Lecture 73: David's Census and the Revelation of the Site of the Temple in the Threshing Floor of Aravna the Yevusi (Part I)

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy

Mikdash

 

 

Lecture 73: David's census and the revelation of the site of the temple
in the threshing floor of Aravna the Yevusi 
(part I)

 

Rav Yitzchak Levi

 

 

            David’s census is described in Shmuel II 24, where it closes the book of Shmuel,[1] and in Divrei Ha-yamim I 21. According to our understanding, it is over the course of this incident that the site of the Temple was first revealed to David.

 

            Let us first see the biblical passages. Shmuel II 24 1-25 reads as follows:

 

And again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and He incited David against them, saying: Go, number Israel and Yehuda. For the king said to Yoav the captain of the host who was with him, “Go now through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Be'er-Sheva and number the people, that I may know the number of the people.” And Yoav said to the king, “Now may the Lord your God add to the people, as many more again, a hundredfold, and may the eyes of my lord the king may see it. But why does my lord the king desire this thing?” But the king's word prevailed against Yoav and against the captains of the host. And Yoav and the captains of the host went out from the presence of the king to number the people of Israel. And they passed over the Jordan and camped in Aro'er, on the right side of the city that lies in the midst of the wadi of the tribe Gad, and toward Ya'azer. Then they came to Gil'ad and to the land of Tachtim-Chodshi; and they came to Dan-Ya'an, and round about to Tzidon, and came to the fortress of Tzor, and to all the cities of the Chivi and of the Kena'ani; and they went out to the south of Yehuda, which is Be'er-Sheva. So when they had gone through all the land, they came to Jerusalem, at the end of nine months and twenty days. And Yoav rendered the sum of the census of the people to the king. And there were in Israel eight hundred thousand warriors that drew the sword, and the men of Yehuda were five hundred thousand men. And David's heart smote him after he had numbered the people. And David said to the Lord, “I have sinned greatly in that which I have done. And now, O Lord, take away, I pray you, the iniquity of your servant; for I have done very foolishly.” And when David was up in the morning, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Gad, David's seer, saying, “Go and say to David, ‘Thus says the Lord, I offer you three things; choose the one of them, that I may do it to you.’” So Gad came to David, and told him, and said to him, “Shall seven years of famine come to you in your land? Or will you flee three months before your enemies, while they pursue you? Or that there be three days' pestilence in your land? Now advise, and see what answer I shall return to Him that sent me.” And David said to Gad, “I am in great distress; let us fall now into the hand of the Lord, for His mercies are great, and let me not fall into the hand of man.” So the Lord sent a pestilence upon Israel from the morning until the time appointed. And there died of the people from Dan to Be'er–Sheva seventy thousand men. And when the angel stretched out his hand upon Jerusalem to destroy it, the Lord relented of the evil and said to the angel that destroyed the people, “It is enough; stay now your hand.” And the angel of the Lord was by the threshing place of Aravna the Yevusi. And David spoke to the Lord when he saw the angel that smote the people, and he said, “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.” And Gad came that day to David and said to him, “Go up; build an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Aravna the Yevusi. And David, according to the saying of Gad, went up as the Lord commanded. And Aravna looked out and saw the king and his servants coming on towards him. And Aravna went out, and bowed himself down before the king on his face to the ground. And Aravna said, “Why is my lord the king come to his servant?” And David said, “To buy the threshing floor from you, to build an altar to the Lord, so that the plague may be stayed from the people.” And Aravna said to David, “Let my lord the king take and offer up what seems good to him; behold, here are oxen for the burnt offering, and threshing instruments and other equipment of the oxen for wood.” All these things did the king Aravna give to the king. And Aravna said to the king, “The Lord your God accept you.” And the king said to Aravna, “No; but I will surely buy it of you at a price. Neither will I offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God of that which costs me nothing.” So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver. And David built there an altar to the Lord and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. So the Lord was entreated for the land, and the plague was stayed from Israel.

 

            This is the version found in Divrei Ha-yamim I 21-22:1:

 

