The Davidic Monarchy in Jerusalem (IV): David's Census and the Revelation of the Site of the Temple in the Threshing-Floor of Aravna the Yevusi (Part II)

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Jerusalem in the Bible
Yeshivat Har Etzion

THe Davidic monarchy in Yerushalayim (Iv)

David's census and the revelation of the site of the temple in the threshing floor of Aravna the Yevusi (part II)


Rav Yitzchak Levi



            After having examined in the previous shiur the details of the story of the census, the plague and the revelation of the site of the Temple, we seek, in this shiur, to compare the revelation in the threshing floor of Aravna the Yevusi to other Scriptural revelations and consider its overall significance.







We already discussed this correspondence in detail in our shiur regarding the Akeida (last year's shiur no. 9, "Mount Moriah and the Akeida [Part I]").  We demonstrated that the revelation to Avraham on Mount Moriah heralds, in the sense of "the actions of the forefathers are a sign for the children," the building of the future Temple on Mount Moriah in the days of David.  David, as it were, actualizes the unique qualities of the place as they are revealed to Avraham and alluded to in Bereishit 22.




In the aforementioned shiur we also dealt at length with the correspondence between the story of the Akeida and the revelation to Ya'akov in Beit El.  In another shiur delivered last year (shiur no. 18, "The Inheritance of Binyamin—the Inheritance of the Shekhina [Part III]"), we discussed in detail the correspondences between Beit El and Mount Moriah and between the revelation to Ya'akov and the revelations to Avraham and David.  The many parallels teach us about the relationship between the primal, natural Mikdash of the forefathers in Beit El and the permanent and chosen Mikdash of their descendants on Mount Moriah, and about the deep connection between King David and Ya'akov Avinu, the first to refer to this site as a "house."


With his actions on Mount Moriah, King David joins the sanctity of the site as revealed to Avraham on Mount Moriah to the essence of the House of God as revealed to Ya'akov at Beit El.


Following the erection of the altar and the offering of the sacrifice, God answers David with fire coming down from heaven onto the altar.  This response is similar to two events, at the dedication of the Mishkan in the days of Moshe and at the dedication of the Mikdash in the days of Shelomo.





At the climax of the dedication of the Mishkan, on the eighth day following the seven days of consecration, the verse states:


There came a fire out from before the Lord, and consumed upon the altar the burnt-offering and the fat; when all the people saw this, they shouted and fell on their faces. 

(Vayikra 9:24)


            The primary meaning of the fire coming down from heaven is God's positive response to human action: man offers a sacrifice, and God shows him that He accepts the offering.


            As is well known, the Midrash, and in its wake, a number of Rishonim (headed by Seforno and Rashi), argue that even though the command regarding the building of the Mishkan appears in the Torah prior to the sin of the Golden Calf, it was in fact given after the commission of that sin (following the principle that "location in the Torah does not prove chronological order"),[2] as a response to the sin and as a means to repair it.  Thus is it stated in Midrash Tanchuma (Warsaw ed., Teruma 8:8):


You find that on Yom Kippur they achieved atonement, and on that very day the Holy One, Blessed be He, said to him: "They will make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them" (Shemot 25:8), so that all the nations would know that they had achieved atonement for the incident involving the [Golden] Calf.  Therefore it is called "the tabernacle of testimony" (ibid. 38:21): it is testimony to all men that the Holy One, Blessed be He, resides in their sanctuary.  The Holy One, blessed be He, said: "Let the gold of the Mishkan come and atone for the gold from which was fashioned the calf, about which it is written: 'All the people broke off the golden earrings' (ibid. 32:3)."  Therefore they achieve atonement through gold: "This is the offering which you shall take of them: gold" (ibid. 25:3).  The Holy One, Blessed be He, said: "For I will restore health to you, and I will heal you from your wounds" (Yirmiyahu 30:17).


