Lecture 68: The History of the Resting of the Shekhina ֠Bringing the Ark to Jerusalem (Part II)

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy





This shiur is dedicated by Mr and Mrs Alan Kravitz on behalf of Elie Kravitz




Lecture 68: The History of the resting of the Shekhina –

Bringing the ark to jerusalem (part iI)

Rav Yitzchak Levi



            In this lecture, I wish to address additional aspects of the transfer of the ark to Jerusalem; some are connected to the way we understand the sin, and some are connected to a broader perspective on the entire affair.






            In the lecture dealing with the selection of Jerusalem,[1] we noted that David did not inquire of God before deciding to transfer the ark to Jerusalem. This is very surprising, for we would have expected that he would have inquired of God for several reasons: David frequently made inquiries of God; the magnitude of the task – returning the ark to the public domain of the people of Israel after a twenty-year interruption (all the years of Shaul and Shmuel and the years of David in Hebron); and the great novelty of bringing the ark to Jerusalem, rather than to the great bama in Giv'on.


            According to our approach, David did not inquire of God because he wished to adopt a course of action that did not depend upon the revelation of God's will or His agreement and did not  follow from absolute effacement before Him, but rather reflected David's desire to bring the ark to Him on his own. However, we do not find that in his second attempt to move the ark David inquired of God, nor do we find that Scripture explicitly criticizes David for this. It is possible that the repair for this will come in the next chapter (Shmuel II 7), wherein David asks the prophet Natan whether he himself can build the Mikdash.




            As we saw in the previous lecture, the changes that David made in his second attempt to move the ark teach us about the nature of the sin committed during the first attempt. One of the striking differences between the two attempts relates to the sacrifices. Both in the book of Shmuel and in Divrei Ha-yamim, Scripture does not mention that sacrifices were offered during the first attempt, whereas during the second attempt it says: "And when they that bore the ark of the Lord had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling" (Shmuel II  6:13); "And it came to pass, when God helped the Levites who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord, that they offered seven bullocks and seven rams" (Divrei Ha-yamim I 15:26).[2] What is the significance of this difference?


            In many places in the Torah great importance and special significance is attached to the connection between the offering of sacrifices and the possibility of the resting of the Shekhina. Offering a sacrifice is one of the paths to closeness to God; during the preparations made for a sacrifice and during the offering itself, man, as it were, raises the world – himself included – toward God. This allows him to merit the resting of the Shekhina. During the first attempt to move the ark, David felt no need to offer sacrifices before or while moving the ark. According to our approach, since David saw his action as one that was primarily a royal act, he did not deem it right to offer sacrifices, which constitute preparation for the resting of the Shekhina.[3]




            In the account of the first attempt to move the ark, no mention is made regarding the way that David was dressed, whereas in the story of the second attempt, it says: "And David leaped before the Lord with all his might; and David was girded with a linen efod (Shmuel II 6:14); "And David was clothed with a robe of fine linen… David also had upon him an efod of linen" (Divrei Ha-Yamim I 15:27). The commentators explain (ad loc.): "A linen efod – a garment patterned after the efod of the High Priest, which was set aside for people who seclude themselves in the service of the God" (Metzudat David, Shmuel); "They wore this garment for honor" (Radak, Shmuel); "Like the efod of Aharon…" (Rashi, Divrei Ha-yamim). In other words, the reference is to an honorary garment similar to the priestly garment of the same name. It is possible that to repair the sin, David was careful to wear a fitting garment that would honor the occasion. This fits in with the fact that the ark was now carried by the Levites, and, as it were, even David had the status of a servant of God similar to the priests.