And an adversary angel stood up against Israel and provoked David to number Israel. And David said to Yoav and to the rulers of the people, “Go, number Israel from Be'er-Sheva to Dan, and bring the number of them to me, that I may know it.” And Yoav answered, “May the Lord make his people a hundred times so many more as they are; but, my lord the king, are they not all my lord's servants? Why then does my lord require this thing? Why will he be a cause of trespass to Israel?” But the king's word prevailed against Yoav. So Yoav departed and went throughout all Israel and came to Jerusalem. And Yoav gave the sum of the number of the people to David. In all Israel there were one million one hundred thousand men that drew sword; and Yehuda was four hundred and seventy thousand men that drew sword. But he did not count Levi and Binyamin among them, for the king's word was abhorrent to Yoav. And God was displeased with this thing; therefore, he smote Israel. And David said to God, “I have sinned greatly, because I have done this thing: but now, I pray you, take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have done very foolishly.” And the Lord spoke to Gad, David's seer, saying, “Go and tell David, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord, I offer you three things: choose one of them, that I may do it to you.’” So Gad came to David and said to him, “Thus says the Lord: Choose either three years famine; or three months to be driven away before your foes, while the sword of your enemies overtakes you; or else three days of the Lord's sword, namely, pestilence in the land, and the angel of the Lord destroying throughout all the border of Israel. Now therefore consider what word I shall bring back to Him who sent me.” And David said to Gad, “I am in great distress; let me fall rather into the hand of the Lord, for very great are His mercies, but let me not fall into the hand of man.” So the Lord sent a plague upon Israel; and there fell of Israel seventy thousand men. And God sent an angel to Jerusalem to destroy it; and as he was about to destroy, the Lord beheld and He relented of the evil, and He said to the angel that destroyed, “It is enough; now hold your hand.” And the angel of the Lord stood by the threshing floor of Ornan the Yevusi. And David lifted up his eyes and saw the angel of the Lord standing between the earth and the heaven, with a drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders, who were clothed in sackcloth, fell upon their faces. And David said to God, “Is it not I who commanded the people to be numbered? So that it is I who have sinned and done very wickedly; but as for these sheep, what have they done? Let Your hand, I pray You, O Lord my God, be on me and on my father's house, but not on Your people, that they should be plagued.” Then the angel of the Lord commanded Gad to say to David that David should go up and set up an altar to the Lord on the threshing flour of Ornan the Yevusi. And David went up at the saying of Gad, which he spoke in the name of the Lord. And Ornan turned back and saw the angel; and his four sons with him hid themselves. Now Ornan was threshing wheat. And as David came to Ornan, Ornan looked and saw David, and went out of the threshing floor and bowed himself to David with his face to the ground. Then David said to Ornan, “Grant me the place of this threshing floor, that I may build an altar on it to the Lord; you shall give it me for the full price, that the plague may be stayed from the people.” And Ornan said to David, “Take it to you, and let my lord the king do that which is good in his eyes. Lo, I give you the oxen also for burnt offerings, and the threshing instruments for wood, and the wheat for the meal offering; I give it all.” And King David said to Ornan, “No; but I will surely buy it for the full price. For I will not take that which is yours for the Lord, nor offer burnt offerings without payment.” So David gave to Ornan for the place six hundred shekels of gold by weight. And David built there an altar to the Lord, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings, and called upon the Lord; and he answered him from heaven by fire upon the altar of burnt offering. And the Lord commanded the angel, and he put up his sword again into its sheath. At that time when David saw that the Lord had answered him on the threshing floor of Ornan the Yevusi, he sacrificed there. But the Tabernacle of the Lord, which Moshe made in the wilderness, and the altar of the burnt offering were at that time in the high place at Giv'on. And David could not go before it to inquire of God, for he was terrified because of the sword of the angel of the Lord. Then David said, “This is the house of the Lord God, and this is the altar of the burnt offering for Israel.”

 

            This story raises many questions. Why is God angry with Israel? Where does David's guilt lie – surely he was incited to conduct the census! What is the connection between the census and the revelation of the site of the Temple? Why does the site of the Temple become revealed through a plague? There are many other questions as well. In this lecture, we will try to deal with the most important issues arising from this story. We will focus on the version found in Divrei Ha-yamim I 21 and examine the main issues in the order that they arise in the chapter.[2]

 

        · Verses 1-6: The incitement and the census.

        · Verses 7-14: The plague that comes as punishment for the census.

        · Verses 15-18: God relents of the evil, and David is commanded to build an altar for God in the threshing floor of Aravna the Yevusi.

        · Verses 19-30, 22:1: David buys the place and designates it for the Temple of God.

 

I.              THE INCITIMENT AND THE CENSUS

 

Scripture explicitly states that the initiative regarding the census was not David's, but rather it was God (according to the book of Shmuel ) or the adversary angel/Satan (according to Divrei Ha-yamim) who incited David in that direction. While David clearly bears part of the responsibility for the census, as “good things are brought about through the agency of good people and bad things through the agency of bad people,” nevertheless the act was the fruit of Divine incitement.

 

Yoav's opposition (which failed) indicates that the census was a negative act. The Ramban relates to this issue in two place in his commentary. In his commentary to Parashat Ki-Tisa (Shemot 30:12), he says that David erred in his failure to count the people by way of shekels; he did not realize that counting by way of shekels is a mitzva for all generations and not only for the generation of the wilderness.

