Lecture 74: David's Census and the Revelation of the Site of the Temple in the Threshing Floor of Aravna the Yevusi (Part II)
Lecture 74: David's census and the revelation of the site of the temple in the threshing floor of Aravna the Yevusi
Rav Yitzchak Levi
In our previous lecture, we discussed the details of the story of the census, the plague, and the revelation of the site of the Temple. In this lecture, we will compare the revelation in the threshing floor of Aravna the Yevusi to other revelations and consider its overall significance.
I. the correspondence between the revelation to David in the aftermath of the census and other revelations
1) The correspondence between our story and the story of the akeida
We already discussed this correspondence in detail in our lecture about the akeida ("Mount Moriah and the Akeida [part I] - http://vbm-torah.org/archive/yeru/09yeru.htm). We demonstrated that the revelation to Avraham on Mount Moriah heralds, in the sense of "the actions of the forefathers are a sign for the children," the building of the future Temple on Mount Moriah in the days of David. David, as it were, actualizes the unique qualities of the place as they were revealed to Avraham and alluded to in Bereishit 22.
One of the interesting questions arising in the wake of this parallel is why there is no explicit reference in the book of Shmuel or in the book of Divrei Ha-yamim to the akeida that took place on Mount Moriah. The Aramaic translation of Divrei Ha-yamim does in fact read:
Then Shlomo began to build the Temple in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, in the place where Avraham worshipped and prayed in the name of God And there Avraham offered his son Yitzchak as a burnt-offering and the word of the Lord saved him and appointed a ram in his place. There, Yaakov prayed when he ran away from his brother Esav. There, the angel of the Lord revealed himself to David when he built on the site that he had purchased from Ornan in the threshing floor of Ornan the Yevusi
According to the plain sense of the verses, however, there is no mention of Avraham or the akeida.
It may be suggested that the allusion to the correspondence between the two stories suffices and there is no need for this to be stated explicitly.
A second possibility takes us in the opposite direction. The concealment of the akeida continues even in the days of David. The books of Shmuel and Divrei Ha-yamim continue to hide the site of the akeida and the parallelism in order to emphasize that the place was reached as a result of human choice and David's seeking out the site of the Mikdash.
Even if this explains the failure to mention the akeida in the book of Shmuel, the omission in the book of Divrei Ha-yamim requires further study. Ezra the Scribe, in the days of the return to Zion, could certainly have noted the continuity between the akeida and the building of the Temple on Mount Moriah.
2) THe correspondence between our story and the revelation to Yaakov in Beit-El
In the aforementioned lecture, we also dealt at length with the correspondence between the story of the akeida and the revelation to Yaakov in Beit-El. In another lecture ("The Inheritance of Binyamin the Inheritance of the Shekhina [part III]" - [http://vbm-torah.org/archive/yeru/18yeru.htm]), we discussed in detail the correspondences between Beit-El and Mount Moriah and between the revelation to Yaakov and the revelations to Avraham and David. The many parallels teach us about the relationship between the primal, natural Mikdash of the forefathers in Beit-El and the permanent and chosen Mikdash of their descendants on Mount Moriah, as well as about the deep connection between King David and Yaakov Avinu the first to refer to the place as a "house."
With his actions on Mount Moriah, King David joins the sanctity of the site as revealed to Avraham on Mount Moriah to the essence of the house of God as revealed to Yaakov at Beit-El.
Following the erection of the altar and the offering of the sacrifice, God answers David with fire descending from heaven onto the altar. This response is reminiscent of two events: the dedication of the Mishkan in the days of Moshe and the dedication of the Mikdash in the days of Shlomo.
3) the correspondence between our Story and the dedication of the mishkan
At the climax of the dedication of the Mishkan, on the eighth day following the seven days of milu'im, the verse states:
And there came a fire out from before the Lord and consumed upon the altar the burnt offering and the fat; which, when all the people saw, they shouted, and fell on their faces. (Vayikra 9:24)
The primary meaning of the fire coming down from heaven is God's positive response to human action; man offers a sacrifice, and God shows him that He accepts the offering.
