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Beit Midrash Series Parashat Hashavua

On Nationalism and Sanctity– part VI

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We have been dealing for several weeks with the connection between David’s improper census and the punishment afflicting the people in its aftermath and between the acquisition of Har Habayit from Aravna the Yevusi and the building of an altar and sacrificing there. We will now take a look at the philosophy behind the punishment of the people.

David turned to Hashem when he saw an angel in a menacing position and said: "Behold, I have sinned and distorted, but these flock (the people), what have they done? Let Your Hand be against me and the house of my father" (Shmuel II, 24:17). The prophet Gad told David to build an altar at the place of Aravna’s silo (ibid. 18). David did this and brought several sacrifices on it, and then the plague that was felling people in Israel stopped (ibid. 25).

The story, as told in Divrei Hayamim (I, 21:26-22:1), adds some pertinent details. It says that at that time the Mishkan, which had been erected in the desert, was found in Givon, but that David was not able to seek out Hashem there because of the "sword of the angel." Hashem told him that the altar he had erected in Yerushalayim was actually the altar for Israel’s sacrifices.

Before coming to some conclusions, we will see some midrashim. The Midrash Shmuel (31) says that David was like a son who was being hit by his father and was not sure what the reason was for the punishment. At the end, Hashem informed David that people from the nation died in the plague because they were guilty of not asking for a Beit Mikdash.

The Sifrei (Eikev 51) says that David was criticized for having conquered Aram Tzova, which was out of the halachic borders of Israel, while he still left Yevusi areas around Yerushalayim in foreign hands.

We will put the issue of the Beit Hamikdash at the time of David in context as follows. Many in the nation were not enthusiastic about the prospect of building the Beit Hamikdash. They were troubled by the halacha that when there is a central place for service of Hashem, it becomes forbidden to offer sacrifices in local and private altars. Many were not willing to give up the closeness they felt due to the permissibility to bring sacrifices locally up to that point. Hashem determined that it was hypocritical for the people to be willing to go to great lengths to fight in order to expand the borders of the country and likewise to develop it from an economic perspective and not build the Beit Hamikdash. The people needed to be awoken to the positives of building a central place of service, and how this could be critical for the merit of the nation. Hashem demonstrated this with the building of the altar in Yerushalayim, which saved lives.

We will continue to pray that in our day we will merit to understand this idea and that we will see with our own eyes when Hashem returns His Presence to Zion.

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