 

In his commentary to Parashat Bamidbar (Bamidbar 1:2), the Ramban offers a different explanation:

 

In the case of David, Scripture states, "The sum of mifkad (the numbering) of the people" (Shmuel II 24:9), because he knew their numbers through the counting of [the half-shekel] ransom [that each one gave]. For it appears to me unlikely that David should not be careful about that which Scripture states "that there be no plague among them, when you number them" (Shemot 30:12). And even if David did perhaps make a mistake, why did Yoav [the captain of the host in charge of the census] not take [the census through] shekels, for the king's word was abominable to Yoav, and Yoav [in fact] said to the king, "Why does my Lord require this thing? Why will he be a cause of guilt unto Israel?" (Divrei Ha-yamim I 21:3). So why did he [Yoav] not count them through the shekels, so that he should not sin?

But in my opinion, the [Divine] wrath was [aroused] against him [David] because he counted them unnecessarily, since he was not going forth to war, nor did he do anything with them [the men he counted, so that he would need to know their number] at that time. And [the census] was only to make him rejoice that he ruled over a large people. Therefore, Yoav said [to David], "Now may the Lord your God add unto the people, however many they may be, a hundredfold, and may the eyes of my lord the king see it; but why does my lord the king delight in this thing?" (Shmuel II 24:3). And I have seen in Bamidbar Rabba (2:17): R. Eliezer in the name of R. Yose ben Zimra said: Whenever Israel was counted for a purpose, their numbers did not diminish, but when they were counted for no purpose, they became diminished. When were they counted for a purpose? In the days of Moshe and for the [setting up of the] standards and at the division of the Land. [When were they counted] for no purpose? In the days of David.[3]

 

Essentially, in evaluating the permissibility of a census, we must relate to two central questions: what is the purpose of the count and how is the count conducted? Even if we count using shekels or some other means rather than counting the people themselves, we must always examine whether the purpose of the count itself is justified.[4]

 

David's census was not conducted against the backdrop of war, even though Yoav counted those "who draw swords." The Ramban concludes from this that the census was intended "merely to gladden his heart that he rules over a large nation." The size of his army provided the king with a sense of power and security. As the matter is formulated by the Ralbag (in his commentary to Shmuel II 24:1): "David would have placed the flesh of his arm in his trust in the great nation, but it was fitting that he place his trust in God, blessed be he, alone." This indeed seems to be the plain sense of Scripture; David erred by counting the soldiers and putting his trust in the might of his army.

 

II.            DAVID'S CHOICE OF THE PUN ISHMENT

 

David becomes aware of and recognizes his sin, and the prophet proposes that he choose between three years of famine, three months of war and three days of plague. This is the only example in all of Scripture of a sinner being asked to choose between a number of possible punishments, and it would seem that the purpose the offer is to cast additional responsibility upon him. A person who must choose his punishment better understands his responsibility for the sin and its repair.[5]

 

It is also possible to suggest that we are dealing here with a test, and not only a choice. According to this understanding, there is a test both in the sin and in its punishment.

 

Why did David choose the plague? David himself explains: "Let us fall now into the hand of the Lord, for His mercies are great; and let me not fall into the hand of man." Moreover, it seems that plague is different from the other punishments in that it involves a direct encounter with God. Unlike famine and war, which are more indirect, in the case of plague, a person clearly feels who is striking out at him.[6] Similarly, plague strikes both at man and at animals.

 

Seventy thousand people die in the plague, and the angel appears in the threshing floor of Arvana the Yevusi with his sword drawn and stretched out over Jerusalem to destroy it.[7] Of what is Jerusalem guilty? Why does the angel wish to destroy the city that was only recently settled and turned into the royal capital of Israel?

 

The connection between Jerusalem and David as king over all of Israel is clear; striking out at Jerusalem implies striking out at David and his kingdom over all of Israel. Here we encounter the famous controversy regarding the very existence of a human kingdom, a controversy that starts in the verses of the Torah and the Prophets, continues in the statements of Chazal, and ends in the discussions of the Rishonim and Acharonim. This dispute focuses on the question of whether a human kingdom is the regime that God chose for his people le-khatchila or whether it was only bedi'eved that He allowed them to appoint a king. Those who maintain that a human kingdom is the ideal regime cite as proof what is stated with regard to Shlomo:

 

Then Shlomo sat on the throne of the Lord as king instead of David his father, and prospered; and all Israel obeyed him. (Divrei Ha-yamim I 29:23)[8]

 

            Those who think that a human kingdom eats away at God's kingdom bring as proof that God says to Shmuel that Israel's request for a king is a rejection of God and equivalent to idolatry:

 

And the Lord said to Shmuel, “Hearken to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them. According to all the deeds which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt and to this day, in that they have forsaken me and served other gods, so they also do to you. (Shmuel I 8:7-8)

 

            Either way, the tension between human kingdom and heavenly kingdom is clear. The solution proposed by the law of the king to relieve this tension – a solution that will allow the king to properly fill his mission – is humility:

 