As is well known, the midrash, and a number of Rishonim in its wake (headed by Sforno and Rashi), argue that even though the command regarding the building of the Mishkan appears in the Torah prior to the sin of the Golden Calf, it was in fact given after that sin was committed (according to the principle that "location in the Torah does not prove chronological order"). The Mishkan was a response to the sin and as a means to repair it. Thus, the Midrash Tanchuma (Warsaw ed., Teruma 8:8) states:
You find that on Yom Kippur they achieved atonement, and on that very day the Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: "And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them" (Shemot 25:8), so that all the nations would know that they had achieved atonement for the incident of the [Golden] Calf. Therefore, it is called "the tabernacle of testimony" (ibid. 38:21), it being testimony to all men that the Holy One, blessed be He, resides in their sanctuary. The Holy One, blessed be He, said: Let the gold of the Mishkan come and atone for the gold from which was fashioned the calf, about which it is written: "And all the people broke off the golden earrings" (ibid. 32:3). And therefore they achieve atonement through gold: "And this is the offering which you shall take of them - gold" (ibid. 25:3). The Holy One, blessed be He, said: "For I will restore health to you, and I will heal you of your wounds" (Yirmiyahu 30:17).
In other words, the wound itself contains within it the capacity for healing. Moreover, Israel's repentance in the aftermath of sin can raise them to an even higher level. According to this understanding, Israel's fall is part of a Divine process that will bring about the repair and perfection of the people of Israel. Similarly, in our story, the sin leads to an awakening of the entire people of Israel and to repentance that will make it possible to build the Temple.
A second similarity between the building of the Mishkan and our story is the census. The building of the Mishkan was also preceded by a census:
When you take the sum of the children of Israel after their number, then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul to the Lord, when you number them; that there be no plague among them, when you number them. (Shemot 30:12)
The donation of the half-shekel makes the very count of the people possible ("that there be no plague among them"), and also allows for the participation of the entire nation in the construction of the Mishkan and for the people's unification around that project. Thus, the census is attributed great importance: it turns all of Israel into an integral part of the building, and thus makes it possible for the Shekhina to rest therein.
The census in our story, on the other hand, views the might of the army and national solidification as independent goals, without any direct connection to holiness. The sin and the plague that comes in its wake bring David and the people to an elevated level of repentance and to the practical commitment to build the Temple so that the Shekhina may reside among Israel in a permanent manner.
In summary, the parallel between our story and the dedication of the Mishkan teaches us that the goal of sin lies in the repair, and that through the repentance that follows in sin's wake, the Shekhina rests in Israel.
4) The correspondence between our story and the dedication of the Mikdash
Now when Shlomo had made an end of praying, the fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices; and the glory of the Lord filled the house (Divrei Ha-yamim II 7:1)
The revelation at the dedication of the Temple parallels the revelations at the dedication of the Mishkan and in the threshing floor of Aravna the Yevusi. The correspondence between the Divine response at the Mishkan's dedication and the Divine response at the Temple's dedication is especially understandable. In great measure, the novelty lies in what happens in our story in the aftermath of the purchase of the site and the building of the altar; this correspondence teaches us that in addition to determining the site of the Temple, God has granted forgiveness and pardon, and He fully accepts David's action despite the sin that had preceded it and its terrible price. It also declares that one of the primary functions of the altar in general, and in this instance in particular, is atonement.
II. THe significance of the event as a whole
What is the connection between all the components of the story - the incitement and God's anger, the census, David's self-sacrifice, the appearance of the angel, the threat to Jerusalem, and the revelation of the site of the Temple? The Ramban attempts to view the entire story as one integrated unit and connect its various elements. Let us follow what he had to say.
1) the people of Israel were punished for not having asked to build the temple
This is indeed the way of those who plead for mercy, for they mitigate the [severity of the] people's sin and put [the blame for] it upon the individual who caused it, because he at any rate is [certainly] guilty. And so did David say, "Lo, I have sinned and I have done iniquitously; but these sheep, what have they done? Let Your hand, I pray You, be against me and against my father's house" (Shmuel II 24:17). And the punishment [i.e., the plague in the days of David] came upon the people as well [despite David accepting the blame himself] because of their own sin, for they should have given the [half-]shekels themselves [in order to be counted], if [we say that] the punishment was on account of that sin, as our Rabbis explained it. For the king had not commanded them not to give the [half-]shekels, as he only wanted to know their numbers; therefore, their guilt and his guilt in this incident was equal. Moreover, in addition to [being punished for] the census, there was a punishment upon the people [already] at the beginning of this matter, as it is written, "And again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and He moved David against them, [saying, Go, number Israel and Yehuda]" (Ibid., 24:1).