4. Ways of expressing the Joy


            In the account of the first attempt to bring the ark to Jerusalem, it says: "And David and all the house of Israel played before the Lord on all manner of instruments made of cypress-wood, on lyres, and on lutes, and on timbrels, and on rattles, and on cymbals" (Shmuel II 6:5), that is to say, with various musical instruments. In contrast, the story of the second attempt reads: "And David leaped before the Lord with all his might… King David dancing and leaping before the Lord" (Shmuel II 6:14-15). The dancing before God during the second attempt, as opposed to the celebration with musical instruments during the first, emphasizes the expressions of David's humility and effacement before God in his personality and character.


            It is possible to see here a general tendency that fits in with the repair of the sin. In the second attempt to transfer the ark, according to Divrei Ha-yamim, carrying on the shoulders replaced the cart, and David's movements of his own body – dancing and leaping - replaced the musical instruments. In the repair, David wished to express that he stood before God in unmediated fashion and without any barriers through his own dancing and through the Levites carrying the ark on their shoulders and not in a cart.[4]




            The blessing that rested in the house of Oved-Edom with the resting of the ark therein following the death of Uzza proved that the critical factor was not the ark, but rather the attitude towards the presence of the Shekhina. The ramifications of the nearness of God depend upon man's behavior and do not flow from some inherent characteristic in the ark itself. This was already noted by Midrash Tanchuma (Parashat Beshalach, no. 21):


This is one of the three things about which Israel was discontented and said that these are kinds of punishment. They are: the incense, the ark and the staff… They said that the ark was a calamity;[5] it killed Uzza and the people of Bet-Shemesh, as it is stated: "And the anger of the Lord burned against Uzza; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God" (Shmuel II 6:7); and it is written: "And He smote the men of Bet-Shemesh, because they had looked into the ark of the Lord, smiting fifty thousand and seventy men of the people; and the people lamented" (Shmuel I 6:19). Therefore, He informed them that it was a blessing, as it is written: "And the ark of the Lord continued in the house of Oved-Edom the Gitti three months; and the Lord blessed Oved-edom, and all his household" (Shmuel II 6:11).


            Indeed, this blessing was what, in the end, led David to resume the transfer of the ark to Jerusalem:


And it was told to King David, saying, “The Lord has blessed the house of Oved-Edom and all that he has because of the ark of God.” So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Oved-Edom into the city of David with gladness. (Shmuel II 6:12)




            The story concludes with a scathing conversation between David and Mikhal:


Then David returned to bless his household. And Mikhal the daughter of Shaul came out to meet David, and said, “How glorious was the king of Israel today, in that he uncovered himself today in the eyes of the handmaids of his servants, as one of the low fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!” And David said to Mikhal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me before your father and before all his house to appoint me prince over the people of the Lord, over Israel. Therefore, will I play before the Lord, and I will be yet more lightly esteemed than this, holding myself lowly; and of the handmaids of whom you have spoken, of them will I be had in honor.” And Mikhal the daughter of Shaul had no child unto the day of her death. (Shmuel II 6:20-26)


            It seems that this disagreement between David, who wished to repair the sin committed during the first attempt to transfer the ark, and Mikhal, the daughter of Shaul, revolved around another point directly connected to our discussion: the appropriate behavior of a human king, as he stands, in the sight of his subjects, before the King, King of kings.


            David appears here in the fullness of his lowliness (in the positive sense of the term) and humility. Together with the rest of the people, he happily danced, leaping before the Lord. When standing before God, it was as if David relinquished his status and rule, conducting himself as an ordinary person. This itself is his very honor before God.


            Mikhal the daughter of Shaul reflected here the position of her father, according to which the king must maintain his independent, distinguished position even before God. Midrash Bamidbar Rabba (4:20) has an interesting formulation on the matter:


He said to her: Those of the house of your father would seek their own honor and forsake the honor of heaven, but I do not do this, but rather I forsake my own honor and seek the honor of heaven. This is what it says: "I will be yet more lightly esteemed than this." And do not say that I was lowly in the eyes of others, but not contemptible in my own eyes. Therefore, it says, "holding myself lowly."