When you come to the land which the Lord your God gives you, and shall possess it, and shall dwell in it, and shall say, I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are about me - then you may appoint a king over you, whom the Lord your God shall choose. One from among your brethren shall you set as king over you; you may not set a stranger over you, who is not your brother. But he shall not multiply horses for himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses, since the Lord has said to you, You shall henceforth return no more that way. Neither shall he multiply wives for himself, so that his heart not turn away; neither shall he greatly multiply for himself silver and gold. And it shall be, when he sits upon the throne of his kingdom, and he shall write for himself a copy of this Torah in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites. And it shall be with him and he shall read therein all the days of his life, so that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, to keep all the words of this Torah and these statutes, to do them, and so that his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not aside from the commandment, to the right hand or the left. To the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children in the midst of Israel. (Devarim 17:14-20)

 

            The three negative precepts in this section are intended to prevent a king from deviating from his role in three fundamental areas of rule: the prohibition to multiply horses – in the military realm; the prohibition to multiply wives – in the social realm; and the prohibition to multiply silver and gold – in the economic realm.

 

            The nature of the positive commandment in this section – "and he shall write for himself a copy of this Torah in a book… and it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life" is fittingly explained by the Rambam (Hilkhot Melakhim 3:1):

 

If his father left him no scroll or it was lost, he must write two copies; one, the writing of which is obligatory upon every Jew, he shall place in his treasure house, and the other is to be with him all the time, except when he enters the privy or the bathhouse or any other place where it is improper to read it. When he goes forth to war, it shall be with him; when he sits in judgment, it shall be with him; when he sits down to eat, it shall be before him, as it is said: "And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life" (Devarim 17:19).

 

            The Torah scroll that accompanies the king wherever he goes reminds him at all times that he is but the servant of the King, King of kings; wherever he goes and in every action that he performs he must represent God, who is the true King, and upon whose throne, the throne of God, he sits.[9]

 

            One of the finest expressions of this idea is the aggada cited in Chullin (60b):

 

R. Shimon ben Pazi pointed out a contradiction [between verses]. One verse says, "And God made two great lights” (Bereishit 1:16), and immediately the verse continues, "The greater light… and the lesser light." The moon said unto the Holy One, blessed be He: Master of the Universe! Is it possible for two kings to wear one crown? He answered: Go then and make yourself smaller.

 

            Why do Chazal liken kingdom and rule to the sun and the moon? The fundamental difference between the sun and the moon is that the sun is a source of light, whereas the moon receives its light from the sun. The illumination of the moon at night opens the door to error –one may think that the moon is itself a source of light. Chazal likened human kingdom to the moon, and it is not by chance that we mention David's kingdom in the blessing of the moon. If a king of flesh and blood remembers that he is like the moon – "having nothing of himself," all of his rule and authority coming from God, then it is possible that he will exercise his rule in a fitting manner. But if, even for a moment, he thinks that he is the source of authority and rule, like the light of the sun, he eats away, as it were, at the kingdom of God. In light of this, we understand why the resolution offered by the Torah to the essential contradiction between the kingdom of flesh and blood and the kingdom of God is humility.

 

In our story, David places his trust in himself, his strength and the size of his army, rather than in God; he relates to himself as if he were the sun, rather than the moon. The angel is therefore ready to destroy Jerusalem, the city that David had chosen and turned into the capital of the kingdom of Israel. In this situation – when David puts his trust in his own might and in his army, withdrawing thereby from God – there is no room whatsoever for the kingdom of David, and thus also not for his capital city.[10]

 

III.           God relents of the evil; David's Self-Sacrifice

 

And David lifted up his eyes and saw the angel of the Lord standing between the earth and the heaven, with a drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders, who were clothed in sackcloth, fell upon their faces. And David said to God, “Is it not I who commanded the people to be numbered? So that it is I who have sinned and done very wickedly; but as for these sheep, what have they done? Let Your hand, I pray You, O Lord my God, be on me, and on my father's house, but not on your people, that they should be plagued.”

 

            David recognizes his error, accepts responsibility for the plague, understands that in such a situation Jerusalem can not survive, and asks that the plague should smite him and the house of his father rather than the nation of Israel.

 

            David's self-sacrifice is certainly a very noble virtue. But why does he also mention "the house of his father," namely, the entire dynasty of his family (on the face of it, this expression includes the entire dynasty)? It would seem that from the heavy toll extracted from the people (seventy thousand men), David understands that what is needed here is an act of all-embracing self-sacrifice, to the point of being ready to nullify the family dynasty – the royal dynasty. This involves readiness for total self-effacement before God, in order to repair the severe break with Him. Only after this fundamental understanding is raised does the angel tell the prophet to show David the site of the Temple.

 

            We have already seen (in Lecture 69: "Why Can't David Build the House of God [part I]") that a permanent monarchy is a precondition for the building of the Temple (based on Shmuel II 7). Here we see another aspect of this issue: Locating the site of the Temple is conditioned on total effacement of the royal dynasty before God.

 

And as he was about to destroy, the Lord beheld, and He relented of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed, “It is enough, now hold your hand.”

