“Take care not to offer your burnt offerings in any place you like but only in the place that God will choose.” This cautionary commandment in Parashat Re’eh, Deuteronomy 12:13-14, carries significance well beyond its simple meaning. Scholars posit this text was actually written AFTER Jerusalem had become the center of early Jewish life rather than while the Israelites were wandering in the desert. “In the place that God will choose” thus becomes a euphemism for the ancient Temple already well known to the people. For the author to have used the place name “Jerusalem,” a city the ancient Israelites couldn’t have known about, would destroy the guise of writing during the time of the Exodus and is intentionally avoided. Careful writing, however, can be unmasked through careful reading.
This, ultimately, is our job as inheritors of a sacred tradition. A close reading between the lines reveals something about the authors intentions, thinking, and situation that a casual glance might miss. Turn it and turn it again, for everything is in it. These same skills serve the contemporary Jewish people well as we examine modern-day texts and statements and attempt to ascertain their true meanings. May we continue to draw closer to God through inquisitive reading and study and may we never allow the wool to be pulled over our eyes through unquestioning acceptance of simple statements.
Rabbi Aaron C. Meyer