When the people cross over the Jordan, G-d decrees, “You are not to do—according to all that we are doing here today—each-man whatever is right in his (own) eyes” (Deuteronomy 12:8); in other words, the people will no longer be free to pray wherever and however they like. Instead, the Israelites will be required to make their sacrifices only where G-d “chooses to have his name dwell” (12:11)—at a central sanctuary. From the first moment, the promised land is not at all about license but about the yoke of commandment.
This is what the promised land will be:
the old joke, where hell’s a conga party,
and heaven, five old men twirling their payes
while they read the Mishneh-Torah, nibbling
an occasional bite of tuna on rye.
It’s what we want to want—sacrifices
offered as prescribed, on the altar,
not the high places where strange gods,
toppled in our conquest, may yet reach out
their marble arms and grab us at our feasts.
What we really want is simpler: meat
brought down with spears and roasted on a spit;
the thwack of chests, their meeting greased with sweat,
the abandon of alien fire. What we gain,
choosing among the beasts of the field only
those that ruminate; among the men,
those that bear the scar of covenant;
among the many gods, the One—just that:
In lives bounded on one side by birth
and on the other by a sentence, we choose.