Lecture 65: The History of the Resting of the Shekhina ֠Jerusalem in the Days of David (I) The Selection of Jerusalem and the Mikdash (I)

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy



Lecture 65: The History of the resting of the Shekhina –

Jerusalem in the days of David (I)

The Selection of Jerusalem and the Mikdash (I)


Rav Yitzchak Levi





            We move on now to our second unit of study.  In the first unit, we dealt with several aspects of the resting of the Shekhina following Israel's entry into Eretz Yisrael, the special assemblies conducted at Mount Eival and at Shekhem, the special status of the cities of Bet-El and Mitzpeh, and the status of the Giv'onim.


            Our next study unit deals with the period of David and his connection to Jerusalem and the Mikdash.


            There is a great difference between the earlier period that we discussed in the first unit and the period of David in the second unit.


            During the first period, at the beginning of the term of Yehoshua, there is indeed a single leadership, but over the centuries of the period of the shoftim, there is no single leadership; the leadership passes from one shofet to the next.  In contrast, during the period of David, we are dealing with kingship.  David was the first to show interest in and seek out the site of the Mikdash and to take practical steps to realize and advance its construction.


            The topic of this series is the history of the resting of the Shekhina.  David's actions begin with the conquest of Jerusalem.  In this framework, we will not expand upon the details of the city's conquest, but we will present David's relationship to his royal capital, which for him was connected to the future site of the Mikdash.[1]


            In this introductory lecture, we will first present the selection of Jerusalem.  We will then relate to the transfer of the ark to Jerusalem, which stemmed from David's desire to join the primary instrument of the resting of the Shekhina to his royal city.  Later, we will examine the reasons that barred David from building the Temple, and what David nonetheless did for the sake of the building of the Temple although he knew that he would not actually build it.  Finally, we will consider the story of the census and the revelation at the threshing floor of Aravna the Yevusi.




We will first present the essence of our argument in this lecture, after which we will fill in the details.  Our argument is that there are three stages in the selection of Jerusalem and the Mikdash:


·        The first stage: Human-royal selection of the city of Jerusalem by David, immediately following his appointment as king over all of Israel in Chevron.


·        The second stage: Divine selection of the site of the Mikdash in the wake of the appearance of the angel at the threshing floor of Aravna the Yevusi following the census.


·        The third stage: Divine selection of the city of Jerusalem in the days of Shlomo in the wake of the dedication of the House of God and the royal palace, which from then on constituted a single complex.


The first stage is a human stage, initiated from below, its main conditions being unity and the monarchy.


Between the first and second stages, David does everything in his power to achieve the building of a Mikdash.  He brings the ark of the Lord to the City of David and asks to build a house for it.  After he is explicitly told that he will not build it, he does whatever he can do on behalf of the Mikdash (to the exclusion of the actual building): searching out its location, finding it, building an altar, offering a sacrifice, drawing up the plans, preparing the materials, finding craftsmen to engage in its construction, and even establishing the mishmarot and ma'amadot that will eventually serve in the Temple after its construction.  When the angel of God reveals himself to David at the threshing floor of Aravna the Yevusi, David even suggests to God that he is ready to give up his life, and in the end he buys the threshing floor from moneys belonging to all of the tribes of Israel.  The second stage is thus realized with the fulfillment of the conditions of self-sacrifice and unity.


As for the third stage, the condition for its realization is human readiness to fully connect the worldly kingdom in its fixed manifestations to God's Kingdom.  The practical expression of this connection is the building of the royal palace and the House of God as a single unit, which expresses the total subjugation of the fixed worldly kingdom to the Kingdom of God.  This is realized at the time of the dedication of the royal palace and the House of God, and it is then that God selects the city in which He has chosen to rest His name - a permanent royal city in which stands the permanent Temple.


These are the three stages in the selection of the city of Jerusalem.  Let us now explain each one in greater detail.




I wish to demonstrate here that David's selection of the city was done on his own initiative, without any Divine interference.  This is a selection "from below."


David ruled in Chevron for seven and a half years (Shmuel II 5:5).  With the death of Ish-Boshet the son of Shaul, all of the tribes of Israel and the elders of Israel come to Chevron to appoint David as king over all of Israel.  There, David enters into a covenant with them and they anoint him as king.


