The Davidic Monarchy in Jerusalem (IV): 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
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Jerusalem in the Bible
Yeshivat Har Etzion


SHIUR #06:

THE DAVIDIC MONARCHY IN YERUSHALAYIM (IV)

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

 

 

            The census conducted by David is described in II Shemuel 24, where it closes the book of Shemuel,[1] and in I Divrei Ha-yamim 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 passage.  II Shemuel 24:1-25 reads as follows:

 

Yet again the anger of the Lord burned against Yisrael, and He incited David against them, saying, "Go, count Yisrael and Yehuda." 

For the king said to Yoav the captain of the host, who was with him, "Go now through all the tribes of Yisrael, from Dan to Be'er Sheva, and count the people, that I may know the number of the people." 

Yoav said to the king, "Now the Lord your God add to the people, as many more again, a hundredfold, and that 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 count the people of Yisrael.  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 of Gad, and toward Ya'azer: then they came to the Gilad, 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 Chivvi 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 Yerushalayim, 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 Yisrael eight hundred thousand warriors, that drew the sword, and the men of Yehuda were five hundred thousand men. 

However, David's heart pained him after he had counted the people.  So, 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." 

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, "Will 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 will return to He Who sent me."

David said to Gad, "I am in great distress!   Let us fall now into the hand of the Lord, for His mercies are great; let me not fall into the hand of man." 

So the Lord sent a pestilence upon Yisrael, from the morning even to the time appointed, and there died of the people, from Dan even to Be'er–Sheva, seventy thousand men.  When the angel stretched out his hand upon Yerushalayim 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."  The angel of the Lord was then by the threshing-place of Aravna the Yevusi. 

David spoke to the Lord when he saw the angel that smote the people, and 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."

Gad came that day to David, and said to him, "Go up, raise an altar to the Lord on the threshing-floor of Aravna the Yevusi."  David, according to the saying of Gad, went up as the Lord commanded. 

Aravna looked out, and saw the king and his servants coming on towards him; Aravna went out and bowed himself down before the king on his face to the ground.  Aravna then said, "Why is my lord the king come to his servant?"

David said, "To buy the threshing-floor off you, to build an altar to the Lord, that the plague may be stayed from the people."

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." 

The king said to Aravna, "No, 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 silver shekels.  David then 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 Yisrael. 

 

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

 

An adversary angel rose up against Yisrael and provoked David to count Yisrael.  David said to Yoav and to the rulers of the people, "Go, count Yisrael from Be'er Sheva to Dan; and bring the number of them to me, that I may know it."

Yoav answered, "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 Yisrael?"

Nevertheless, the king's word prevailed against Yoav.  So Yoav departed, and went throughout all Yisrael, and came to Yerushalayim.  And Yoav gave the sum of the count of the people to David.  In all Yisrael, there were one million one hundred thousand men that drew sword; Yehuda was four hundred and seventy thousand men that drew sword.  However, he did not count Levi and Binyamin among them, for the king's word was abhorrent to Yoav. 

God was displeased with this matter; therefore, he struck Yisrael.  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."

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 Yisrael.'  Now therefore consider what word I will bring back to He Who sent me." 

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 Yisrael: and there fell of Yisrael seventy thousand men.  God sent an angel to Yerushalayim to destroy it; 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."  The angel of the Lord stood by the threshing-floor of Ornan the Yevusi. 

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 Yerushalayim.  Then David and the elders, who were clothed in sackcloth, fell upon their faces.  David said to God, "Is it not I who commanded the people to be counted? 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-floor of Ornan the Yevusi.  David went up at the saying of Gad, which he spoke in the name of the Lord. 

Ornan turned back, and saw the angel; 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 will give it me for the full price—that the plague may be stayed from the people."  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."

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 gold shekels by weight.  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.

Then 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, then he sacrificed there.  However, 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 Givon.  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 Yisrael."

 

            This story raises many questions: Why is God angry with Yisrael?  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 over the course of a plague?  These are only a few of the questions that arise.  In this shiur, we will try to deal with the most important issues arising from this story.  We will focus on the version found in I Divrei Ha-yamim 21, and examine the main issues in the order that they come up 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 INCITEMENT 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 Shemuel) 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, for good things are brought about through the agency of innocent people and bad things through the agency of guilty people, nevertheless the act was the fruit of Divine incitement.