 

            What did God see that caused Him to relent? The gemara (Berakhot 62b) proposes several answers to this question:

 

Rav said: He beheld Yaakov Avinu. As it is written, "And Yaakov said when he beheld them" (Bereishit 32:3). And Shmuel said: He beheld the ashes of [the ram of] Yitzchak. As it is stated, "God will see for Himself the lamb" (Bereishit 22:8). R. Yitzchak Nafcha said: He saw the money of the atonement. As it is stated, "And you shall take the atonement money from the children of Israel (Shemot 30:16). R. Yochanan said: He saw the Temple. As it is written, "In the mount where the Lord is seen" (Bereishit 22:14)… The more likely view is the one who says that he saw the Temple, since it is written, "As it will be said on that day, in the mount where the Lord is seen."

 

            The gemara's conclusion, according to which God saw the Temple, draws a connection between the revelation of the angel to David on Mount Moriya and the first revelation to Avraham many generations earlier on that very mountain.

 

            The revelation of the site of the Temple is the climax of David's mission, from the time that he brought the ark to Jerusalem to establish the city from below - not only as the capital, but also as the site of the Temple. In this incident, the construction of the earthly kingdom is completed. The site of the Temple is revealed when a human king feels that he is absolutely dependent upon God and that he totally belongs to Him. The establishment of the earthly kingdom and the aspiration to build a Temple reach expression through absolute self-effacement before the King, King of kings.

 

IV. PURCHASE OF THE THRESHING FLOOR

 

Then the angel of the Lord commanded Gad to say to David that David should go up and set up an altar to the Lord on the threshing flour of Ornan the Yevusi.[11]

 

            The altar is clearly intended to atone for the sin and repair it (as is its function in the Temple itself).

 

            Why must David purchase the threshing floor from Aravna? Even if we assume that at the time of his conquest of Jerusalem, David left Aravna in his threshing floor, does that mean that the threshing floor belonged to him? Indeed, from the wording of Chazal, "Next to your palace you have not conquered" (Sifrei, Devarim, Pesikta 51), it would seem that David never took possession of that area at all. The Zohar (II, 214a) writes as follows:

 

Aravna was a king, and the site of the Temple was in his possession and under his authority. When the time arrived for the place to be free of his rule, it did not happen, save by much bloodshed and killing among Israel [i.e., through the plague]. When the angel of destruction arrived in that place in order to kill, his strength failed him.

This was the place where Yitzchak was bound, where Avraham built the altar to sacrifice his son Yitzchak… Immediately, "He said to the angel of destruction, ‘It is enough.’" What is the meaning of "enough"?… Enough has this place been in your possession. The place was in your possession for many years, and from now on it is enough. Return the place to its owners. Despite that, it could only be taken from him through sacrifice of lives and money…

It is written "Aravna" and it is written "Ornan." While the place was still in his possession, it was called "Aravna" [from the Hebrew "aron," ark], alluding to the ark of the Sitra Achara [the Other Side]… On the side of holiness, there is a diminution of letters, but an addition of holiness.

 

            We see, then, that according to the Zohar as well, the site remained in Aravna's possession; it could only be removed from him through death or monetary acquisition.

 

            In this connection, mention should perhaps be made of the Yerushalmi (Pesachim 9:1), which states that in the days of Chizkiyahu, "the skull of Ornan the Yevusi was found under the altar" – teaching you how far-reaching were the effects of the hold on the area that David had granted Aravna.

 

            In contrast to these sources, the gemara (Avoda Zara 24b) learns that Aravna was a ger toshav who remained owner of the property. This issue arises in the Minchat Chinukh's discussion of the acquisition of the site (commandment 284):

 

Now we cannot say that when David conquered Jerusalem, he also conquered this place, but afterwards he sold it to Aravna the Yevusi, and so it remained in his hands. For this is difficult, for Aravna was a heathen, a descendant of Noach, though he was a ger toshav, as is stated in Avoda Zara (chapter Ein Ma'amidin 24b). How could they have violated the prohibition of "lo techanem" (Devarim 7:2), it being forbidden to give them an encampment in the land…

Rather, we are forced to say that this place had never been taken from Aravna. And the reason that it was not taken from him – it is possible that he made peace with King David, peace be upon him, when he opened with a peace offer. As is explained by the Rambam (Hilkhot Melakhim 6:1

), whoever makes peace and accepts upon himself the seven [Noachide] laws and the tribute of servitude is not put to death, but becomes tributary. We are forced to say that Aravna made peace, for if not, how did David spare his life? Surely he was from the seven [Canaanite] nations, and it is forbidden to allow any of their members to live, even children, even if we press ourselves [to say] that he had been a minor at the time of the conquest of Jerusalem. Rather, we are forced to say that he made peace with David. And if he made peace, it would appear from the words of the Rambam that there is no obligation to take their houses and lands, only that they should be for tribute and servitude, but it is permissible to leave them in their places. The wording of the verse, "lo techanem," supports this, for it seems that one is only forbidden to give them [an encampment], but if they already have, there is no obligation to remove it from them….