In the book of Divrei Ha-yamim, Scripture emphasizes in great detail the remarkable unity among the tribes at the time of David's appointment as king.  It notes the tribes who participated in the appointment and concludes:


All these men of war, ranged in battle order, came with a perfect heart to Chevron to make David king over all Israel.  And also all the rest of Israel were of one heart to make David king.  And there they were with David three days, eating and drinking, for their brethren had prepared for them.  Also their neighbors as far as Yissakkhar and Zevulun and Naftali brought bread on asses, and on camels, and on mules, and on oxen, and provisions of meal, cakes of figs, and bunches of raisins, and wine, and oil, and oxen, and sheep in abundance, for there was joy in Israel.  (Divrei Ha-yamim I 12:39-41)


            Immediately following the account of the crowning of David in Chevron by all of Israel, the prophet summarizes the kingdom of David in two verses (Shmuel II 5:4-5), and immediately afterwards it says: "And the king and his men went to Jerusalem to the Yevusi, the inhabitants of the land" (ibid. v. 6).  In the corresponding passage in Divrei Ha-yamim, it also says immediately after the account of David's crowning: "And David and all Israel went to Jerusalem, which is Yevus, where the Yevusi were, the inhabitants of the land" (Divrei Ha-yamim I 11:4).  Both books emphasize that immediately following David's crowning in Hebron over all of Israel, David goes off to conquer Jerusalem.


            Note that there is no mention in Scripture of a prophet or of his involvement;[2] there is no Divine revelation; there is not even an inquiry of the Urim and Tumim.  In order to understand the significance of the fact that no inquiry is made of the Urim and Tumim, compare David's going to Chevron following the death of Shaul to his going to Jerusalem following the death of Ish-Boshet.  When he goes to Chevron, we read: "And it came to pass after this that David inquired of the Lord, saying, ‘Shall I go up into any of the cities of Yehuda?’ And the Lord said to him, ‘Go up.’ And David said, ‘Where shall I go up?’ And he said, ‘To Chevron.’" (Shmuel I 2:1).  David, who regularly inquires of God, does not suffice with the general question, "Shall I go up into any of the cities of Yehuda?" Rather, he asks a second question, "Where shall I go up?" and he receives the answer, "To Chevron." How is it possible that when he goes to Chevron to rule only over the tribe of Yehuda, David inquires of God, but when he goes to Jerusalem to rule over all of Israel, he does not inquire of God? This comparison seems to sharpen the fact that David's selection of Jerusalem was made in an absolutely independent manner, without any Divine involvement whatsoever.


            Scripture gives no explanation as to why David goes specifically to Jerusalem, but there is also no reason to assume that he is brought there by a religious reason.  In my humble opinion, David knows nothing about the site of the Mikdash when he arrives in Jerusalem; it is not his connection to the Mikdash that brings him there.


            Various proofs can be brought to support this argument.  In Tehillim 132, David says as follows:


A song of ascents.  Lord, remember to David's favor all his afflictions, how he swore to the Lord, and vowed to the mighty God of Yaakov: Surely I will not come into the tabernacle of my house, nor go up into my bed; I will not give sleep to my eyes, slumber to my eyelids, until I find out a place for the Lord, a habitation for the mighty One of Yaakov.  (Tehillim 132:1-5)


            The Radak (ad loc.) comments:


David recited this psalm when he built the altar on the threshing floor of Aravna the Yevusi based on the word of Gad the prophet, and offered on it burnt-offerings and peace-offerings, and called out to God, and God answered him with fire from heaven on the burnt-offering altar.  And he said: "This is the house of the Lord God, and this is the altar of the burnt-offering for Israel" (Divrei Ha-yamim I 22:1).  And before that day, the site of the Mikdash had not been known.