            Shaul's conception of the monarchy followed from this understanding, and it expressed itself in his attitude toward prophets and the word of God, in his attitude toward the priesthood and inquiring of the Urim and Tumim, as well as in Mikhal's attitude expressed here.[6] The disagreement between David and Mikhal greatly sharpened David's absolute submission to and self-effacement before God.


            This fundamental disagreement had additional significance as well. The distance between David and Mikhal against the backdrop of this disagreement made it impossible that the monarchy of the house of David would also constitute a continuation of the house of Shaul and a unification of the two houses. In this context, it is important to understand the sequence of events from the end of chapter 6 to the beginning of chapter 8 in Shmuel II. At the end of chapter 6, in the disagreement between David and Mikhal, it becomes clear that David's kingdom was not regarded as permanent based on his connection to Mikhal. This fits in clearly and directly with the rationale of God's negative answer in chapter 7 to David's request to build the Mikdash: the building of the Mikdash requires a permanent kingdom with a royal dynasty – and that still did not exist.[7] The account of the war against the Pelishtim in the beginning of chapter 8 teaches – apparently in opposition to David's impression – that God had not yet given him rest from all his enemies around him, and the need to continue fighting also prevented him from building the Temple.




            The place where Uzza puts out his hand to take hold of the ark is referred to in Shmuel II 6 as the threshing floor of Nakhon, and in Divrei Ha-yamim I 15:9 it is called the threshing floor of Kidon. The gemara notes this difference:


It is written Kidon and it is written Nakhon? R. Yochanan said: At first Kidon and later Nakhon. (Sota 35b)


Rashi explains:


At first, when the ark arrived there, it was for them like a spear (kidon) that kills, for it killed Uzza. But in the end, after it remained there for six months in the house of Oved-Edom, it became firmly established (nakhon), for it established his house, as it is written: "And the Lord blessed Oved-edom" (Shmuel II 6:11). Oved-Edom's wife and her eight daughters-in-law each gave birth to sextuplets. This is what is written, "Peuletay the eighth, for God blessed him" (Divrei Ha-yamim I 26:5), and afterwards it is written, "Sixty two of Oved-Edom" (ibid. v. 8).


            The Arukh writes: "At first it was judgment (din), but afterwards it was right (nakhon)."


            The Maharsha (ad loc.) explains: "When they acted improperly and carried it in the cart, it was like a spear, but when the Levites carried it on their shoulders, it was right."


            Rashi afterwards offers a very novel idea:


And I heard in the name of R. Menachem bar Chelbo: The threshing-floor of Nakhon is the threshing-floor of Aravna the Yevusi. If so, we should read as follows: At first Nakhon and later Kidon, called so because of the altar which at first was built and later was destroyed. "Kidon" in the sense of crisis and destruction, as in: "Let his eyes see his own destruction ('kido')" (Iyov 21:2).


            This view directly connects the revelation and the punishment of Uzza when he sent out his hand to take hold of the ark to the plague and the revelation of the site of the Mikdash in the aftermath of the census. In both cases, we are dealing with a similar sin – inappropriate closeness to God that blurs the clear boundaries between human kingdom and the kingdom of God – and, fundamentally, with a similar punishment.[8] According to the plain sense of the text, it is impossible to identify the location of this threshing floor, and the position cited by Rashi is certainly novel.




            The order of the narrative in Divrei Ha-yamim gives added meaning to the location of the battle against the Pelishtim that took place between the two attempts to transfer the ark to Jerusalem. It would appear that in its account of the battle, prophecy presents, both in its wording and in its content, a repair of the sin of Uzza.


            At the beginning of Divrei Ha-yamim I 13:2, David says to the entire congregation of Israel:


If it seem good to you, and that it be of the Lord our God, let us send abroad ("nifretza nishlecha")[9] to our brethren everywhere, who are left in all the land of Israel, and with them also to the priests and Levites who are in their cities that have pasture lands that they may gather themselves to us.


