Parshas Re’eh tells us that the Mikdash should be built, “Bamakom asher yivchar Hashem Elokeichem m’kol shevateichem,” (12:5) on land chosen or taken from all the tribes, yet later in the same parsha we are told that the Mikdash should be built, “Bamakom asher yivchar Hashem b’acahad shevatecha,” on land taken from one particular tribe. Which is it?
Rashi explains that the Mikdash was built in the portion of a single tribe, Binyamin. However, before building the Mikdash, the property had to be purchased from the Yevusi nation. The money used to purchase the land rights was collected from all the tribes.
There is a major dispute among the commentaries as to how to understand this Rashi. When Eretz Yisrael was conquered, Yehoshua had to apportion the land and divide it among the various tribes. The gemara has a machlokes whether “Yerushalayim nischalka l’shevatim,” whether Yerushalayim was apportioned to one particular (or more than one) tribe, or whether Yerushalayim was never apportioned, akin to the status of Washington D.C., which is part of no individual state.
Mizrachi reads Rashi’s assertion that the Mikdash was built in the portion of Binyamin as consistent with the view that Yerushalayim was nischalka l’shevatim and belonged to an individual tribe. Sifsei Chachamim disagrees. He suggests that even if the city of Yerushalayim was perhaps never split among shevatim, the Mikdash itself belonged to the tribe of Binyamin.
My wife suggested an insightful reading of Rashi that does not force us to take sides as to whether Yersushalayim was or was not nischalka l’shevatim. The gemara’s debate of whether Yerushalayim was nischalka l’shevatim or not is a question of ownership, property rights. Rashi, however, is not concerned here with ownership, but rather with geography. Whether or not Binyamin was the formal owner of the land in question or not does not change the fact that on a map Yerushalayim and the Mikdash looks like they are part of Binyamin’s territory. No matter who owned the land, the location of the Mikdash can be described as being part of Binyamin's lot.
Using this idea we can also resolve a question raised by Tosfos (Yoma 12a). The south-east corner of the mizbeiyach did not have a base because, explains the gemara (Zevachim 53), it was the only corner that did not fall into the portion of Binyamin. If one holds that Yerushalayim lo nischalka l’shevatim, then why should this one corner be different than any other – Binyamin did not own any of the land? The answer perhaps is that the gemara means that the mizbeiyach was built on the land that geographically fell out in Binyamin’s portion, even if Binyamin was not the formal owner of that property. The only exception was the south-east corner.
(This approach is similar to a distinction drawn by RYBS between dinei mamonos ownership rights and divisions based on the mitzvah of chalukas ha’aretz. In terms of reading Rashi, my wife’s approach seems simpler.)