            The Radak proposes that the psalm was said at the time of the building of the altar on the threshing floor of Aravna the Yevusi (Shmuel II 24; Divrei Ha-yamim I 21),[3] and he points in particular to David's words when he finished bringing the offering upon that altar: "And David said, ‘This is the house of the Lord God, and this is the altar of the burnt-offering for Israel’" (Divrei Ha-yamim I 22:1).  These words seem to reflect David's astonishment when the site of the Mikdash was revealed to him; indeed, the Radak understands that until that day, the site of the Mikdash had not been known.  The Radak continues (ad loc.):


It seems to me that "We heard of it at Efrat" (Tehillim 132:6) means as follows: David said: We did not know of this place until today.  We only heard in our city of Efrat that a place would be chosen in the future for the Mikdash for all generations.  For Shilo, Nov, and Giv'on were not for all generations.  We merely heard from the elders in our city that a place would yet be chosen.  And lo, now "we found it in Sedeh-Ya'ar" (ibid.), in the threshing floor of Aravna the Yevusi.  And he called it "Ya'ar" [forest] because the trees of the forest were there.  And therefore he said "in Efrat," because there David was born and there he grew up and there he heard of this matter.


            The Ibn Ezra (ad loc.) also writes: "It is possible that David authored this poem when he covered himself with sackcloth, he and the elders of Israel, when the people were smitten with the plague, and he did not find a place to offer a sacrifice on behalf of the people of Israel, because the Mishkan was located far away."[4]


            The only allusion in Chazal to the possibility that David had known the site of the Mikdash before he came there is the derasha of Rava in Zevachim 54b:


Rava expounded: What is meant by that which is written: "And he [David] and Shmuel went and dwelt in Nayot… in Rama" (Shmuel I 19:18)? What is Nayot doing next to Rama? Rather, they were sitting in Rama and occupied with the beauty (noy) of the world.  They said: It is written: "Then you shall arise, and go up to the place" (Devarim 17:8), teaching that the Temple is higher than all of Eretz Yisrael, and Eretz Yisrael is higher than all the countries.  They didn't know where it was, [so] they brought out the book of Yehoshua.  Regarding all of them it is written, "it went down," "the border went up," "the border descended." Regarding Binyamin, it is written, "it went up," but it is not written, "it went down." They said: Infer from this that here is its [the Temple's] place.  They thought to build it at Ein-Eitam, which was high.  They said: Let us place it a little lower, as it is stated: "And between his shoulders [which are lower than the head] shall He dwell" (Devarim 33:12).


            According to this derasha, David sought out the site of the Mikdash already in the days of Shmuel and located it in the tribal territory of Binyamin, "between his shoulders," that is to say, in a lower place in that territory.  As we have already alluded to in the past, this gemara does not appear to reflect the plain sense of Scripture.  This wonderful derasha comes primarily to describe David as occupied with the site of the Mikdash already while he was running away from Shaul to Nayot together with Shmuel.  In other words, David was already driven by his aspiration for the resting of the Shekhina from the very beginning of his reign.


Let us now return to our main argument.  David does not know the site of the Mikdash; he establishes Jerusalem as his capital city without inquiring of God or a prophet, and this is not accompanied by any Divine revelation.  It has no connection to the Mikdash.


In light of this, the question may be raised: What, then, are the reasons that brought David to Jerusalem?




The natural place for David to establish his capital is the city of Chevron.  Chevron was located in the center of the tribal territory of Yehuda, David's tribe, and served as its capital.  David goes there on God's instructions, and there he rules over Yehuda for seven years and six months.  It seems, however, that it is precisely because Chevron is so appropriate that David rejects it.  David is not interested in a tribal capital city, one that belongs to his tribe.  He is interested in a place that can be meta-tribal, and thus unite all of Israel around it.


A second fact that deserves our attention is that Jerusalem was until this time a non-Jewish city.  With the conquest of Jerusalem, David completes Israel's hold on the central mountain range and abolishes the last non-Jewish barrier separating between the tribes in this region.  Besides the fulfillment of the mitzva of conquering and settling the area, selecting a city inhabited by non-Jews has another advantage.  As we have demonstrated,[5] the city of Jerusalem belongs to the tribe of Binyamin, but Binyamin had not yet captured it from the hands of the Yevusim.  Establishing Jerusalem as his capital city made it unnecessary for David to confiscate for this purpose a city that had already been settled by another tribe.[6]


Of course, Jerusalem's location – in a most central spot, in the heart of the mountain range – has significant advantages.


