The Davidic Monarchy in Jerusalem (V): David's Effort on Behalf of the Temple (Part II)

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Jerusalem in the Bible
Yeshivat Har Etzion



Rav Yitzchak Levi



            After having clarified in the previous shiur David's efforts on behalf of the Temple, in this shiur we will examine what David actually built according to Chazal, and we will try to relate to those chapters dealing with David's connections to the Temple as a single unit.




Even though David was explicitly forbidden to build the Temple, Chazal insist that in actual fact he built part of the Temple's foundation:




When David dug out the pits [by the side of the altar], water rose from the deep and was about to inundate the world. David said: Does anybody know whether it is permissible to write the Divine name on a shard and throw it into the deep in order to seal its opening [following Rashi]? Nobody answered. David said: Anybody who knows but remains silent – may he suffer strangulation. Achitofel considered a kal va-chomer argument: If to make peace between husband and wife [Rashi: to examine a woman suspected of adultery, and thus restore domestic peace should she be found innocent], the Torah said, Let My name that was written in holiness be erased in water, to make peace for the entire world, all the more so! [Achitofel] said to [David]: It is permissible. [David] wrote the Divine name on a shard and threw it into the deep, and the deep went down six thousand cubits. When David saw that it had gone down so much, he said: The higher the waters of the deep rise, the more is vegetation moistened. He recited the fifteen Songs of Ascent, and raised the water five thousand cubits, leaving it one thousand cubits [below the surface]. Ulla said: Infer from this that the depth of the earth until the deep is a thousand cubits. But surely we see that we dig a little, and water issues forth? Rav Mesharshiya said: That water comes from the upper part of the Euphrates. (Sukka 53b, and parallel in Makkot 11a)[1]  




David built the foundations. As it is stated: "Then David the king stood up upon his feet, etc." (I Divrei Ha-yamim 28:2). And Shelomo built the upper portions. As it is stated: "I have surely built You a house to dwell in" (I Melakhim 8:13). (Shir Ha-shirim Rabba 1, 6)




When David consecrated [the Temple], did he consecrate only the upper pavement, or perhaps he consecrated until the bottom of the deep? Ask about the entire courtyard! In fact, it was obvious to him that he consecrated until the bottom of the deep…. (Zevachim 24b)




We cannot determine when exactly the census was taken, and when David made the many preparations for the building of the Temple. Nor is it known when precisely David sinned with Uriya and Bat-Sheva (II Shemuel 11), but the order of the chapters suggests that the sin was committed in the second half of David's life. The difficult incidents that follow in the wake of that sin (Tamar, Amnon, Avshalom, Shim'i ben Gera, Sheva ben Bikhri) indicate that David had lost control of everything connected to the orderly rule of government. If all that is related in I Divrei Ha-yamim 21-29 – the census, the revelation of the site of the Temple, and the intensive preparation for its construction – occurred after the sin,[2] then perhaps it might be argued that Ezra describes David's efforts on behalf of the Temple as a repair of his sin. Is it possible that God allowed David to realize his intense desire and advance the construction of the Temple while abstaining from matters of state as an act of repentance and acceptance of God's judgment?[3] If so, it turns out that in the later years of his monarchy, David engaged in acts of repentance for his earlier sins and invested his entire being in the many preparations for the building of the Temple.[4]


This possibility, that the preparations for the building of the Temple were part of David's repair of his sin and repentance for it, fits in well with the Radak's position that the verse, "You shall not build a house to My name, because you shed much blood upon the earth in My sight" (I Divrei Ha-yamim 22:8), relates to, among other things, the blood of Uriya the Chitite. The preparations for the building of the Temple, which constitutes the very opposite of killing and death – inasmuch as it gives expression to eternal life that is set apart in drastic manner from any element of cruelty and injury to others – involves then a direct repair of the sin.