            Scripture seems to be alluding here to Shmuel II 11:6, which describes David's reaction to the blow that God brought upon Uzza:


And David was displeased, because the Lord had burst out against Uzza; and he called the name of the place Peretz-Uzza to this day.


            It seems that David's "peritza" involved action undertaken with great excitement, causing a breach in the appropriate framework. And as it were, measure for measure, God bursts out against Uzza.


            The linguistic similarity returns later in the context of the war waged against the Pelishtim (Divrei Ha-yamim I 14:11):


So they came up to Ba'al-Peratzim; and David smote them there. Then David said, “God has broken through my enemies by my hand like a bursting ("ke-feretz") flood of waters;” therefore they called the name of that place Ba'al-Peratzim.


            As opposed to the attempt to move the ark, at Ba'al-Peratzim, David limited himself in battle. When he found himself very close to the enemy and seemingly able to defeat him on his own, he waited for Divine intervention. In the wake of this waiting, God burst out against His enemies by way of the hand of David like a “bursting flood of waters.” The root peh-resh-tzadi undoubtedly serves as a guide word in this story, and here too this is measure for measure. David, on his part, refrained from engaging in any human action so that God's governance would be revealed, and God then gave David victory over the Pelishtim.


            This victory at Ba'al-Peratzim is achieved in the wake of David's inquiry of God whether to go up to war and God's positive response. David inquired of God also in the second battle against the Pelishtim, and there God commanded him to wait until he heard a sound of marching in the tops of the bakha trees – "Then you shall go out to battle, for God has gone before you to smite the camp of the Pelishtim" (ibid. v. 15). Here, at the height of battle, we have the most perfect repair of Peretz-Uzza. It is precisely in battle – a clear royal action, generally dictated by human factors alone – that David had to wait, refrain from fighting, and subordinate his royal will to Divine determination in an absolute manner.[10]




            In his book, "Ha-Mikra Ve-Ha-Mesora" (pp. 16 and on), R. Reuven Margaliyot proposes that Tehillim 29 – "A Psalm of David. Ascribe to the Lord, O you mighty" – was said at the time of the transfer of the ark to Jerusalem. He bases his argument on the psalm's repeated use of the word "kavod" (glory)[11] and on the parallels between it and Tehillim 24, which Chazal interpreted (Shabbat 30a) as relating to the bringing of the ark into the Holy of Holies.[12] He also proposes that the psalm's heading in the Septuagint – "When the tent sets forward" – alludes to the tent that David pitched for the ark in the City of David.[13] It is possible that the psalm expresses the desire to honor God through the transfer of the ark and to recognize His might and strength that reveal themselves in various ways, but only "in His sanctuary does everybody speak of His glory" and does His kingship become manifest in the world. Only when the ark arrives in its resting place does the blessing of peace rest upon Israel.




            Both in the book of Shmuel and in Divrei Ha-yamim, it says that David brought the ark to the City of David. In Shmuel II 6:17, it says:


And they brought in the ark of the Lord and set it in its place, in the midst of the tent that David had pitched for it.


            And in Divrei Ha-yamim I 15:1, it says:


And David made houses for himself in the City of David and prepared a place for the ark of God and pitched for it a tent.


            The verse in Divrei Ha-yamim explicitly states that this is the place that David prepared for the ark in the City of David.


            I wish to argue that from the moment that the ark was brought to the City of David and until the building of the Temple in the days of Shlomo, the tent and the ark served as an important ritual site in the City of David, which paralleled the great bama in Giv'on. According to this understanding, it is possible to understand that the preparation mentioned in Divrei Ha-yamim refers to the preparation of a sanctified place designated for the ark.


            In this context, the words of the Gaon of Vilna regarding the preparation of the place are very interesting. According to him, preparing the place involved a stone construction under a tent.


            This understanding bestows special importance to a sanctified place within the City of David, when at the same time the great bama stood in Giv'on. It is even possible that this brings to mind the Mishkan in Shilo, the lower portion of which was stone while the upper portion was curtain.