            The verse from Yirmiyahu shows that the wound itself may contain within it the capacity for healing; moreover, Yisra'el's repentance in the aftermath of sin can raise them to an even higher level than the one they were on before they sinned.  According to this understanding, Yisra'el's fall is part of a Divine process that effects the repair and perfection of the Jewish people.  So too, in our story, the sin leads to an awakening of the entire Jewish people and to the repentance that will make it possible to build the Temple.[3]


            A second similarity between the building of the Mishkan and our story is the census; the building of the Mishkan is also preceded by a census:


When you take the sum of the children of Yisra'el according to their number, then shall they give, every man, a ransom for his soul to the Lord, when you count them; so that there be no plague among them, when you count them.

 (Shemot 30:12)


            The giving of the half-shekel makes the very count of the people possible ("that there be no plague among them"), and also allows for the participation of the entire nation in the construction of the Mishkan and for the people's unification around that project.[4] Thus the census receives great importance: it turns all of Yisra'el into an integral part of the building, and thus makes it possible for the Shekhina to rest among them.


            The census in our story, on the other hand, sees the might of the army and national solidification as independent goals, without any direct connection to holiness.  The sin and the plague that comes in its wake bring David and the people to an elevated level of repentance and to the practical commitment to build the Temple so that the Shekhina may reside among Yisra'el in a permanent manner.


            In summary, the parallel between our story and the dedication of the Mishkan teaches us that the meaning of sin lies in its repair, and that through the repentance that follows in sin's wake, the Shekhina rests among Yisra'el.





Now when Shelomo had made an end of praying, the fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt-offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the house.

 (II Divrei Ha-yamim 7:1)


            The revelation at the dedication of the Temple parallels the revelations at the dedication of the Mishkan and in the threshing floor of Aravna the Yevusi.  The correspondence between the Divine response at the Mishkan's dedication and the Divine response at the Temple's dedication is especially understandable.  In great measure, the novelty lies in what happens in our story in the aftermath of the purchase of the site and the building of the altar; this correspondence teaches us that in addition to determining the site of the Temple, God grants forgiveness and pardon, and He fully accepts David's action despite the sin that precedes it and its terrible price.  It also announces that one of the primary functions of the altar in general, and in this instance in particular, is atonement.[5]





What is the connection between all the components of the story: the incitement and God's anger, the census, David's self-sacrifice, the appearance of the angel, the threat to Yerushalayim and the revelation of the site of the Temple? It is the Ramban in his commentary to Bamidbar 16:21 who tries to see the entire story as one integrated story and connect its various elements.  Let us follow what he has to say.





This is indeed the way of those who plead for mercy, for they mitigate the [severity of other] people's sin and put [the blame for] it upon the individual who caused it, because he at any rate is [certainly] guilty.  Thus, David says: "Lo, I have sinned, and I have done perversely; but these sheep, what have they done? Let Your hand, I pray you, be against me and against my father's house"(II Shemu'el 24:17).  Now, the punishment [i.e., the plague in the days of David] comes upon the people as well [despite David accepting the blame himself] because of their own sin, for they should have given the [half-]shekels themselves [in order to be counted]; if [we say that] the punishment is on account of that sin, as our Rabbis explained it.  For the king had not commanded them not to give the [half-]shekels, as he only wanted to know their numbers; therefore their guilt and his guilt in this incident are equal. 