It is possible to say that there was a reason that he did not take it from him. And it is reasonable to say that it was God's will, blessed be he, that this holy place in which the Shekhina would rest forever should not be acquired by force, even permissible [force] by way of conquest. And Shlomo did not want to build the Temple from the spoils of King David, peace be upon him, so that the nations not say that it was destroyed for this reason. This aggada is also brought by Rashi in Melakhim I (7:51) and applies here as well. And King David, peace be upon him, did not even want to receive it as a gift, but only to purchase it at its full price. And he wanted all of Israel to have a part in the sanctified place. Or else there is a reason that is manifest before Him, blessed and exalted be He, and though it is concealed from us, nevertheless this place did not come into our hands by way of conquest, but rather it was willingly sold at its full price. Thus, this place was acquired and also sanctified regarding terumot, tithes, and challa

 

            The Minchat Chinukh's point of departure is halakhic: the prohibition of "lo techanem" (Devarim 7:2) forbids the giving of an encampment in the land even to a ger toshav. The Minchat Chinukh concludes from this that the place had never been taken from Aravna, but rather had remained in his hands after he had made peace with David at the time of the conquest of the city. This leads him to another conclusion, which is of primary concern to us: Whatever the reason and justification for leaving the threshing floor in the hands of Aravna, the place was not conquered in the framework of the conquest of the city, but rather purchased at its full price. An essential element of the Shekhina's resting place is that it not be acquired through the sword, nor even be received as a gift, but rather it must be bought at its full price,[12] as a clear expression of the absolute opposition between the sword and the Temple.[13]

 

            Purchasing the site was also important so that the nations of the world not be able to claim possession of it:

 

R. Yudan bar Simon said: This is one of the three places regarding which the nations of the world cannot oppress Israel saying: They are in your hands through thievery. They are the Makhpela cave, the Temple, and Yosef's tomb… The Temple, as it is written, "So David gave to Ornan for the place…" (Bereishit Rabba 79:7)

 

            The site was purchased with money belonging to all of Israel:

 

Surely it says, "So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver" (Shmuel II 24:24). And elsewhere it says, "So David gave to Ornan for the place six hundred shekels of gold by weight" (Divrei Ha-yamim I 21:25). One cannot say "shekels of gold," for it already says "shekels of silver." And one cannot say "shekels of silver," for it already says "shekels of gold." Say then that he bought with silver and weighed out gold. One cannot say "fifty," for it already says "six hundred." And one cannot say "six hundred," for it already says "fifty." Say then that when David saw a place fit for the building of the Temple, he collected fifty shekels from each and every tribe, so that there were six hundred shekels from all the tribes. (Sifrei, Devarim 352)[14]

 

            Another way to explain the discrepancy between the sums recorded in Shmuel and in Divrei Ha-yamim[15] is that the acquisition was executed in two stages. First, the site of the altar was purchased for fifty silver shekels, and then later the entire Temple Mount was purchased for six hundred gold shekels.

 

            Another aspect of the payment of the shekels, proposed by Yehuda Kil,[16] is that it was part of the repair of the sin. The collection of the shekels, which represent all the tribes of Israel, to purchase the site and construct the altar was intended to give an equal portion to all the people and to magnify the glory of God. They are similar to the shekels collected from Israel in the wilderness, from which were made the sockets of the Mishkan. The stopping of the plague was a direct result of their giving ("That there be no plague among them, when you number them;" Shemot 30:12).[17]

 

V. THE ALTAR

 

And David built there an altar to the Lord and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings and called upon the Lord; and he answered him from heaven by fire upon the altar of burnt offering.[18]

 

            The fire from heaven that consumes the burnt offering ratifies David's actions and endows them with Divine validity.

 

            Our initial understanding is that the building of the altar and the offering of the sacrifice are what achieve atonement and stop the plague. Without a doubt, this constitutes a model according to which one of the functions of the Temple in general and of the altar in particular is to achieve atonement and stop the plague.

 

            It is possible to see a connection between what is described in our passage and what is mentioned at the end of Tehillim 51 (verses 20-21): "Do good in Your favor to Zion; build the walls of Jerusalem. Then shall You be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offerings and whole burnt offering; then shall they offer bullocks upon Your altar."[19] The psalm deals with David's repentance in the wake of his sin. Part of the repair of and atonement for David's sin involved doing good to Zion and building the walls of Jerusalem; then the sacrifices were accepted with favor.

 

            One of the explanations given by Chazal for the anger with Israel and the incitement of David is directly connected to David's sin, as is attested to by the juxtaposition of Shmuel II 23:39 24:1, between the mention of Uriya the Chiti, the last of David's warriors, and the anger with Israel and the incitement of David.

