Last week we started discussing the two linked stories at the end of Shmuel – the improper census by David and the ensuing plague, as well as the obtaining of the silo of Aravna the Yevusi, which became the Temple Mount. We now continue that which will be a long series.
In both Shmuel (II, 24:1) and Divrei Hayamim (I, 21:1), the story of the census is introduced (in only slightly different language) with the idea that Hashem incited David to count Bnei Yisrael because of His anger. It is not clear why Hashem was angry and why David was incited from Above to do something wrong.
Chazal (Berachot 62b) explain that David was punished in coming to the mistake of an improper census because of what he said when he infiltrated "Shaul’s circle" and took Shaul’s sword and water flask (see Shmuel I, 26). David then addressed Shaul (from a distance) and tried to convince Shaul that he had no reason to distrust David. David suggested reasons that Shaul suspected him of rebelling. The second reason was that cursed people told him that David was out to rebel. The first possibility David raised, though, was actually that Hashem incited Shaul (ibid. 19).
The gemara (ibid.) inserts Hashem’s response into the conversation: "David, you called me an inciter?! I am going to cause you to make a damaging mistake that even schoolchildren know about." That was that one can count only by each person giving a half-coin to receive atonement (see Shemot 30:13). That is what the pasuk means by saying that Hashem was angry and incited David. Thus, David’s insulting terminology when referring to Hashem during his appeal to Shaul caused the later sin.
It is difficult to see how this answers our basic question on the level of p’shat (simple reading). How can it be that because David was not careful in his speech, this would lead to the death of 70,000 Jews in a plague? It also does not seem to give insight into the connection between this story and the discovery of the place for the altar on what was Aravna’s silo. Therefore it is easier to view the midrash as one stressing the importance of careful speech rather than the source of the sin involved.
Mahari Kera cited a different midrash (P’sikta Rabbati 43:1), which points out that the end of the previous section of the navi lists Uriya HaChiti (Batsheva’s husband) as one of David’s choice warriors. According to this, the anger had to do with David’s sin with Uriya’s wife, Batsheva. The Ralbag suggests that it had to do with Shaul’s killing of the Givonim nation, which earlier brought drought and later joined with David’s new sin about the counting. Both of these explanations, though, do not explain the punishment to the nation because of the sin of their leader.
It is possible to give a general answer – that the nation does pay for the mistakes of its leader even according to divine rules of justice. However, we will try, in future pieces, to find fault in the nation, as well.
Specifically in these pre-election days, let us increase our prayers that we will merit worthy leaders, who will lead the nation to physical and spiritual achievements.