Now, Rashi wrote there, I do not know why [God's anger was kindled against Israel]. And I say by way of explanation that Israel was punished because of the delay in the building of the Temple, since the ark went from tent to tent as a stranger in the land and none of the tribes bestirred themselves to say, Let us seek God and build a house to his Name, just as it is written, "Even unto His habitation shall you seek, and there you shall come" (Devarim 12:5). [This situation continued] until David was roused to action in this matter after many years and a long period of time [had elapsed since he had become king], as it is said, "And it came to pass, when the king dwelt in his house and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies round about, that the king said unto Natan the prophet, See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells within curtains" (Shmuel II 7:1-2). Now God, blessed be He, prevented David [from building the Temple] because He said, "For you have shed much blood upon the earth in My sight" (Divrei Ha-yamim I 22:8), and thus the building was [further] delayed until the reign of Shlomo. But had Israel really desired this matter [and really wanted to build the Temple], and had they bestirred themselves to action from the start, it would have been done [already] in the days of one of the Judges, or in the days of Shaul, or even in the days of David. For had the tribes of Israel aroused themselves in this matter, he [David] would not have been [considered] the builder, but Israel would have been the builders. But since the people did not concern themselves about it and David was the one who was troubled about it and called for action, and it was he who prepared all the materials [for the house of God], he was the builder. However, since he was a man of judgment, guided [in his actions] by the attribute of justice, he was not fit for [the task of building] the House of Mercy. Therefore, the building [of the Temple] was delayed as long as David lived due to the negligence of Israel [in not coming forth themselves to build it], and therefore the [Divine] wrath was upon them. It was for this reason that "the place which the Lord shall choose to put His name there" (Devarim 12:5) came to be known, as a result of their punishment through the plague.
Scripture alludes to all this when it says, "For I have not dwelt in a house since the day that I brought up the children of Israel out of Egypt, even to this day, but have walked in a tent and in a tabernacle. In all places wherein I have walked among all the children of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the rulers of Israel, who I commanded as shepherds of my people Israel, saying, Why do you not build Me a house of cedar?" (Shmuel II 7:7). Thus, Scripture is blaming [the people] because the Shekhina was walking about among all of Israel from tent to tent, and from tabernacle to tabernacle, and there was not among all the Judges of Israel, who were their shepherds, that bestirred himself in this matter. Scripture also states that God also kept distant from them and did not tell any one of them to build the house, but "now that you [David] have aroused yourself to do it, you did well that it was in your heart (Melakhim I 8:18), and I will now command that it should be built by your son Shlomo, who will be a man of peace. (Ramban, to Bamidbar 16:21)
The Ramban takes note of several important principles for understanding our story.
First, he emphasizes that David serves here as an agent for the punishment of the people for their sin. He suggests that God was angry with Israel because the people had not roused themselves to demand the building of the Temple. The Rambans suggestion is stated explicitly in Midrash Tehillim (17):
R. Shimon ben Yochai taught: This may be likened to one who was hitting his son, and the son did not know why he was being hit. After hitting him, [the father] said to him: Go, do what I had commanded you to do already several days, and you ignored me. So too, all those thousands who fell in battle during the days of David fell only because they had failed to demand the building of the Temple. Surely, there is a kal va-chomer argument: If those, in whose days the Temple did not stand among them and in whose days it was not destroyed, suffered as they did and were punished for not having demanded it - then we, in whose days it was destroyed and we fail to mourn it and do not seek mercy on its behalf, all the more so. Therefore, the ancient pietists instituted that one should pray three times a day, and they instituted: "Please, O Merciful, in Your great mercies, return Your Shekhina to Zion and the sacrificial order to Jerusalem." And they instituted "builder of Jerusalem" as a separate blessing in the [Amida] prayer and in Birkat Ha-Mazon. When David saw this, he said: Had I fallen into the hands of my enemies, they would have cast me down with the sword. But the Holy One, blessed Me His mercies are great. Therefore, it is stated, "Let my sentence come forth from Your presence" (Tehillim 17:2).