Moreover, in addition to [being punished for] the census, there is a punishment upon the people [already] at the beginning of this matter, as it is written: "Yet again the anger of the Lord burned against Yisra'el, and He incited David against them, [saying, 'Go, count Yisra'el and Yehuda]'" (ibid., v. 1).  Now, Rashi wrote there: I do not know why [God's anger was kindled against Yisra'el].  I say, by way of explanation, that Yisra'el is punished because of the delay in the building of the Temple, since the Ark went from tent to tent like a stranger in the land, and none of the tribes bestirred itself to say, "Let us seek God and build a house to his Name, just as it is written: 'To His habitation you will seek, and there you will come'"(Devarim 12:5).  [This situation continued] until David was roused to action in this matter after many years and a long period of time [had elapsed since he had become king], as it is said: "It came to pass, when the king dwelt in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies round about, that the king said unto Natan the prophet: 'See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the Ark of God dwells within curtains'" (II Shemu'el 7:1-2).  Now God, blessed be He, prevented David [from building the Temple], because He said: "For you have shed much blood upon the earth in My sight" (I Divrei Ha-yamim 22:8), and thus the building was [further] delayed until the reign of Shelomo.  However, had Yisra'el really desired this matter [and really wanted to build the Temple] and had they bestirred themselves to action from the start, it would have been done [already] in the days of one of the Judges, or in the days of Sha'ul, or even in the [early] days of David.  For had the tribes of Yisra'el aroused themselves in this matter, [David] would not have been [considered] the builder, but Yisra'el would have been the builders.  Since the people did not concern themselves about it, and David was the one who was troubled about it and called for action, and it was he who prepared all the materials [for the House of God], he was the builder.  However, since he was a man of judgment, guided [in his actions] by the attribute of justice, he was not fit for [the task of building] the House of Mercy; therefore the building [of the Temple] was delayed as long as David lived due to the negligence of Yisra'el [in not coming forth themselves to build it], and therefore the [Divine] wrath was upon them.  It was for this reason that "the place which the Lord shall choose to put His name there" (Devarim 12:5) came to be known as a result of their punishment through the plague.


Scripture alludes to all this when it says: "For I have not dwelt in a house since the day that I brought up the children of Yisra'el out of Egypt, even to this day, but have traveled in a tent and in a tabernacle.  In all places wherein I have walked among all the children of Yisra'el, did I ever speak one word with any of the tribes of Yisra'el, whom I commanded to feed my people Yisra'el, saying, 'Why have you not built Me a house of cedar?'" (II Shemu'el 7:7).  Thus, Scripture is blaming [the people] because the Shekhina was traveling about among all of Yisra'el from tent to tent, and from tabernacle to tabernacle, and there was not among all the Judges of Yisra'el, who were their shepherds, one that bestirred himself in this matter.  Scripture also states that God too kept distant from them and did not tell any one of them to build the house, but [God said]: "'Now that you [David] have aroused yourself to do it, you did well that it was in your heart,' (I Melakhim 8:18), and I will now command that it should be built by your son Shelomo, who will be a man of peace."


            The Ramban takes note of several principles important for understanding our story.


            First, he emphasizes that David serves here as an agent to punish the people for their sin.  He suggests that God was angry with Yisra'el because the people had not roused themselves to demand the building of the Temple.  That which the Ramban proposes is stated explicitly in Midrash Tehillim (17):


Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai taught: "This may be likened to one who was hitting his son, and the son did not know why he was being hit.  After hitting him, [the father] said to him: 'Go, do what I had commanded you to do for several days, while you ignored me.'  So too, all those thousands who fell in battle during the days of David, fell only because they had failed to demand the building of the Temple.  Surely, there is a kal va-chomer argument: if those, in whose days the Temple did not stand among them, and in whose days it was not destroyed, suffered as they did and were punished for not having demanded it; then we, in whose days it was destroyed, if we fail to mourn it and do not seek mercy on its behalf, all the more so!  Therefore the righteous of old instituted that one should pray three times a day, and they instituted: 'Please, O Merciful One, in Your great mercies, return Your Shekhina to Tziyon and the sacrificial order to Yerushalayim.'  They also instituted 'Builder of Yerushalayim' as a separate blessing in the [Amida] prayer and in Birkat Ha-mazon.  When David saw this, he said: 'Had I fallen into the hands of my enemies, they would have cast me down with the sword; but the Holy One, Blessed be He, His mercies are great.'  Therefore it is stated: 'Let my sentence come forth from Your presence'" (Tehillim 17:2).


