicating that he worships it) he has thereby made it completely forbidden to every Jew. From this, we deduce that even if someone had only joined together individual stones and attached them to the ground, they are still considered as if they were separate and the house is not forbidden until it was used for the purpose for which it has been designated! The Talmud answers that the mishnah taught us the law that even if the house had only been built for a purpose for which it had not yet been used it is already totally forbidden. Maimonides accepts this ruling in his treatise Hilchot Avodah Zarah
chapter 8. This ruling is reflected in what our verse says: “all the sites where the Canaanites used to serve idols.” The meaning is that it is irrelevant if the place had originally been built for the purpose or not. If idolatrous practices had been performed there the Israelites must destroy if even if only an addition to such a house had been used for idolatry.
In chapter 12 verse 8, Moses prohibits altars of a private nature, and that the people must offer sacrifices only in the central place of worship. The Alshekh comments that the only reason private altars had been tolerated so far was due to the fact that Israel had not yet reached a final destination. The whole paragraph from v.8-14 seems full of repetition of laws which had been previously stated. Actually, Moses, in his prophetic vision, talks about different periods in Jewish history. The tabernacle in Shiloh which preceded the temple in Jerusalem, though its ceilings were portable coverings such as had been used in the desert for the first tabernacle, was nonetheless a structure with solid walls. It contained the 5 elements that were absent during the period of the second temple. Moses called Shiloh ‘menuchah’- rest, and the temple of Solomon ‘nachalah’ – inheritance. Since the site of the temple
corresponds to the throne of God in the higher world, he describes search for God as ‘leshichno tidre-shenu’.
Concerning the temple, Moses says ‘uvata shamah’ – you will get there (v.6). In case people would think that only THAT temple would be a central place of worship, Moses stresses that there is another temple which shares most of the holiness character of the temple Solomon was to build – namely, the one in Shiloh. This temple would be available immediately after crossing the Jordan. Since the site in Shiloh is NOT opposite the temple in the higher world, it says only “which the Lord will choose where his name will rest” (v.11). In order that the people do not belittle the sanctity of that temple, Moses gives even more details of all the sacrifices to be offered there (v.11-12).
Prepared by Devorah Abenhaim