 

Already Yoav's opposition (which failed) indicates that the census was a negative act.  The Ramban relates to this issue in Parashat Ki Tisa and in Parashat Bamidbar.  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, because he did not know 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 counting) of the people" (II Shemuel 24:9), because he knew their counts through the counting of [the half-shekel] ransom [that each one gave].  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 count them" (Shemot 30:12).  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 then does my lord require this thing?  Why will he be a cause of trespass to Yisrael?" (I Divrei Ha-yamim 21:3).  So why did he [Yoav] not count them through the shekels, so that he should not sin?

Rather, in my opinion, the [Divine] wrath was [aroused] against [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 count] at that time; [the census] was only to make him rejoice that he ruled over a large people.  Therefore Yoav said [to David]: "'Now the Lord your God add to the people, as many more again, a hundredfold, and that the eyes of my lord the king may see it: but why does my lord the king desire this thing?'" (II Shemuel 24:3). 

Furthermore, I have seen in Bamidbar Sinai Rabba (2:17): "Rabbi Eli'ezer, in the name of Rabbi Yosei ben Zimra, said: 'Whenever Yisrael was counted for a purpose, their numbers did not decrease; however, when they were counted for no purpose, they became diminished.  When were they counted for a purpose? In the days of Moshe, for the [setting up of the] standards and the division of the Land.  [When were they counted] for no purpose? In the days of David.'"[3]

 

Essentially, we must relate to two central questions: what is the purpose of the census, and how is the census 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."  This leads the Ramban to the conclusion that the census was intended "only to make him rejoice that he ruled over a large people."  The size of the army provides the king with a feeling of power and security.  As the matter is formulated by the Ralbag (in his commentary to II Shemuel 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."  Indeed, it seems to us that this is the plain sense of Scripture: David erred by counting the soldiers and putting his trust in the might of his army.

 

II.        DAVID'S CHOOSING OF THE PUNISHMENT

 

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 count of possible punishments, and it would seem that the purpose is to cast additional responsibility upon him: he who must choose his punishment better understands his responsibility for the sin and its repair.[5]

 

Why did David choose the plague? David himself explains: "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."  Moreover, it seems that plague is different from the other punishments in that it involves a direct encounter with God: as opposed to famine and war, which are more indirect, in the case of plague, a person clearly feels who is striking out at him.[6]

 

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

 

The connection between Yerushalayim and David as king over all of Yisrael is clear, and striking out at Yerushalayim means striking out at David and his kingdom over all of Yisrael.  Here we come to 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 controversy focuses on the question whether a human kingdom is the regime that God chooses for his people le-khatechilla, as the best-case scenario, or whether it is only be-di'avad, due to exigent circumstances, that He allows 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 Shelomo (I Divrei Ha-yamim 29:23): "Then Shelomo sat on the throne of the Lord as king in place of David his father, and prospered; and all Yisrael obeyed him."[8]

 

            Those who think that a human kingdom eats away at God's kingdom bring as a proof what God says to Shemuel when the people request a king:

 

The Lord said to Shemuel, "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." 

(I Shemuel 8:7-8)

 

            Either way, the tension between human kingdom and heavenly kingdom is clear.  The solution that is proposed by the Torah's statute of the king (Devarim 17:14-20) 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, possess it, and dwell in it, you will say, "I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me."  Then you may appoint a king over you, whom the Lord your God will choose: one from among your brethren will you set as king over you; you may not set a stranger, who is not your brother, over you.  Still, he must not multiply horses for himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, so that he may have many horses, since the Lord has said to you, "You will henceforth return no more that way."  Neither may he multiply wives to himself, that his heart will not turn away; nor may he greatly multiply for himself silver and gold.  It will be, when he sits upon the throne of his kingdom, that he must write for himself a copy of this Torah in a book out of that which is before the priests, the Levites.  It must be with him, and he must read therein all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, to keep all the words of this Torah and these statutes, to do them.  In this way, his heart will not be lifted up above his brethren, nor will he turn aside from the commandment, to the right hand, or the left; so that he may prolong his days in his kingdom: he, and his children, in the midst of Yisrael. 

 

            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 amass too many horses, in the military realm; the prohibition to marry too many wives, in the social realm; and the prohibition to acquire too much silver and gold, in the economic realm.

 

            The nature of the positive commandment in this section— "he must write for himself a copy of this Torah in a book out of that which is before the priests, the Levites.  It must be with him, and he must 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 will place in his treasure house, and the other is to be with him all the time…  When he goes forth to war, it will be with him; when he sits in judgment, it will be with him; when he sits down to eat, it will be with him; as it is said (Devarim 17:19): "It must be with him, and he must read therein all the days of his life."