            This midrash explicitly states that all the thousands of people who fell in battle in the time of David died only because the people had not demanded the building of the Temple.[6]


            The Ramban adds that the building of the Temple depends upon Yisra'el,[7] and had they roused themselves about the matter from the outset, the Temple would have been built much earlier, during the period of the Judges or in the days of Sha'ul.[8]  Moreover, he argues that had the Jewish people raised the issue in the days of David, the building of the Temple would not have been pushed off to the time of Shelomo because of the blood that had been spilled by David, for then Yisra'el would have been the builders, not David.  The Ramban intimates here that David's grand efforts on behalf of the Temple constituted a one-man project (albeit that of the king), an enterprise that did not involve the rest of the Jewish people.


            In the chapters that follow the census, Scripture emphasizes several times how David invites the people to join in his preparations (the details of which we will deal with in the next shiur).  The implication is that he sees this as a condition for Shelomo's success in the building.  In I Divrei Ha-yamim 23, David gathers the officers of Yisra'el, the priests and the Levites to establish their roles in the Temple and divide them up (a process that is described in chapters 24-26).  David commands Shelomo about the building of the Temple in the presence of the entire leadership:


All the princes of Yisra'el, the princes of the tribes, and the captains of the companies that served the king by divisions, and the captains over the thousands, and the captains over the hundreds, and the stewards over all the property and possessions of the king and of his sons; with the officers, and with the mighty men, and with all the men-at-arms of Yerushalayim.

(Ibid. 28:1)


Later on, we find it stated:

Then the chiefs of the fathers' houses and princes of the tribes of Yisra'el, and the captains of thousands and of hundreds, with the rulers of the king's work, offered willingly… Then the people rejoiced, having offered willingly, for with a perfect heart they offered willingly to the Lord; and King David also rejoiced with great joy.

(Ibid. 29:6, 9)





We have already cited the midrash in Devarim Rabba (5, 10):


Rabbi Yehuda bar Rabbi Ila'i said: "Yisra'el was commanded about three things when they entered the land.  They were: to wipe out the memory of Amalek, to appoint a king and to build a Temple.  They appointed a king, and wiped out the memory of Amalek, but why did they not build a Temple?  There were informers among them."

Know that this is true, for Rabbi Shemu'el bar Nachman said: "The generation of Achav was composed of idol-worshippers, but they would go out to war and emerge victorious.  Why so? Because there were no informers among them; therefore, they would go out to war and emerge victorious…" However, the generation of Sha'ul was composed of informers. 

Know that this true, for when Sha'ul pursued David, everyone slandered him to Sha'ul, as it is stated: "when Do'eg the Adomi came" (Tehillim 52:2); "when the Zifim came and said to Sha'ul" (ibid. 54:2).  Therefore, they would fall in war.

Another explanation: Rav Muna said, "Whoever speaks evil speech [causes] the Shekhina to be removed from below to up above."  Know that this true, for David said: "My soul is among lions, and I lie down among those who are aflame: the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword" (ibid. 57:5); and afterwards is written: "Be You exalted, O God, above the heavens" (ibid. v.  6).  David said: "Master of the Universe, what is the Shekhina doing down here?  Remove the Shekhina to heaven…"

See how great the power of evil speech is!  They were commanded to build the Temple, but because the generation spoke evil speech, it was not built in their days.


In light of this Midrash, Sarah Wiener[9] argues that the internal connection between all the elements in the story is David's attempt to repair the sins of informing and speaking lashon ha-ra, and to unite the people through the census, as a preparation for the building of the Temple.  According to her, this count, like other counts in the Torah, constitutes a preparation for the resting of the Shekhina by way of uniting the entire Jewish people.  Indeed, at the end of the chapter, the site of the Temple is revealed.


