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Beit Midrash Series Parashat Hashavua

On Nationalism and Sanctity– part VII

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For several weeks we have been discussing the connection between David’s census and the punishment for it, and the buying of the silo of Aravna the Yevusi as the place of Har Habayit. There is a perplexing pasuk (Divrei Hayamim I, 21:30) in this context: "David could not walk forward to inquire of Hashem because he was startled by the sword of the angel of Hashem [which was hovering between heavens and earth]." What is this trying to teach us?

The idea of a drawn sword between heavens and earth and the command of David to build an altar take us back thousands of years. Adam had built an altar in the Garden of Eden and then was banished from it. The midrash (Rabba 14:8) says that the earth from which Adam was born is connected to the idea of an altar of earth that we are supposed to erect (Shemot 20:20). The idea behind this connection is that Hashem was thereby saying that He was creating man from the place from which he could receive atonement. Similarly, the Yerushalmi (Nazir 7:2) says in this context that since man was created from the place of the altar, he will have the "ability to stand." The other connection to Adam is, of course, the angel with the sword, which, in Adam’s case, made sure that he did not get back into the Garden (Bereishit 3:24). The significance of this situation is that when David was able to build the altar and the angel returned the sword to its sheath, there is an indication that for the second time in history it became possible to return to the situation of Adam in the Garden of Eden before the sin.

When the time came for Shlomo to build the Beit Hamikdash at this place, he used matters that are reminiscent of Eden in different ways. This includes a great deal of gold, precious stones, and cherubim, along with other things (see Rav Chaim of Volozhin’s development of that subject in Nefesh Hachaim I:6, in the context of the receiving of the Torah returning the people to this lofty level).

We have seen that the Rambam (Beit Habechira 2) connects many historical events to the place of the altar in the Beit Hamikdash. He says that the place of the altar cannot be moved because this is the place that Yitzchak was bound, that Noach built an altar when he exited the ark, that Kayin and Hevel brought their sacrifices, and that Adam built his altar when he was created at that place. Thus, the building of the Beit Hamikdash was a continuation of the positive actions of Adam and of the pinnacle of Avraham’s achievements. It is David who merited finding out these connections, through the Divine revelation at the silo of Aravna.

Specifically, when we read Parashat Ki Tisa and the story of the Golden Calf, which caused us to crash down from our previous spiritual high, let us strive to reach the spiritual level of Adam before the sin, and of Bnei Yisrael at Sinai before their sin
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