One of the big themes of this week’s parsha is the focus on המקום אשר יבחר ה’ אלוקיכם (In a number of places, e.g. 12:5), the place where Hashem will choose to dwell, namely the temple in Jerusalem. One of the places in which this phrase arises, it does so ambiguously, at which point there is a classic exegetical disagreement between Rashi and his grandson the Rashbam. The text says: “And you shall eat there before Hashem your God, and you will be pleased with all that your hands brought [to the Temple]…Do not do as we are now doing here today, each one as he sees fit” (12:7-8, translation mine). It is not clear exactly what should not be repeated in the future, and both commentators rush to fill that textual hole. Rashi argues that it is referring to types of offerings. During the time that Cana’an is being conquered, only those offerings that are freely brought shall be acceptable, while sin offerings and like will have to wait until the Tabernacle settles more permanently. The Rashbam, on the other hand, focuses on where offerings will take place. The text, he argues, is saying that in the future all offerings will be offered at a central location unlike now when they are offered at any point along the road from Egypt to Cana’an, depending on where the Israelites are camping.
While I think a good case can be made for either view, I see in Rashi’s comments an adherence to a very literal reading of the text, coupled with the assumption that there is nothing that any previous generation of Jews could have done that was to be changed. Because the importance of the sacrificial location, and the insistence of it being in one central place, became a major issue after the conquering of Cana’an, Rashi might well have been concerned with ensuring that it was perfectly clear that no Jews would ever sacrifice outside of the physical space in which the Tabernacle, and later the Temple, was to be found – even though Rashi would be forced to admit that sacrifices were offered in a variety of locations before the Israelites entered Cana’an. His grandson, conversely, is not as troubled by such a concern, and focuses instead on the clearest difference between sacrifice pre- and post-entering Cana’an: the portability of the Tabernacle/Temple. I can only imagine that there were real polemical issues behind Rashi’s insistence that the text here was concerned about such a small technicality.
Sacrifice to Me
Here in the Tabernacle
Now and forever