In our opinion, this understanding is difficult for a variety of reasons.  It is true that it connects the census to the revelation of the site of the Temple at the end of the story, but if indeed the objective of the census is so worthy, then why is Yisra'el punished with such a terrible plague?[10]  Moreover, if indeed the census is meant to serve as a preparation for the building of the Temple, why does David only count those "who draw the sword"?  Furthermore, as stated above€, the chapters that precede the census do not imply that David joined all of Yisra'el in his preparations and in the initiative to build (as opposed to the chapters that follow the census, where he does that as part of the process of repair and repentance).


We, therefore, find the approach taken by Midrash Tehillim and the Ramban to be more persuasive.[11]




A psalm and song at the dedication of the house; of David.  I will extol You, O Lord; for You have lifted me up and have not made my foes rejoice over me.  O Lord, my God, I cried to You, and You have healed me.  O Lord, You have brought up my soul from She'ol: You have kept me alive, that I should not go down to the Pit.  Sing to the Lord, O His pious ones, and give thanks to His holy name.  For His anger endures but a moment; in His favor is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.  In my prosperity I said, I shall never be moved.  Lord, by Your favor You have made my mountain stand strong: You hid Your face, and I was frightened.  I cried to You, O Lord, and to the Lord I made supplication.  What profit is there in my blood, when I go down to the Pit?  Shall dust praise You?  Shall it declare Your truth?  Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to Me; Lord, be my helper.  You have turned for me my mourning into dancing: You have loosened my sackcloth and girded me with gladness.  For the purpose that my glory may sing praise to You, and not be silent; O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever. 

(Tehillim 30)


Many have related to the question of which house is being referred to in the heading of this psalm: the house of David, the Temple, or perhaps any house?  The Targum renders the verse: "The praise of song over the dedication of the Temple by David."  If indeed the psalm is dealing with the dedication of the Temple, two questions arise: firstly, surely David did not build and dedicate the Temple?  Secondly, what is the connection between the dedication of the Temple, mentioned in the heading, and the body of the psalm, which offers thanksgiving for salvation from trouble?


Some have suggested[13] that the psalm was composed when David uncovered the site of the Temple in the threshing floor of Aravna, in the wake of the census and plague.  Indeed, there are formulations that are common to the psalm and the description of the plague.  For example: "Then David and the elders, who were clothed in sackcloth, fell upon their faces" (I Divrei Ha-yamim 21:16) nicely parallels "You have loosened my sackcloth and girded me with gladness" (Tehillim 30:12).


According to this explanation, the heading means to say that finding the site of the Temple, purchasing it and building an altar there, were for David a sort of dedication of the Temple.  This understanding is reinforced by the parallel that we pointed out between the dedication of the Mishkan, the dedication of the Mikdash and the fire that comes down from heaven at the revelation in the threshing floor.


This suggestion also fits in well with the proposal put forward by Rav Margoliyot[14] that Psalm 29 relates to the bringing up of the Ark to Yerushalayim: the order of the psalms matches the order of events (first bringing the Ark up to Yerushalayim, then the revelation of the site of the Temple).[15]





            We have examined the overall meaning of the story of the census.


            We saw that the nearness of God, and specifically finding the site of the Temple, requires absolute recognition on the part of the king of Yisra'el of his full and total subordination to God.  After establishing the kingdom and making all the necessary preparations for finding the site of the Temple, David finally locates it, after having nullified his kingdom before the kingdom of God.


            The restitution for the census expresses itself in David's absolute readiness to sacrifice himself and his family's dynasty (that very dynasty which is itself the key to the building of the Temple) and in the joining of all of the nation's leadership, after the census, to help Shelomo complete the building.


            The Ramban proposes a comprehensive understanding of the process from beginning to end; he concludes that the building of the Temple depends on the motivation of the Jewish people: had the people stirred themselves up beforehand, the Temple would have been built much earlier.


