Friday, August 22, 2014

The Center of Worship

When the Jews wandered in the wilderness, sacrificial services were performed by the kohanim (priests) in the Mishkan (Tabernacle). After King David conquered Jerusalem, his son and successor, King Solomon, built the First Temple in Jerusalem, which was the ultimate fulfilment of the verses in Deuteronomy 12:10-11: 

When [God] gives you rest from all your enemies round about, so that you dwell in safety; Then it shall come to pass that the place which the Lord your God shall choose to cause His name to dwell there, there you shall bring all that I command you.

In the wilderness the Israelites traveled together (almost like a giant city on the move). But, what happened when they began to settle in the Promised Land and were suddenly dispersed over a wide territory of land?

To find the answer, one could, of course, scan through the Book of the Prophets, which chronicle the era between the Israelites settling the land and the eventual destruction of the First Temple. Or, one can look to the Talmud for an answer, since the Talmud seems to trace the history of the centers of Jewish worship:

Before the Mishkan was set up, “high places” were permitted and the service was performed by the firstborn; After the Mishkan was set up, “high places” were forbidden and the service was performed by priests...When they came to Gilgal (their first encampment on the west side of the Jordan River) “high places” were [again] permitted...When they came to Shiloh (where the Mishkan remained for 369 years), “high places” were [again] forbidden...When they came to Nob and to Gibeon, “high places” were [again] permitted...When they came to Jerusalem, “high places” were forbidden and were never again permitted (Zevachim 112b).

This Talmudic passage provides an insight into early history of the Jewish people. Bringing sacrifices to “high places” was only permitted in times of need--before the Mishkan was built, while the people were marching to conquer the Promised Land, etc. When they were at rest, as promised in Deuteronomy 12:10, then the service was centralized either at the Mishkan or at the Temple.

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