Finally, the fact that David's first act following his appointment as king over all of Israel was to go to Jerusalem (as we saw in both the book of Shmuel and in the book of Divrei Ha-yamim) alludes to the fact that David's objective is first and foremost to unite all of Israel around this place, and especially the tribes of Yehuda and Binyamin.  This is first owing to the great hostility between these two tribes ("Now there was a long warfare between the house of Shaul and the house of David;" Shmuel II 3:1) and second because they represent the children of Rachel and the children of Leah, "which two did build the house of Israel"[7] (Rut 4:11).[8]


This set of spiritual considerations brought David to choose Jerusalem and turn it into the capital of all of Israel, allowing him to govern the people in a unified manner.[9]




It is clear from the story of the census that at the time of his conquest of Jerusalem, David left the threshing floor, the Mount Moriya region, in the hands of Aravna, king of the Yevusim (Shmuel II 24:23).  We find that Chazal criticized David for this step:


“Every place whereon the sole of your foot shall tread shall be yours" (Devarim 11:24)… David acted against the Torah.  The Torah says that after you conquer the land, you will be permitted to conquer outside the land, [but] he did not do so.  Rather, he went out and conquered Aram Naharayim and Aram Tzova, while the Yevusim who were near Jerusalem he did not conquer.  The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: Close to your palace you did not conquer.  How then do you go out and conquer Aram Naharayim and Aram Tzova? (Sifrei, Devarim, sec.  51)


            In other words, the entire city had not been conquered because David failed to conquer the region of the threshing floor that was near his own palace.




            We began to examine the overall meaning of David's connection to Jerusalem.  We emphasized the significance of his choosing the city without any Divine command – not by way of a prophet, nor by way of inquiry of the Urim and Tumim, nor by way of a revelation.  In light of this, we tried to examine what drew David to Jerusalem.  We also saw the view of Chazal regarding the fact that David left Aravna in Jerusalem and that he failed to conquer the area adjacent to his palace, even though he had conquered far more distant areas.


            In the next lecture, we will complete this discussion.  We will begin with David's bringing of the ark to the City of David and his request to build a house for God.  We will analyze David's efforts on behalf of the Mikdash and examine the Divine selection of the city of Jerusalem, and we will conclude with a comparison of this process to other events taking place during this period.


(Translated by David Strauss)



[1] In the past, we discussed the history of Jerusalem, and there we dealt at length with the period of David and Shlomo.  In the coming, lecture we will make considerable use of the lecture discussing the resting of the Shekhina in the days of David and Shlomo, making some changes and adding additions and expansions. 

[2] We have already emphasized in the past that when studying Scripture one must note not only what is written in the verses, but also what is not written there.

[3] The chronological issue here – the relationship between David's request to build the Mikdash (Shmuel II 7) and the revelation of the site of the Mikdash at the threshing floor of Aravna the Yevusi (ibid.  24) - is a weighty issue.  It is difficult to give a clear answer to this question, and we will not deal with the issue here.

[4] Other commentators suggest that the psalm was written when David brought the ark up to the City of David, for then it was put into a tent (Shmuel II 6).  Others say that it was written when Shlomo brought the ark into the house of God.  We follow in the footsteps of the Radak.

[5] Lecture 21, "Jerusalem during the Period of the Conquest and Settlement (II); To which Tribe did Jerusalem Belong.

[6] Some ask how David could have established his capital city in territory belonging to the tribe of Binyamin.  It may be argued that the king was permitted to confiscate land – in this case from the tribe of Binyamin – based on the law of the king (Shmuel I 8:11-14), if this was done for the purpose of a royal palace (see Malbim, Melakhim I 21:1).  Perhaps, however, he was permitted to take only the fruit (and not the land itself) for his servants and soldiers (Radak, ibid.  10).  (These commentators discuss the king's right to confiscate territory in the context of the story of Navot's vineyard.)