This also fits in well with the talmudic passage that draws a connection between the completion of the Temple and with it the entry of the Ark into the Holy of Holies, on the one hand, and the pardon of David's sin, on the other:


What is meant by: "Show me a token for good, that they who hate me may see it, and be ashamed" (Tehillim 86:17)? David prayed before the Holy One, blessed be He: Master of the Universe! Forgive me for that sin. He said to him: It is forgiven you. He entreated: Show me a token in my lifetime. He answered: In your lifetime I will not make it known, but I will make it known in the lifetime of your son Shelomo. For when Shelomo built the Temple, he desired to take the Ark into the Holy of Holies, whereupon the gates clave to each other. Shelomo uttered twenty-four prayers, yet he was not answered. He opened his mouth and said: "Lift up your heads, O you gates; and be you lifted up, you everlasting doors: And the King of glory shall come in" (Ibid. 24:7)… Yet he was not answered. But as soon as he said: "O Lord God, turn not away the face of Your anointed; remember the good deeds of David your servant" (II Divrei Ha-yamim 6:42) – he was immediately answered. In that hour the faces of all David's enemies turned [black] like the bottom of a pot, and all Israel knew that the Holy One, blessed be He, had forgiven him that sin. (Shabbat 30a)




It was by virtue of David's self-sacrifice on behalf of the building of the Temple that the Temple was attributed to him,[5] as in Chazal's exposition of the heading of psalm 30 – "A psalm and a song at the dedication of the house; of David." For example, the following Midrash:


The Holy One, blessed be He, does not withhold the reward of any creature. Wherever a person exerts himself and dedicates himself to something, the Holy One, blessed be He, does not withhold reward from him. For Shelomo constructed the Temple, as it is stated: "So Shelomo built the house, and finished it" (I Melakhim 6:14). But because David dedicated himself to the Temple that was built, as it is stated: "Lord, remember to David's favor all his afflictions… Surely I will not come into the tabernacle of my house… I will not give sleep to my eyes… until I find out a place for the Lord" (Tehillim 132:1), the Holy One, blessed be He, did not withhold his reward. But rather He attributed it to him – "A psalm and song at the dedication of the house; of David" (Ibid. 30:1); it does not say "of Shelomo," but "of David." (Bamidbar Rabba 12:9)[6]


The Temple is attributed to David in reward for his self-sacrifice on behalf of its construction. Chazal draw a parallel between David's self-sacrifice and that of Moshe:


Rabbi Yitzchak said: Anybody who loves the mitzvot does not become sated by the mitzvot. How so? You find the two great leaders of the world, David and Moshe, who did not become sated. David, even though the Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: "You shall not build the house" (II Divrei Ha-yamim 6:9), David said to himself: Just because the Holy One, blessed be He, said to me: "You shall not build the house," I should sit back [and do nothing]? What did he do? He prodded himself and prepared everything that it needed before he died. From where do we know this? As it is stated: "Now, behold, in my trouble I have prepared for the house of the Lord" (I Divrei Ha-yamim 22:14). Likewise, Moshe, even though the Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: "You snot go over this Jordan" (Devarim 3:27), Moshe said: Shall I depart from the world without setting apart for them cities of refuge? Immediately, "Then Moshe set apart" (Ibid. 4:41). (Devarim Rabba 2, 27)


It is interesting that Chazal also connected the construction of the Mishkan to self-sacrifice – the self-sacrifice of Chur on behalf of the sanctification of God's name at the time of the Sin of the Golden Calf:


Another explanation: "See, the Lord has called by name Betzalel the son of Uri, the son of Chur" (Shemot 35:30). What did he see here to mention Chur? Rather, when Israel wanted to worship idols, he sacrificed his life and did not allow them. They rose up and killed him. The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: By your life, I will reward you. This may be likened to a king, whose legions rebelled against him. His general rose up and fought them, saying: Do you rebel against the king? They rose up and killed him. The king said: Had he given me money, would I not be required to repay him? All the more so when he gave his life for me! What shall I do for him? All of his descendants I will establish as duces and governors. Likewise when Israel fashioned the golden calf, Chur rose up and gave his life for God. He said to him: By your life, all of your descendants will I provide with a good name in the world. As it is stated: "See, the Lord has called by name Betzalel… and He has filled him with the spirit of God." And furthermore, whoever occupied himself in the construction of the Mishkan, the Holy One, blessed be He gave wisdom, understanding and intelligence. As it is stated: "And all the wise-hearted men among them that carried out the work" (Ibid. 36:8). And not just the humans, but even the animals and beasts. As it is stated: "Wisdom and understanding bahema (Ibid. v. 1). It is written "bahema," for He gave wisdom to the people and to the beasts (behema). Of all of them it was only made known about Betzalel. This is "The Lord has called by name Betzalel." (Shemot Rabba 48, 3)


