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Shabbat Parashat Ki Tisa 5775

Parashat Hashavua: Censuses and Mikdash Throughout History

Harav Yosef Carmel

The parasha opens with the commandment of how to count Bnei Yisrael, for doing so improperly can cause a plague (Shemot 30:12). This parasha opening concludes the command on the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle).

It also parallels the powerful story of King David’s census, after which a deadly plague broke out, when David did not take the prescribed precautions. David built an altar and brought sacrifices, and Hashem heeded his pleas to stop the plague (see Shmuel II, 24). This tragic episode concluded in a historically momentous manner. The prophet instructed David to build an altar at the site of the silo of Aravna in Yerushalayim, which David purchased from him, which became the permanent site of the altar of the Beit Hamikdash.

The midrash (Midrash Shmuel, ad loc. 31) provides another link between the plague from counting and the building of the Mikdash. It says that those who died in the plague in David’s times were people who were guilty of not requesting a Beit Hamikdash to be built. 

What influence did the decision to acquire the silo of Aravna have on future generations? Divrei Hayamim (I, 23) adds insight that is missing in the more cryptic narrative at the end of Shmuel. David offered sacrifices and called out to Hashem, who answered David with fire from the heavens. Hashem instructed the angel, who had a sword in his hand, to return it to its sheath. After the great success in Aravna’s field, David wanted to go to the main altar in his time, in Givon, to thank Hashem, but he was afraid to move due to the sword in the hand of the angel.

The fire that came down from heaven connects David to the inauguration of the Mishkan in the desert, which also had fire descending to show Hashem’s approval. David did not originally understand the message that this place had been chosen as THE new place of service of Hashem, to the exclusion of other places, including Givon. Therefore, the sword had to keep him in his place. David concluded: “This is the House of Hashem, and this is the altar for burnt offerings for Israel” (ibid. 22:1). The period of multiple permitted altars (bamot) had ended.

Ezra HaSofer, author of Divrei Hayamim, expounds that the choice of this ostensibly new venue of service of Hashem was actually not new. This location, upon which Shlomo would later build the Beit Hamikdash, was Mt. Moriah (Divrei Hayamim II, 3:1), where Avraham had bound Yitzchak, in preparation to sacrificing him.

Actually, this location goes back all the way to Adam. He was banished from the Garden of Eden, the place where he was created. He was prevented from returning by a special sword of angels, which is a precursor for David being similarly prevented from returning to his old form of service of Hashem.

The Rambam (Beit Habechira 1:3) seems to pick up on this, explaining that once Yerushalayim and its Mt. Moriah were chosen in the time of David, sacrifices elsewhere became forbidden. He continues (ibid. 2:1-2) that this altar that David declared was the eternal one was in the place where Yitzchak was bound and that Adam offered a sacrifice when he was created, as one receives atonement in the place where he was created.

       We pray to merit returning to the level of revelation of the Divine Presence at the foundation place of our national lives – at the location of the past and future Batei Hamikdash.

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