Avraham ben Yaakov


V 1: "And an adversary angel stood up against Israel and incited David to number Israel ." The same Hebrew root used here of the Satan INCITING David to count the people had been used by David himself when he encountered Saul face to face while the latter was pursuing him, and he said: ".if God has INCITED you against me." (I Sam. 26:19). In the words of our sages: "The Holy One blessed be He said to David: You call me an INCITER??? I will surely make you stumble in something that even little school children know, as it is written: 'When you take the sum of the children of Israel after their number, then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul to HaShem when you number them in order that there shall be no plague among them when you number them' (Exodus 30:12)" (Berachos 62b).

The "adversary angel" or Satan "is the evil inclination planted in man's heart from his youth" (Metzudas David, RaDaK on v 1). "And as to the verse in I Samuel 24:1 that says 'and HaShem's anger burned increasingly against Israel and HE incited David', from which it appears that HaShem was the inciter: the truth is that He incited him through the intermediary of the Satan because of a sin that was present in Israel on account of which they were fit to be punished, and he too is called an Angel of HaShem. It was he that David saw having the appearance of an Angel of HaShem with his sword drawn in his hand (our chapter v 16), for it is he who deceives and he who kills" (RaDaK ibid.).

It is a mystery how David could have defied the Torah by seeking to take a direct census of the population instead of collecting a token charity coin ("ransom") from each person and counting the coins. It may be that as David prepared for a national event as significant as the building of the Temple , he was in too much of a hurry to find out the size of the population to see if it had reached some kind of "take off" point ready for the new era in the history of the people. But having suggested to the saintly King Saul that he might be the victim of the Yetzer Ra (evil inclination), measure for measure David was constrained to make the painful discovery that he himself could also be subject to the Yetzer Ra.

Rashi (on v 1) comments: "Even though this section does not reflect credit on David, it was written here on account of what it says at the end - that David built an altar and God answered him from heaven, and this was an honor to David." Indeed, David's greatness and nobility of character come out from the fact that he had the courage to admit his mistake publicly in the presence of the elders of the people, and he asked God to punish him personally instead of striking the whole nation (vv 16-17). And on account of David's confession, not only did God relent but He also revealed to David the site of the Altar that was to be the centerpiece of the Temple he so yearned to build.

"The place of the Temple Altar is aligned with the ultimate precision and its place may not ever be changed, as it is written, '.and THIS is the altar of the burned offering for Israel ' (I Chron. 22:1). It was on the site of the Temple Altar that our father Isaac was bound, as it says, 'Go take yourself to the land of MORIAH, and it says in II Chronicles 3:1, 'And Solomon started to build the House of HaShem in Jerusalem on Mt MORIAH where God appeared to David his father, in the place which David had prepared in the threshing floor of Arnan the Jebusite'" (Rambam, Laws of the Temple 2:1).

It is one of the deep mysteries of God's inscrutable providence that the precise location of the Temple Altar - the place of atonement for all mankind - could be revealed to David only through his sin in counting the people, which led to a plague that was only stalled when the Angel of Death stood at that very spot. With complete self-effacement, the repentant David prayed that he should be substituted for the people and punished personally in order to save them. As his reward, he discovered the place where atonement for individual sinners and for the whole nation is accomplished through the mystery of substituting an animal for the sinner.

David's Yetzer Ra had been so strong that he would not even listen to objections from his own commander-in-chief, Yo'av, who was uneasy in the extreme about departing from the Torah norm in order to count the people. Grasping the attendant dangers, Yo'av did everything he could to wriggle out of making a complete count. He did not include the Levites on the grounds that the rules for counting them had been different from the rules governing Moses' counts of the other tribes (Numbers 3:15), and he did not include the Benjaminites because they had lost so many in the battles following the episode of the Concubine in Giv'ah (Judges 19-21) that they would be in danger of extinction if they lost any more through a plague on account of being numbered (I Chron 21:6, see Rashi ad loc and RaDaK on v 5).

When the hand of God struck and David realized his sin, the prophet Gad was sent to offer him the choice of which punishment would be sent to expiate the sin: famine, military defeat at the hands of the nation's enemies or plague. "And David said to Gad, I am in great distress: let me fall rather into the hand of HaShem, for very great are His mercies, but let me not fall into the hand of man" (v 13). This verse is recited introducing the Tachanun supplications during the daily morning and afternoon services. David was in great pain because even the lightest of the options was harsh. "It can be compared to the case of a man who is told, You are going to die - which grave would you like to be buried in? Next to your father or your mother?" (Rashi on v 13). David rejected the idea of famine because it forces people to depend on one another yet they do not have mercy on each other (Metzudas David) and also because the rich suffer less than the poor (Rashi). He also rejected defeat at the hands of his enemies because he knew they would surpass all bounds of cruelty. He preferred the plague, which is sent directly by God - for God can always relent, as indeed He did:

V 15: ".and as [the angel] was about to destroy, HaShem SAW and relented of the evil" - "What did He see? He saw the ashes of Isaac, as it is written, 'God will SEE the lamb for Himself' (Gen. 22:8; Berachos 62b) - "for it was in the place of that threshing floor that Abraham had offered Isaac his son" (RaDaK on v 15).

Vv 22-25: Just as Ephron had ostensibly offered to GIVE Abraham the Cave of Machpelah as the burial site for Sarah FOR NO CHARGE (Genesis 23:11ff), so Arnan offered not only the site of the Altar but even the sacrificial animals and his threshing tools as wood for the offering FOR NO CHARGE. But David did not want the favors of flesh and blood, which always carry a price tag. He wanted the Altar to be a national ACQUISITION (KINYAN) and therefore paid Arnan 600 talents of gold - fifty talents from each of the Twelve Tribes - for the site. Despite the fact that Israel purchased the site of the Altar on Mt Moriah with real GOLD, the present robber occupiers of the site continue to deny Israel 's ownership until today, and the same applies in the case of the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron .

Even after David built the Altar on Mt Moriah, the Sanctuary remained in Giv'on (v 29) and the Altar continued to be used for all the sacrificial services until the time of King Solomon, who also sacrificed there until he inaugurated the Temple in Jerusalem, which from that time on became the only place where Israel were permitted to sacrifice.


The revelation of the site of the Temple Altar was a great encouragement to David in his mission to prepare for the building of the House. David employed new converts in the difficult work of quarrying the great stones that would be needed. Rashi (on v 2) explains that his reason for employing the converts was that he did not want to burden the home-born Israelites with this work. (Perhaps he reasoned that the Israelites had already done enough of such work in their earlier incarnation building store cities for Pharaoh in Egypt , and it was now time for the converts to earn their place amidst the chosen people by also having a taste of hard labor.)

Solomon was only twelve years old when he came to the throne, and he was even younger when David began to prime him for the task of building the Temple , as described in the present chapter.

David also gave instructions to all the officers of the nation to help Solomon (vv 17-19). Let us take to heart David's words to the nation's leaders: "And now give your hearts and your souls to search out HaShem your God, and arise and build the Temple of HaShem , God." (v 19). Just as David stood on the very threshold of the building of the Temple and did everything in his power to make all the necessary preparations for it, so do we stand on the threshold of the building of the Future Temple, and each of us should make his or her own personal reckoning of what we can do to prepare for it.



By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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