The Meshekh Chokhma (in his commentary to Shemot 35:30) sees Chur's self-sacrifice as a continuation of the self-sacrifice of the Tribe of Yehuda at Yam Suf:[7]


Self-sacrifice must not be accompanied by excessive intellection and contemplation. Yehuda selflessly offered himself at the sea, as is stated in Tosefta Sota. And so too Chur offered himself at the Sin of the Golden Calf. For intellection will prevent a person from offering his life for the sanctification of God's name, blessed be He, as is attested to by Ya'avetz the Pious. Therefore, because they did not consider and contemplate excessively, "He filled him … in wisdom and in knowledge" (Shemot 35:30). Understand this.


Chur's self-sacrifice, in reward for which Betzalel built the Mishkan, continued in the figure of another member of the Tribe of Yehuda – King David, who selflessly offered himself on behalf of the building of God's Temple.




            We have tried to demonstrate that David's efforts on behalf of the building of the Temple constituted one of the most important projects of David's life, in addition to the establishment of the monarchy over all of Israel.


            This aspiration of David found expression already at an early stage of his life, when he was merely anointed king but did not yet actually serve as king, in his search for the site of the Temple together with the prophet Shemuel, and in other things that they did together for the sake of the Temple: division of the watches, establishment of music, and preparation of the plans. When he became king over all of Israel, David continued with the consecration of the spoils of war and a series of practical actions: bringing up of the Ark to Jerusalem, the request to build the Temple, and after he was forbidden to engage in the actual building, doing whatever he could possibly do for the sake of the building and bringing it closer.


            David's unlimited devotion to the building of the Temple is a unique example of the fulfillment of the command, "There you shall seek Him, at His dwelling, and there shall you come" (Devarim 12:5), in reward for which David merited that the Temple be attributed to him:


"A psalm and a song at the dedication of the house; of David." (Tehillim 30:1)







[1] We cannot expand here upon the many ideas arising in this aggada. Let us merely note the idea that the foundations of the Temple rest on nothing – on a piece of pottery that seals the opening of the deep that is about to burst open. It is precisely the most stable place in the universe, one that expresses the permanent resting of the Shekhina in this world, that rests on such wobbly foundations. This aggada might be connected to the idea of Jerusalem's proximity to the desert, which we expanded upon last year in Lesson no. 15: "The Topography of Ancient Jerusalem (III) – Jerusalem's Connection to the Desert."

[2] This possibility fits in well with the way that David relates to Shelomo in these chapters as an adult, who is capable of assuming responsibility for the building of the Temple.

[3] In Divrei Ha-yamim David is described as an active and energetic figure, who brings together the people of Israel and its leaders and encourages them to participate in the building. It is, however, possible that David's activity was focused during those years on the construction of the Temple, and was connected to absolute abstention from active rulership, as an expression of his acceptance of the judgment and as a punishment for his sin. The matter requires further examination.

[4] In what sense can the preparation for the building of the Temple constitute a repair of David's sin involving Bat-Sheva? This, of course, depends on how we understand the essence of the sin. For example, a repair of the removal of the Shekhina that rests between husband and wife (Sota 17a) by way of the resting of the Shekhina in the Temple; the Temple as site of purity and modesty, as opposed to sin; etc.

[5] Later in this series of shiurim, we shall expand upon the relationship between the parts of the Temple built by David and those built by Shelomo.

[6] See also Tanchuma, Beshalach 10; Sekhel Tov (ed. Buber), Shemot 15.

[7] See Mekhilta de-Rabbi Yishmael, masekhta de-Vayehi Beshalach, parasha 5: "… And Rabbi Yehuda said differently: 'And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea' (Shemot 14:22). When the tribes stood at the sea, this one said: I will not enter the sea first, and this one said: I will not enter the sea first. As it is stated: 'Ephraim compasses me about with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit' (Hoshea 12:1). While they were standing about and consulting on the matter, Nachshon ben Aminadav leaped and fell into the sea. About him, Scripture says: 'Save me, O God; for the waters are come in to my soul.' And it says: 'I sink in deep mire, where here there is no standing: I am come into deep waters, and the flood overwhelms me.' And it says: 'Let not the waterflood overwhelm me, nor let the deep swallow me up, and let not the pit shut her mouth upon me' (Tehillim 69:2-3, 16)."