            In addition, Scripture testifies in Divrei Ha-yamim I 6:16-17:


And these are they whom David set over the service of song in the house of the Lord, after the ark had rest. And they ministered before the dwelling place of the Tent of Meeting with singing, until Shlomo had built the house of the Lord in Jerusalem; and then they performed their office according to their order.


            And in Divrei Ha-yamim I 16:37 it says:


So he left there before the ark of the covenant of the Lord Asaf and his brethren, to minister before the ark continually, as every day's work required.


            We see from here that a service was conducted in Jerusalem around the ark involving the daily singing of Levites.


            It is reasonable to assume that the expression appearing in Tehillim 132:3, "Surely I will not come into the tent of my house," refers to the tent that David pitched in the City of David for the ark.


            It is interesting that during Avshalom's rebellion, when David decided to leave the ark in Jerusalem, he said to Tzadok:


Carry back the ark of God into the city. If I shall find favor in the eyes of the Lord, He will bring me back, and show me both it and His habitation ("navehu"). (Shmuel II 15:25)


            The Radak explains there that the word "navehu" refers to the house in which the ark stood.


            The picture that clearly emerges from the various passages is that King David decided on his own, without any inquiry of God and without any prophetic statement, that he wanted Jerusalem to be the future site of the Mikdash. In order to further that end, he brought the ark to Jerusalem, in order to join the ruling capital city to the center of holiness, the ark, and he turned it into a center of Divine service in which there was daily levitical singing. This continued until the ark was brought into the house of God during the time of Shlomo.




            Without a doubt, David wanted to do the will of God; there is also no doubt that Uzza wanted to prevent the desecration of God's name with the fall of the ark. The lesson to be learned from this story is similar to the lesson learned from the story of Nadav and Avihu and the lesson learned from the census and the plague: Closeness to God demands total self-effacement before the will of God.


            Another lesson relates to the place of a human king in relation to the King, King of kings, and the proper standing of the kingdom before God.


            The sin involving the ark was repaired when it was left in Jerusalem during Avshalom's rebellion and with the determination that the ark should remain in the city with whichever king was there at the time.


            Chazal assert (Shabbat 30a and many parallels) that the bringing of the ark from the City of David to the Mikdash and its being brought into the Holy of Holies, its final and permanent place of rest, was made possible only by virtue of the loving-kindness of David, who began the process in our story.


            In the next lecture, we will deal with the reasons that David was prevented from building the Mikdash.


(Translated by David Strauss)

[1] Lecture 23, 5766, "The Selection of Jerusalem and the Temple (Part I)" - http://vbm-torah.org/archive/yeru/23yeru.htm

[2] The gemara (Sota 35) discusses the relationship between these two verses.

[3] It is also possible that this stems from an outlook that sees the primary connection to God in the resting of His Shekhina, and less in the means and the preparations that are necessary for the Shekhina to rest. This issue is connected to a broader issue in David's life: the relationship between the altar and the ark. We already mentioned in the past David's strong connection to the ark, in contrast to his weak connection to the bama in Giv'on and to the offering of sacrifices on the altar. R. Ariel dedicated a chapter in his book, "Oz Melekh – Iyyunim Be-Sefer Shmuel," to this issue, and we will not expand upon it in this forum.

[4] I thank my colleague, R. Yoni Grossman, for this important comment.

[5] The Tanchuma reads here, "samprinon." The parallel in the Mekhilta reads "pur'anut."

[6] This issue is very broad and requires a separate lecture, which would veer from the framework of this series. I wish to note here only one expression of this phenomenon, which I learned from my revered teacher, R. Yoel Bin Nun. Shaul's house was located in Giv'at Shaul, which is identified with Tel-Al-Pul, west of Pisgat Ze'ev. The site of the Mishkan in Nov, the city of priests, is identified, according to one of the important opinions, with Tel-Shu'afat, which is located topographically below Tel-Al-Pul. Shaul's house, then, rules over the site of the Mishkan topographically, just as his kingdom rules the priesthood (as is exemplified by his killing of the priests of Nov). David, in contrast, built his house in the City of David, and Shlomo built the royal palace at the foot of Mount Moriya, thus subordinating the kingdom to the Temple.