The midrash explicitly states that all the thousands of people who fell in battle in the time of David died only because the people had not demanded the building of the Temple.
The Ramban adds that the building of the Temple depends upon Israel, and had they roused themselves about the matter from the outset, the Temple would have been built much earlier, during the period of the Judges or in the days of Shaul. Moreover, he argues that had the people of Israel raised the issue in the days of David, the building of the Temple would not have been pushed off to the time of Shlomo because of the blood that had been spilled by David, for then Israel would have been the builders, and not David. The Ramban intimates here that David's grand efforts on behalf of the Temple constituted a one-man project (albeit that of the king), that did not involve the rest of the people of Israel.
In the chapters that follow the one describing the census, Scripture emphasizes several times how David invited the people to join in his preparations (the details of which we will discuss in the next lecture). The implication is that David viewed this as a condition for Shlomo's success in building. In Divrei Ha-yamim I 23, David gathers the officers of Israel, the priests, and the Levites to establish their roles in the Temple and divide them (a process described in chapters 24-26). David commands Shlomo about the building of the Temple in the presence of the entire leadership "all the princes of Israel, the princes of the tribes, and the captains of the companies that served the king by divisions, and the captains over the thousands, and the captains over the hundreds, and the stewards over all the property and possessions of the king, and of his sons, with the officers, and with the mighty men, and with all the men at arms to Jerusalem" (ibid. 28:1). In the continuation, we read: "Then the chief of the fathers' houses and princes of the tribes of Israel, and the captains of thousands and of hundreds, with the rulers of the king's work, offered willingly Then the people rejoiced, for having offered willingly, because with a perfect heart they offered willingly to the Lord. And David the king also rejoiced with great joy" (ibid. 29:6, 9).
2) Because the generation spoke Lashon ha-Ra, the temple was not built in their days
We have cited in the past the midrash in Devarim Rabba (5, 10):
R. Yehuda bar R. Ila'i said: Israel was commanded about three things when they entered Israel. They are: To wipe out the memory of Amalek, to appoint a king, and to build a Temple. They appointed a king and wiped out the memory of Amalek, but why did they not build a Temple? Because there were informers among them. Know that this is true, for R. Shemuel bar Nachman said: The people of the generation of Ach'av were idol-worshippers, but they would go out to war and emerge victorious. Why so? Because there were no informers among them; therefore, they would go out to war and emerge victorious But the people of the generation of Shaul were all informers. Know that this is true, for when Shaul pursued David, everyone slandered him to Shaul. As it is stated, "When Do'eg the Edomite came " (Tehillim 52:2); "When the Zifim came and said to Shaul" (ibid. 54:2). Therefore, they would fall in war. Another explanation: R. Muna aid: Whoever speaks lashon ha-ra (evil speech) causes the Shekhina to be removed from below to up above. Know that this is true. What did David say? "My soul is among lions. and I lie down among those who are aflame, the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword" (ibid. 57:5). What is written afterwards? "Be You exalted, O God, above the heavens" (ibid. v. 6). David said: Master of the Universe, what is the Shekhina doing below? Remove the Shekhina to heaven See how great is the power of lashon ha-ra, for they were commanded to build the Temple, and because the generation spoke lashon ha-ra, it was not build in their days.
In light of this midrash, Sarah Wiener argues that the internal connection between the elements in the story is David's attempt to repair the sins of informing and speaking lashon ha-ra and to unite the people through the census in preparation for the building of the Temple. According to her opinion, this count, like other counts in the Torah, constitutes a preparation for the resting of the Shekhina by way of uniting the entire people of Israel. Indeed, at the end of the chapter, the site of the Temple is revealed.
In my opinion, this understanding is difficult for a variety of reasons. It is true that it connects the census to the revelation of the site of the Temple at the end of the story, but if indeed the objective of the census was so worthy, why was Israel punished with such a terrible plague? Moreover, if the census was meant to serve as a preparation for the building of the Temple, why does David only count those "who draw the sword"? As stated above, the chapters that precede the census do not imply that David joined all of Israel in his preparations and in the initiative to build (as opposed to the chapters that follow the census, where he does that as part of the process of repair and repentance).