 

            The Torah scroll that accompanies the king wherever he goes reminds him at all times that he is but the servant of the King of Kings' 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):

 

Rabbi 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." [Indeed, the sun and the moon were originally of equal size, until the following occurred.]

The moon said to 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 kingship and authority 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 exclusive illumination of the moon at night opens the door to error, that one may think that the moon is itself a source of light.  Chazal compare human kingship to the moon, and it is not by chance that we mention the Davidic monarchy 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 power and authority coming from God, then it is possible that he will exercise his rule in a fitting manner.  However, if, even for a moment, he thinks that he is the source of power and authority, like the light of the sun, he eats away, as it were, at the kingdom of God.   Bearing this in mind, 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 confidence in himself, his strength and the size of his army, and not in God; he relates to himself as if he were the sun, rather than the moon.  Therefore, the angel is ready to destroy Yerushalayim, the city that David has chosen and turned into the capital of the kingdom of Yisrael.  For 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

 

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 Yerushalayim.  Then David and the elders, who were clothed in sackcloth, fell upon their faces.  David said to God, "Is it not I who commanded the people to be counted? 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 overall responsibility for the plague, understands that in such a situation Yerushalayim will not survive, and asks that the plague strike him and the house of his father, rather than the nation of Yisrael.

 

            David's self-sacrifice vis-א-vis himself is certainly a very noble virtue.  But why does he mention also "the house of his father," namely, all of his extended family? From the heavy toll extracted from the people (seventy thousand souls), 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 line, the royal dynasty itself.  This involves readiness for total self-effacement before God, in order to repair the severe break with Him.  Only after David reaches this fundamental realization does the angel tell the prophet to show David the site of the Temple.

 

            We have already seen (in shiur #4, "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 II Shemuel 7).  Here we see another aspect of this issue: locating the site of the Temple is conditioned on total renunciation of the royal dynasty before God.

 

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 He relented? 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)."

Shemuel said: "He beheld the ashes of [the ram of] Yitzchak, as it is stated: 'God will see for Himself the lamb' (ibid. 22:8)." 

Rabbi Yitzchak Nappacha said: "He saw the money of the atonement, as it is stated: 'You will take the atonement money from the children of Yisrael' (Shemot 30:16)." 

Rabbi Yochanan said: "He saw the Temple, as it is written: 'On the mount where the Lord will be seen' (Bereishit 22:14)…"

The more likely view is that of him who says that He saw the Temple, since it is written: "As it will be said on that day, on the mount where the Lord will be 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 up the Ark to Yerushalayim, 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 potential of the earthly kingdom and the aspiration to build a Temple is realized through absolute self-abnegation to the King of Kings' 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-floor 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 Yerushalayim, David left Aravna in his threshing-floor, does this 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 Yisrael [i.e., through the plague—Y.L.].  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 that destroyed the people, '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 the sacrifice of blood and treasure…

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 ownership through death or monetary acquisition.

 

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

 

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

 

Now we cannot say that when David conquered Yerushalayim, he also conquered this place, but afterwards he sold it to Aravna the Yevusi, and so it remained in his hands.  This is inconceivable, for Aravna was a non-Jew, 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) which forbids us to give them an encampment in the land…

Rather, we are forced to say that this place had never been taken from Aravna.  Why was it 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 laws [of Benei Noach] and the tribute of servitude is not put to death; instead, he becomes a taxpayer.  We are forced to say that Aravna made peace, for if not, how did David spare his life?  Surely he was from the seven [Kena'ani] 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 Yerushalayim.  Rather, we are forced to say that he made peace with David.  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 it, there is no obligation to confiscate it from them…

Furthermore, it is feasible to say that there was a reason that he did not take it from him.  It is reasonable to say that it was God's will, Blessed be He, that this holy place in which the Shekhina would rest for ever, should not be acquired by force, even permissible [force], by way of conquest.  Similarly, Shelomo 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 I Melakhim (7:51).  If this is the case, we may apply the same rule in our instance. 

King David (peace be upon him) did not even want to receive it as a gift, but rather to purchase it at its full price.  In addition, he wanted all of Yisrael to have a part in the sanctified place.  Alternatively, there may be 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), which 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 it 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:

 

Rabbi Yudan bar Simon said: "This is one of the three places regarding which the nations of the world cannot oppress Yisrael 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 moneys belonging to all of Yisrael:

 

Surely it says: "So David bought the threshing-floor and the oxen for fifty silver shekels" (II Shemuel 24:24); yet, elsewhere it says: "So David gave to Ornan for the place six hundred gold shekels by weight" (I Divrei Ha-yamim 21:25)! 