 

            Thus, we find in Pesikta Rabbati 11:

 

"And again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel" (Shmuel II 24:1). Why did the anger of the Lord burn against Israel?  Rather, what did he write? When David came to list his warriors, he was listing [them]. When he reached Uriya the Chiti, it says "thirty seven in all." Immediately, "And again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel." And you find that he did not count another sixteen warriors. Go read in Divrei Ha-yamim, and you will find another sixteen. But when he reached Uriya the Chiti, immediately, "And again the anger of the Lord."

 

            In other words, there is a connection between the plague and Uriya the Chiti. According to this understanding, we can certainly understand the connection between the revelation of the site of the Mikdash and the atonement of all of Israel and the repair of David's sin.

 

            In this manner, some of the commentators explain that Yoav's words to David, "Why then does my lord require this thing? Why will he be a cause of trespass to Israel?" (Divrei Ha-yamim I 21:3), were directed at the fact that they did not raise objections against David's conduct in the affair involving Uriya.[20]

 

On the assumption that the census was conducted after David's sin, we can add this parallelism to other allusions connecting David's sin involving Uriya to the building of the Mikdash. We shall mention two of them. First, Radak suggests in one of his explanations of Divrei Ha-yamim I 22:8 that the blood that prevents David from building the Temple is the blood of Uriya the Chiti.

 

Second, there is a marvelous Talmudic passage (Shabbat 31a) that draws a connection between the pardon of David's sin and the bringing of the ark into the Holy of Holies.[21]

 

We wish to offer two comments regarding the altar. First, the command to erect an altar – the aspect of the Temple service that expresses man's turning to God, his dependence upon Him, and his desire for the resting of God's Shekhina – constitutes a fitting complement to David's cleaving to the ark.

 

            Very interesting in this context is what is stated at the end of the section:

 

At that time when David saw that the Lord had answered him on the threshing floor of Ornan the Yevusi, then he sacrificed there. But the tabernacle of the Lord, which Moshe made in the wilderness, and the altar of the burnt offering were at that time in the high place at Giv'on. And David could not go before it to inquire of God, for he was terrified because of the sword of the angel of the Lord.

 

            The implication is that had David not been terrified because of the sword of the angel of the Lord, he would have gone to the high place at Giv'on. We have never previously encountered David in Giv'on, and it would seem that in the wake of the revelation and the building of the altar in the threshing floor, David felt a need to offer sacrifices to God.

 

            Our second comment regarding the altar is that the building of an altar constitutes the first stage of every important event: at the revelation at Mount Sinai (Shemot 24:5-6); at Mount Eival when Israel entered the land (Devarim 27:5-7 and Yehoshua 8:30); at the building of the first Temple (here); and at the building of the second Temple (Ezra 3:2-3).[22] In this context are the words of the midrash are interesting:

 

Great is the [sacrificial] service, for Scripture always opens with it: "An altar of earth you shall make to Me, and you shall sacrifice on it" (Shemot 20:21). And so too you find in the Tent of Meeting that He opened with the [sacrificial] service, as it is stated: "And the Lord called to Moshe and spoke to him out of the tent of Meeting, saying, ‘If any man of you bring an offering to the Lord’" (Vayikra 1:1-2). And so too you find when they entered the land they opened with the [sacrificial] service, as it is stated, "Then Yehoshua built an altar" (Yehoshua 8:30). So too in the future, they will open with the [sacrificial] service, as it is stated, "I will go into Your house with burnt offerings" (Tehillim 66:13). And so too you find when they came up from the Exile that they opened with the [sacrificial] service, as it is stated, "And they set the altar upon its bases" (Ezra 3:3).[23]

 

            At the end of the section, David concludes as follows:

 

Then David said, “This is the house of the Lord God, and this is the altar of the burnt offering for Israel.”

 

It is here that the site of the Temple was first revealed to David.

 

SUMMARY

 

            We examined the significance of the Divine revelation in the threshing floor of Aravna and the revelation of the precise site of the Temple (in the wake of the census and the plague).

 

            In the next lecture, we will consider the significance of the revelation, comparing it to other revelations and conducting an overall examination of the issue.

 

(Translated by David Strauss)



[1] It is not by chance that the book of Shmuel opens with a pilgrimage to the temporary Mishkan in Shilo and closes with the building of the altar on its permanent site in the threshing floor of Aravna the Yevusi. The theme of the entire book is the transition, both in realm of governmental rule and in the realm of Divine service, from the temporary to the permanent: from judges to kings and from a temporary Mishkan to the permanent house of God.

[2] In this context, we will not discuss the issue of chronology – when this event occurred – an issue that Scripture does not explicitly relate to. Against the possibility that the chapter's location at the end of the book of Shmuel alludes to the time of the events described therein stands the fact that in Divrei Ha-yamim, the chapter is followed by eight more chapters relating to the Temple. The fact that the chapter is found at the end of the book of Shmuel does not allow for any conclusions, as chapters 21-24 constitute a separate unit in the book from the chronological perspective as well.

