Devarim 12 verse 4 is difficult to understand. After telling the Israelites to destroy all the places of worship of idols, the Torah then says "Do not do this to G-d." We have to ask ourselves, Do not do what? Do not destroy His places of worship? Of course not! Rashi give two explanations of the verse: First, it may mean that we should not worship Him in many places as the idolaters worshipped in many places (In fact this is the subject of the next verse). But this explanation causes the verse to be not parallel to the previous verse. The previous few verses did not speak of worshipping in many places, but of destroying their temples. So not to do this to G-d should mean not to destroy His Temple.
Therefore, Rashi offers another explanation. The verse really means do not destroy the Temple even indirectly, through sinful behaviour. This is obviously not the simple meaning, but is intended to be homiletic. When Rashi provides two explanations you can rest assured that both have problems. The verse is not talking about sinning in general, it is talking about destroying places of worship. So why the command not to destroy G-d's places of worship? Wouldn't it be rather self apparent that G-d does not want the Israelites to destroy His Temple?
In fact it may not be so self apparent. If we read the general context of the parsha we see it discussing the prohibition of worshipping on altars, bamot. The parsha goes on to discuss the law that sacrifices may be brought only in the Temple. People who live far away from the Temple can still eat meat, meat which was not offered at all, as long as the soul-containing blood is spilled to the ground. (Normally the soul-blood is sprinkled or poured on or near the altar in the Temple thus returning the soul to G-d. Here the ground is the repository of the blood, in absence of the altar. Remember that the altar is also built of the earth of the ground. )
We recall also that in the first years of the conquest, the people are permitted to erect bamot and sacrifice upon them. (Verse 12:8) So the question arises, What to do with these bamot once they are no longer allowed to be used? This command is telling the people that since these bamot were built for G-d and are not idolatrous, therefore, even though you can no longer worship using them, they are Holy and must be treated as Holy objects. Therefore you cannot destroy them even though you might think you should since they are now forbidden to be used. But in reality they still deserve to be treated with holiness.
In fact archaeologists have found in Arad a bama which they believe was buried intentionally. They believe this because it appears to have been buried at one time, and not through years of deposits. Perhaps the people buried the bama as a form of respect, much the way we bury a Sefer Torah which has become not usable. This is the command of the verse, not to do so to the Lord, not to destroy his old altars but to treat them with high regard.
Hizkiahu is creditited with finally removing the bamot form the Land, but the people were unhappy about this. The Babylonian Ravna exploited this sentiment to preach against the king.
Verse 12:15 can be understood in this light. When it write that we can eat meat with pleasure, the pure and the impure, thedeer and the gazelle what it means is not that we can eat impure animals like the pig, but animals that are not holy sacrifices. Until this time we ate only meat which was brought as a sacrife. once local altars are forbidden, unholy meat becomes allowed. the deer and the gazelle are example of animals that are not sacrificed and thus can only be eaten unholy. Hence the comparison of regular animals to them.
© Nachum Danzig 2009