Now, one cannot say "gold shekels," for it already says "silver shekels;" nor can one say "silver shekels," for it already says "gold shekels."  Say then that he bought with silver and weighed out gold. 

Similarly, one cannot say "fifty," for it already says "six hundred;" nor can one 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 (Sifrei, Bamidbar 42; Zevachim 116b; and following these sources, many of the commentaries, such as Metzudat David, Radak, Ralbag, Abarbanel and Malbim) to explain the discrepancy between the sums recorded in Shemuel and in Divrei Ha-yamim 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 (Da'at Mikra commentary to II Shemuel 24:1, p.  551, note 8), is that it was part of the repair of the sin.  The collection of the shekels, which represent all the tribes of Yisrael, to purchase the site and construct the Altar, came to give an equal portion to all the people and to magnify the glory of God.  They are similar to the shekels collected from Yisrael in the wilderness from which were made the sockets of the Mishkan, and the stopping of the plague was a direct result of their donation ("That there be no plague among them, when you count them"; Shemot 30:12).[15]

 

V.        THE ALTAR

 

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.[16]

 

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

 

            We wish to offer two comments regarding the Altar.  First, the command to erect an altar—that aspect of the Temple service that expresses man's turning to God, his dependence upon Him, his request for the resting of God's Shekhina—constitutes a fitting complement to David's cleaving to the Ark (see shiur no. 3: "Bringing the Ark up to Yerushalayim (II)," note 2).[17]

 

            What is stated at the end of the section is very interesting in this context:

 

At that time, when David saw that the Lord had answered him on the threshing-floor of Ornan the Yevusi, then he sacrificed there.  However, 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 Givon.  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 Givon.  We have never previously encountered David in Givon, and it would seem that in the wake of the revelation and the building of the altar on 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 Yisrael entered the land (Devarim 27:5-7; Yehoshua 8:30; at the building of the First Temple (here); and at the building of the Second Temple (Ezra 3:2-3).[18] Interesting in this context are the words of the Midrash:

 

Great is the [sacrificial] service, for Scripture always opens with it: "An altar of earth you will make to Me, and you will sacrifice on it" (Shemot 20:21). 

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). 

So too you find when they entered the land that 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). 

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).[19]

 

            At the end, 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 Yisrael.'"  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 clarification of the precise site of the Temple (in the wake of the census and the plague).

 

            In the next shiur 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 Shemuel 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 get into the issue of the chronology (when did this event occur?), an issue to which Scripture does not explicitly relate.  Against the possibility that the chapter's location at the end of the book of Shemuel 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 Shemuel does not allow for any conclusions, as chapters 21-24 constitute a separate unit in the book's narrative, as well as from the chronological perspective.

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 (II Shemuel 24:8).  The size of the kingdom of Yisrael 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 everybody 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 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 by turning a person into a mere number.  A radical example of this phenomenon, though very different, is the way people were related to as mere numbers in the Nazi concentration camps.

[5] This is also the case in the context of childrearing.

[6] It is not by chance 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] Interesting is the role of the sword in this story (I Divrei Ha-yamim 21): David counts those who draw the sword (v. 5); two of the punishments offered him involve a sword: "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" (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 Yerushalayim" (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 A. Y. Kook's Orot in its entirety is a sort of expansion upon this verse, which sees the kingdom of Yisrael 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 Shelomo was meant to fill an identical role: to express the idea that the kingdom of flesh and blood receives its authority and the ability to operate from its subordination to the kingdom of God.  For this reason, Shelomo's palace 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 Yisraelim offering sacrifices, praying, and prostrating themselves.  We will expand on this idea in our shiur on Shelomo, the king's house, and the house of God.

[10] See Sota 5a: "Rav 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 last year's shiur regarding the selection of Yerushalayim, 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 (Bereishit 23), 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 Shelomo did not want to build the Temple with the spoils of David's wars.  We will relate to this issue when we discuss Shelomo's building of the Temple. 

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

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

[16] The parallel to the fire that descended upon the Altar at the time of the dedication of the Mishkan (Vayikra 9:24) is clear.

[17] We suggested there that the offering of sacrifices during the second attempt at bringing the ark up to Yerushalayim was a repair of the sin committed during the first attempt.

[18] 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 perhaps the opposite?

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