            Our next shiur will discuss David's efforts on behalf of the building of the Temple, and with that we will complete our shiurim about Yerushalayim in the time of David.


            Let us close with the words of Midrash Tehillim cited above:


If those, in whose days the Temple did not stand among them, and in whose days it was not destroyed, suffered as they did and were punished for not having demanded it; then we, in whose days it was destroyed, if we fail to mourn it and do not seek mercy on its behalf, all the more so!


(Translated by David Strauss)







[1] We bring here the words of Rav Ariel in his book, Oz Melekh: Iyunim Be-sefer Shemu'el, pp. 248-249.

[2] The Ramban and other Rishonim disagree, maintaining (an argument that appears to fit in with the plain meaning of the text) that the order of the verses is in fact the chronological order of the events.  This issue, of course, requires a separate shiur, and we present only the basic positions in order to understand the parallel to our story.

[3] This understanding fits in well with the Ramban's approach to the story, to be cited in the next section of this shiur.

[4] The giving of a half-shekel in later generations unites every man in Yisra'el in the expenses of the ongoing service in the Temple (the sacrifices themselves and other Temple expenses).  Over the course of last year's shiurim, we noted on more than one occasion that Yerushalayim and the Temple are places that express the partnership of all of Yisra'el.

[5] We cannot expand here upon another important parallel to our story: the hanging of the sons of Sha'ul by the Givonim (chap. 21).  See, on this matter, the summary of Yehuda Kil to our story (Da'at Mikra, II Shemu'el, pp. 564-566).  There are those who see in this parallel a contrast between the Givonim, who incite God's anger through an act of cruelty against the members of Sha'ul's family and David, who offers sacrifices.  This is not the forum for expanding on this matter.

[6] The Radak, at the end of his commentary to II Shemu'el 24:25, also cites this Midrash.

[7] The Rambam (Hilkhot Melakhim 1:1-2) rules that the mitzva of building the Temple falls upon the community; the Chinukh (Mitzva 95) concurs.  Abarbanel disagrees and argues that the mitzva falls not upon the community, but upon the king.

[8] The Ramban does not relate to the Gemara's assertion (Sanhedrin 20b) that Temple must be built only after the appointment of a king and the wiping out of Amalek.

[9] Sarah Wiener, "Le-ba'ayat Minyan Benei Yisra'el Be-mikra," Shema'atin 48-49.

[10] According to Wiener, it may be argued that the punishment is imposed because the census is not conducted by way of shekels, but by way of a direct count.

[11] Other explanations have been proposed, but they do not explain the connection between all the components in the chapter.  Abarbanel, for example, suggests that the anger toward Yisra'el was because of the rebellion against David in connection with Avshalom and Sheva ben Bikhri.

[12] It is not our intention to analyze here the entire psalm, but merely to take note of one possible way to understand the background of its composition.

[13] Katzenelbogen, Netivot Olam, 1859, pp. 76-77, brings in the name of the author of Mikhlal Yofi that "this psalm was composed when David purchased the threshing floor of Ornan the Yevusi to build there the Temple, and he offered burnt offerings and peace offerings on the altar that he built.  This is called a dedication of the house in relation to David."

[14] Ha-mikra Ve-hamesora, pp. 16ff.  We cited his words in shiur no. 3, "Bringing the Ark up to Yerushalayim (Part II)."

[15] It is interesting that the Radak connects our story to Tehillim 132.  See his commentary, ad loc., v. 1: "David recited this psalm when he built the altar in the threshing floor of Aravna the Yevusi at the command of the prophet Gad, and offered on it burnt offerings and peace offerings, calling out to God; and He answered him in a fire from heaven, saying: 'This is the house of the Lord God and this is the altar for burnt offerings for Yisra'el.' Until that day, the site of the temple had been unknown."

He explains the heading of Tehillim 30 as do other Rishonim (including Rashi), as a psalm that David composed in order for it be recited at the dedication of the Temple in the days of Shelomo.