We therefore find the approach taken by Midrash Tehillim and the Ramban more persuasive.
III. "A psalm and a song at the dedication of the house, of David" (TehilLim 30)
A psalm and song at the dedication of the house, of David. I will extol You, O Lord; for You have lifted me up, and have not made my foes to rejoice over me. O Lord my God, I cried to You and You have healed me. O Lord, You have brought up my soul from She'ol; You have kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit. Sing to the Lord, O His pious ones, and give thanks to His holy name. For His anger endures but a moment; in His favor is life. Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. And in my prosperity I said, I shall never be moved. Lord, by Your favor You have made my mountain stand strong; You hid Your face, and I was affrighted. I cried to You, O Lord, and to the Lord I made supplication. What profit is there in my blood, when I go down to the pit? Shall dust praise You? Shall it declare Your truth? Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to Me; Lord, be You my helper. You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness. To the end that my glory may sing praise to You, and not be silent - O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever. (Tehillim 30)
Many have related to the question of which house is referred to in the heading of this psalm: the house of David, the Temple, or perhaps any house. The Targum renders the verse: "The praise of song over the dedication of the Temple by David." If indeed the psalm is dealing with the dedication of the Temple, two questions arise: First, David did not build and dedicate the Temple! And second, what is the connection between the dedication of the Temple mentioned in the heading and the body of the psalm, which offers thanksgiving for salvation from trouble?
Some have suggested that the psalm was composed when David revealed the site of the Temple at the threshing floor of Aravna in the wake of the census. Indeed, there are formulations that are common to the psalm and the description of the plague. For example, "Then David and the elders, who were clothed in sackcloth, fell upon their faces" (Divrei Ha-yamim I 21:16) "You have loosed my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness" (Tehillim 30:12).
According to this explanation, the heading means to say that finding the site of the Temple, purchasing it, and building an altar there were for David a sort of dedication of the Temple. This understanding is reinforced by the parallel that we pointed out between the dedication of the Mishkan, the dedication of the Mikdash, and the fire that came down from heaven at the revelation in the threshing floor.
This suggestion also fits in well with the proposal offered by R. Margoliot that psalm 29 relates to the bringing up of the ark to Jerusalem. The order of the psalms matches the order of events (bringing the ark up to Jerusalem, revelation of the site of the Temple).
We have examined the overall meaning of the story of the census.
We saw that the nearness of God, and specifically finding the site of the Temple, requires absolute recognition on the part of the king of Israel of his full and total subordination to God. After establishing the kingdom and making all the necessary preparations for finding the site of the Temple, David finally locates it after having effaced his kingdom before the kingdom of God.
The repair for the census expressed itself in David's absolute readiness to sacrifice himself and his family's dynasty (the very dynasty which is itself the key to the building of the Temple), and in the joining of all of the nation's leadership, after the census, to help Shlomo complete the building.
The Ramban proposed a comprehensive understanding of the process from beginning to end, and concluded that the building of the Temple depended on the rousing of the people of Israel; had the people stirred themselves up beforehand, the Temple would have been built much earlier.
Our next lecture will discuss David's efforts on behalf of the building of the Temple, and with that we will complete our lectures about Jerusalem in the time of David.
Let us close with the words of Midrash Tehillim cited above:
If those, in whose days the Temple did not stand among them and in whose days it was not destroyed, suffered as they did and were punished for not having demanded it - then we, in whose days it was destroyed and who fail to mourn it and do not seek mercy on its behalf, all the more so.
(Translated by David Strauss)
 Yair Zakowitz, in his article, "Ha-Mesorot Ba-Mikra al Reshit Hitkadshuta shel Yerushalayim, in Yerushalayim Be-Yemei Bayit Rishon (Yad Ben Tzvi, Jerusalem), p. 21, argues that the failure to mention the akeida in Divrei Ha-Yamim stems from the desire of the returnees to Zion to see David as the first to consecrate Jerusalem. During this period, the returnees were interested in dissociating themselves from the Samaritans and not cooperating with them in the building of the Temple. For this reason, it was important to them to attribute the revelation of Jerusalem to David and not to Avraham, "the father or many nations," and not to identify Mount Moriah with Alon Moreh (Shechem), as did the Samaritans. Of course, this note is valid only with respect to Divrei Ha-Yamim, and it does not answer our question regarding the book of Shmuel.