[7] As it would appear, David's other wives are inappropriate for this task, and Mikhal the daughter of Shaul, in the wake of the disagreement between them, was also no longer relevant. It is possible that the relationship between David and Bat-Sheva should be viewed against this background, as in the end the Davidic dynasty will come from her and Shlomo her son will rule as king and build the Mikdash.

[8] We will expand upon this matter in the lecture on the census.

[9] The Rishonim understand the word "nifretza" in different ways: “let us strengthen ourselves” (Metzudat David); “let us spread out and send agents in every direction” (Radak); “let us breach the fence that stood until now when nobody sought God” (Rashi).

[10] The midrash sees in this point the difference between Shaul and David: "And similarly you find that when Shmuel went to anoint David, the ministering angels denounced him before the Holy One, blessed be He, and said: Master of the universe, why did you take the kingdom from Shaul and give it to David? He said to them: I will tell you the difference between Shaul and David. Shaul went and inquired of the Urim and Tumim. When he saw that the Pelishtim were coming upon him, he said to the priest, Gather your hand, and he did not wait for him to finish speaking. As it is stated: 'And it came to pass, while Shaul talked to the priest…' (Shmuel I 14:19). But David, when he saw that the Pelishtim were coming upon him in the valley of Refa'im, immediately began to inquire of the Urim and Tumim. As it is stated: 'And the Pelishtim came up yet again, and spread themselves in the valley of Refa'im. And when David inquired of the Lord, he said, You shall not go up, but make a circuit behind them' (Shmuel II 5:22-23). You do not have permission to strike at them, even if they come close to you, until you see the tops of the trees waving. As it is stated: 'And let it be when you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the bakha trees' (ibid. v. 24), and not behind them. 'Then you shall bestir yourself' (ibid.) – a term of cutting, as it is stated: 'Seeing his days are determined' (Iyov 14:5)… When the Pelishtim came, Israel saw them, and they were not at a distance from them of even four cubits. Israel said to David: Why are we standing [here]? He said to them: Thus have I been commanded from heaven, not to strike at them until the tops of the trees are seen waving. If we strike at them, we shall die immediately, and if we do not strike at them, they shall immediately kill us. It is better that we should die as righteous men than die guilty. Rather, I and you – let us lift up our eyes to the Holy One, blessed be He. Immediately, all the trees swayed, and they attacked them, as it is stated: 'And David did so, as the Lord had commanded him; and smote the Pelishtim' (Shmuel II 5:25). The Holy One, blessed be He, said to the ministering angels: See the difference between David and Shaul. What brought about that David was saved? The word of the Holy One, blessed be He, which he fulfilled, and which shined for him. Therefore, it says: 'Your word is a lamp to my feet' (Tehillim 119:105)." The words of this midrash complete what we said regarding the difference between Shaul and David and accentuate the traits of inner strength, humility, and lowliness that are required in order to refrain from fighting because God so wills it, even though militarily fighting is possible.

[11] The connection between the word "kavod" and the ark arises in several places. The revelation of the Shekhina is called "kavod," and the ark is the site of the resting of the Shekhina in the Mishkan; see Shemot 40:34: "And the glory of the Lord filled the Mishkan." See also Shmuel I 4:21: "And she named the child I-Khavod saying, Honor is departed from Israel, because the ark of God was taken, and because of her father-in-law and her husband."

[12] R. Margaliyot also notes the custom to recite one of these two psalms when the Torah scroll is returned to the ark in the synagogue.

[13] His argument that the next psalm, psalm 30, relates to David's census fits in with the chronological order of these events: the transfer of the ark and the revelation of the site of the Temple.