This notwithstanding, there is a certain logic to the argument that the census was conducted during the period of peace and tranquility at the end of David's life, which allowed Yoav and his officers to devote themselves to the project for nine months and twenty days (Shmuel II 24:8). The size of the kingdom of Israel at the end of David's reign necessitated a redeployment of resources in all areas – economic, administrative and military – and the census would have served this redeployment.

[3] The Ramban also brings another explanation: David wanted to count everyone from thirteen years and up, but it is permissible only to count those above the age of twenty. For our purposes, there is no need to discuss this option at length.

[4] Many explanations have been offered regarding the prohibition of counting. We will suffice with the idea that a count nullifies the uniqueness of each individual; a person turns into a mere number. A radical example of this phenomenon, although in a different manner, was the way people were related to as mere numbers in the Nazi concentration camps.

[5] This is also true regarding the education of children.

[6] It is not by chance that the Hebrew word for plague, dever, stems from the root d-v-r, "speak." The plague of dever is, as it were, a direct communication from God.

[7] The role of the sword in this story is interesting(Divrei Ha-yamim I 21): David counts those who draw the sword (v. 5); two of the punishments offered him involve a sword, "the sword of your enemies overtakes you, or else three days of the Lord's sword, namely, pestilence in the land" (v. 12); afterwards, he sees "the angel of the Lord standing between the earth and the heaven, with a drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem" (v. 16); and following the purchase of the threshing floor, "the Lord commanded the angel, and he put up his sword again into its sheath" (v. 27). There is an allusion here to the idea of "measure for measure." For counting those who draw the sword, David is punished by the sword of God held in the hand of the angel. According to Chazal (Pirkei De-Rabbi Eliezer, chap. 20), who locate the entrance to the Garden of Eden in the proximity of Mount Moriah, it is possible that the sword held by the angel alludes to the "bright blade of a revolving sword" that guards the way to the Tree of Life (Bereishit 3:24).

[8] Rav Kook's Orot in its entirety may be seen as an expansion upon this verse, which sees the kingdom of Israel as God's throne in this world.

[9] The building of the king's house at the foot of God's house in the days of Shlomo was meant to fill an identical role - to express the idea that the kingdom of flesh and blood receives its authority and ability to operate from its subordination to the kingdom of God. For this reason, the king's house was built in a place from which every morning the king could see the smoke rising from the altar, the priests blowing the trumpets, the Levites singing, and the Israelites offering sacrifices, praying, and prostrating themselves. We shall expand on this idea in our lecture on Shlomo, the king's house, and the house of God.

[10] See Sota 5a: "R. Chisda said, and some say it was Mar Ukva: The Holy One, blessed be He, said about any person marked by arrogance: He and I cannot live together in this world."

[11] In our lecture regarding the selection of Jerusalem, we dealt with the significance of the Divine selection of the place, and especially the selection of the place of the altar.

[12] There is a clear similarity between the purchase of the threshing floor and the purchase of the Makhpela cave regarding the nature of the negotiations, the payment of the full purchase price, and the general parallel between Avraham and David.

[13] The Minchat Chinukh also mentions the words of Chazal (Pesikta Rabbati 6:7) that Shlomo did not want to build the Temple with the spoils of David's wars. We shall relate to this issue when we discuss Shlomo's building of the Temple.

[14] See also Sifrei, Bamidbar 42 and Zevachim 116b. We cited this source in the past as a source for the importance of the participation of all the tribes of Israel in the purchase of the site.

[15] See Sifrei, Bamidbar 42; Zevachim 116b; and following these sources, many of the commentaries (Metzudat David, Radak, Ralbag, Abravanel and Malbim)

[16] See Da'at Mikra commentary to Shemuel II 34:1, p. 551, note 8.

[17] Of course, the comparison is not total: in the wilderness, the shekels were given by each individual in Israel, whereas in the time of David, the money was collected from the tribes.

[18] The parallel to the fire that descended upon the altar at the time of the dedication of the Mishkan (Vayikra 9:24) is apparent. On the other hand, we have here a hint to the dedication of the Temple in the days of Shlomo as it is described in Divrei Ha-yamim II 7:1.

[19] I first heard the idea that there is a parallel between our chapter and the end of Tehillim 51 from my revered teacher, R. Yaakov Medan.

[20] Yehuda Kil comments along these lines in the Da'at Mikra commentary to this verse in Divrei Ha-yamim.

[21] These sources were already brought in a previous lecture in their original formulation, and therefore we only bring their essential contents here.

[22] An interesting issue that we will not expand upon here is the relationship between human action and the resting of the Shekhina: does the building of the altar bring about the resting of the Shekhina or the opposite?

[23] Cited from Mekhilta De-Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, ed. Hoffman, in Torah Shelema, Yitro 521.