 We bring below the words of R. Ariel in his book, Oz Melekh: Iyyunim Be-Sefer Shmuel, pp. 248-249.
 The Ramban and other Rishonim disagree, arguing that the order of the verses is in fact the chronological order of the events. This argument appears to fit in with the plain meaning of the text. This issue, of course, requires a separate lecture, and we present here only the basic positions in order to understand the parallel to our story.
 This understanding fits in well with the Ramban's approach to the story, to be cited in the next section of this lecture.
 The giving of a half-shekel in later generations joins every man in Israel in the expenses of the ongoing service in the Temple (the sacrifices themselves and other Temple expenses). In previous lectures, we noted on more than one occasion that Jerusalem and the Temple are places that express the partnership of all of Israel.
 There is also an additional correspondence between our story and God's revelation in the wake of the sin of Nadav and Avihu: the presence of fire, burning anger, and the dedication of the Mishkan.
 We will not expand here upon another important parallel to our story the hanging of the sons of Shaul by the Givonim (chap. 21). See, on this matter, the summary of Yehuda Kil to our story (Da'at Mikra, Shemuel II, pp. 564-566). Some see in this parallel a contrast between the Giv'onim, who incite God's anger through an act of cruelty against the members of Shaul's family, and David, who offers sacrifices. This is not the forum for expanding on this matter.
 It should be noted that the midrash speaks of the thousands who fell in battle, whereas the Ramban relates directly to the census. If we wish to reconcile these two sources, we may suggest that the reference is to a battle for the purpose of which David wanted to count how many soldiers he had at his disposal, even though no mention is made of any specific battle in our context.
 The Radak (end of his commentary to Shmuel II 24:25) also cites this midrash.
 The Rambam (Hilkhot Melakhim 1:1-2) rules that the mitzva of building the Temple falls upon the community. The Sefer Ha-Chinukh (commandment 95) follows the Rambam. Abravanel disagrees and argues that the mitzva falls not upon the community, but upon the king.
 The Ramban does not relate to the gemara's assertion (Sanhedrin 20b) that the Temple must only be built after the appointment of a king and the wiping out of Amalek.
 Sarah Wiener, "Le-Ba'ayat Minyan Benei Yisra'el Ba-Mikra," Shema'atin 48-49.
 According to Wiener, it may be argued that the punishment was imposed because the census was not conducted by way of shekels, but by way of a direct count.
 Other explanations have been proposed, but they do not explain the connection between all the components in the chapter. Abravanel, for example, suggests that the anger toward Israel was due to the rebellion against David in connection with Avshalom and Sheva ben Bikhri.
 It is not our intention to analyze the entire psalm here, but merely to take note of one possible way to understand the background of its composition.
 Tz. Katzenelbogen, Netivot Olam (1859), pp. 76-77, brings in the name of the author of Mikhlal Yofi that "this psalm was composed when David purchased the threshing floor of Arnan the Yevusi to build there the Temple, and he offered burnt offerings and peace offerings on the altar that he built. This is called a dedication of the house in relation to David."
 Ha-Mikra Ve-Ha-Mesora, pp. 16ff. We cited his words earlier this year in Lecture no. 68: "Bringing the Ark to Jerusalem (Part II)."
 It is interesting that the Radak connects our story to Tehillim 132. See his commentary, ad loc., v. 1: "David recited this psalm when he built the altar on the threshing floor of Aravna the Yevusi at the command of the prophet Gad, and offered on it burnt offerings and peace offerings, calling out to God, and He answered him in a fire from heaven, saying: 'This is the house of the Lord God and this is the altar for burnt offerings for Israel.' Until that day the site of the Temple had been unknown."
He explains the heading of Tehillim 30 in the same manner as other Rishonim (including Rashi); it is a psalm that David composed to be recited at the dedication of the Temple in the days of Shelomo.