[7] The connection between the wholeness of Jerusalem and national unity finds expression in the verses in Tehillim: "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; those who love you shall prosper.  Peace be within your walls and prosperity within your palaces.  For my brethren and companions' sakes, I will now say, Peace be within you" (Tehillim 132:6-8).  The Malbim expands on this issue in his commentary there: "Pray – after having explained that Jerusalem is what holds together and unites the collective body, he says that just as if one were to ask about the peace of an individual body, we would answer that its peace depends upon the organs and forces in the body being connected and at peace with each other, for when there is division between them, death arrives – so too if they ask about the peace of Jerusalem, we would answer that its peace depends upon whether there is peace among 'those who love you,' for the essence of Jerusalem is the unity of the people.  If so, if quarreling and arguments and division of hearts arise among its people, there will be no peace in Jerusalem, for the essence of its peace is when it is 'like a city that is compact together,' and not when it is divided."

[8] It is interesting to examine the relationship between Yehuda and Binyamin across the generations.  This begins with Yehuda's surety for Binyamin when they went down to see Yosef in Egypt, a surety that established a special connection between the two tribes (see "Jerusalem in the Bible, Lecture 19: Inheritance of Binyamin – Portion of the Divine Presence [part IV]" [http://vbm-torah.org/archive/yeru/19yeru.htm]).  It continues with David's surety for Shaul in his battle against Golyat in Emek ha-Ela (a surety that Chazal connect to Yehuda's surety for Binyamin in Egypt; see Yalkut Shimoni, Shmuel I, sec.  126).  It concludes with Binyamin's decision at the time of the division of the monarchy not to side with the tribes of Efrayim and Menashe, the children of Yosef, the son of Rachel, but rather with the tribe of Yehuda.

It may be argued that Jerusalem's special status as the capital of the kingdom of Yehuda was preserved in great measure by the virtue of Binyamin, on whose southern border, between it and Yehuda, Jerusalem is situated, and whose northern border constitutes the northern border of the kingdom of Yehuda in the region of Bet-El and Mount Bet-El.  R.  Yaakov Medan brings an interesting proof to this from what is stated in the prophecy of Achiya the Shiloni to Yerov'am regarding the division of the monarchy: "But he shall have one tribe for My servant David's sake, and for Jerusalem's sake, the city which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel" (Melakhim I 11:32).  The commentators there struggle with the question as to which tribe is being referred to, Yehuda or Binyamin.  R. Medan proposes to read the verse as follows: "But he shall have one tribe for My servant David's sake" – this is the tribe of Yehuda; "and [he shall have one tribe] for Jerusalem's sake, the city which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel" – this is the tribe of Binyamin.  According to this explanation, the verse works out very well (with respect to the number of tribes as well): the tribe of Yehuda, which is Shlomo's tribe, is for My servant David's sake – for the sake of preserving the kingdom in Yehuda; the tribe of Binyamin is for the sake of the selection of Jerusalem, because it protects it from the north and pushes the border of the northern kingdom northward.

All of this is without the special connection that Binyamin has to Jerusalem owing to its being the territory of the Shekhina, as was mentioned in the lectures dealing with that issue.

It is possible that this compensates Binyamin for having lost the kingdom, and also for its difficult situation following the incident involving the concubine in Giv'a.

Finally, it is possible that we are dealing here with a desire on the part of Yehuda to be more closely connected to Binyamin, in continuation of the surety that Yehuda gave for Binyamin when the brothers went down to Egypt and the surety that David gave for Shaul in his battle in Emek ha-Ela.  David is now king of all of Israel and he is in a position to renew this covenant. 

[9] This also expresses itself in the fact that Jerusalem was settled by members of all the tribes: "And in Jerusalem dwelt some of the children of Yehuda, and some of the children of Binyamin, and some of the children of Efrayim and Menashe…" (Divrei Ha-yamim I 9:3; see the proofs brought by Yehuda Kil, Da'at Mikra on Divrei Ha-yamim, p. 244, that this list can be dated to the days of David).  This is in addition to the families of priests and Levites, who served next to the tent that David pitched for the ark in the City of David.  Another proof is the expression, "the residents of Jerusalem and the men of Yehuda," found several times in the words of the prophets (e.g., Yeshaya 5:3; Yirmiyahu 4:4 and 11:17; Divrei Ha-yamim II 34:31), which implies that the residents of Jerusalem and the men of Yehuda are not the same people - Jerusalem was also inhabited by members of other tribes.