The Attempt by David HaMelech to Build a Temple

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19 Jul 2011
Fast of Tisha B'Av

“…But look, ‘Here am I, Sitting in a House of Cedar…’ ” (Shmuel II, 7:2)

David HaMelech, “ King David, had finally succeeded in bringing the Ark of the L-rd to “Ir David,” the City of David, in a joyous procession involving him “leaping and dancing” (Shmuel II, 6:16) before the L-rd. He was “at peace now from all his surrounding enemies” (Shmuel II, 7:1), and he reflected on the apparent absurdity of his situation.

“And the King said to Natan the Prophet, ‘Here am I, sitting in a House of Cedar, and the Ark of the L-rd reposes behind a curtain.’ ”

David was a master at recognizing the paradoxical element in human life, as is evident in Tehilim 8:4-6,

“When I behold Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have established;”

“What is man, that You are mindful of him?
And the son of man, that You think of him?”

“Yet you have made him only a little lower than the angels,
And have crowned him with glory and honor.”

But here David has conceived the idea of building a “permanent home,” an abode for the Divine Presence, that would also be a spiritual center for the People of Israel.

Sweet Singer of Israel

Two facets of his multifaceted personality were that he was an excellent musician and a skilled poet. With his music, he was able to soothe the great anger of Shaul HaMelech, King Saul, and to rouse him from the deep fits of depression that he fell into after he was informed by “Shmuel HaNavi,” the Prophet Samuel, in the Name of G-d, that his kingdom would be torn away from him.

In the Talmud (Masechet Berachot 3b), we find, “Rav Acha bar Bizna said in the name of Rav Shimon Chasida, ‘A lyre was suspended above the bed of David, and exactly at midnight, a northern wind would enter his chamber and cause the strings of the lyre to vibrate. At that time, David would awaken, and occupy himself with the study of Torah, till the break of dawn…’“

With his poetry, he was able to capture in the Book of Tehilim, of which he was the principal author, all aspects of life.

Great Warrior for the Name of G-d

But David was also a great warrior. He began to show his abilities in this area by protecting the sheep of his flock from attacks by lions and bears. He would ultimately be called upon to protect a different kind of “flock,” the People of Israel, from other lions and bears, aggressive and murderous “neighboring,” but not neighborly nations.

His father, Yishai, sent him to visit three of his older brothers, (similarly to the way that Yaakov had sent Yosef to visit his brothers) who were with the Army of Israel, led by King Shaul, fighting against the Philistines. When he arrived, David came upon a terrible scene.

The forces of Israel were arrayed against the forces of the Philistines. But a giant warrior from the camp of the Philistines, named Galyat, was coming out every day to challenge the army of Israel to put up their champion to fight with him to the death, to settle the matter between the nations in a more “gentlemanly” way, by letting the fight be resolved by just one struggle.

If Galyat would prevail, then the Jews would be slaves to the Philistines. And if the Jewish champion would prevail, the Philistines would be slaves to the Jews. But, because of Galyat’s huge size and terrifying appearance, not one of the warriors of Shaul had the courage and sufficient trust in HaShem to come to his aid, to accept the challenge of Galyat. This had been going on for some forty days, and the morale of the Jewish forces was shrinking rapidly.

When David came and observed the scene, he said that he would fight the Philistine giant. Shaul argued that David was only a youth, while Galyat had been a military man from his early childhood.

The Midrash traces the roots of the conflict between David and Galyat to deeper sources. In fact, Galyat was a descendant of Orpah, the Princess of Moav, daughter of King Eglon, whose commitment to the G-d of Israel had not been strong enough, and she had in the end abandoned No-omi. While Ruth, ancestress of David, also a Princess of Moav, said to Naomi, her mother-in-law, the following immortal words:

“Entreat me not to leave you,
And to return from following after you;
For where you go, I will go;
And where you lodge, I will lodge;
Your People shall be my People,
And your G-d, my G-d; …” (Ruth 1:16)

But David convinces Shaul by telling him that HaShem has given him the strength to fight against powerful enemies, such as the mighty lion and the ferocious bear, when they had stolen sheep from his flock, and he had pursued them, rescuing the sheep from their grasp, and killing them. (Shmuel 1, 17:34-36)

David approaches the Philistine and says (Shmuel 1, 17:45), “You come against me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin; but I come against you in the Name of the L-rd of Hosts, the G-d of the armies of Israel, Whom you have taunted…” And David kills Galyat with a single, precisely aimed stone from his slingshot.

Because of this display of courage, Shaul appoints David as the head of his armies, and David becomes more successful as a military leader even than Shaul. So much so that the women of Israel take to singing, “…Shaul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands” (Shmuel 1, 18:7)

HaShem’s Response to David’s Offer to Build a Temple:

HaShem responds as follows to David’s offer (Shmuel 2, 7:4-7, 12-13, 16),

“And it came to pass the same night, that the word of the L-rd came unto Natan, saying: Go and tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the L-rd: shall you build a house for Me to dwell in? For I have not dwelt in a house since the day that I brought up the Children of Israel out of Egypt, even to this day, but have walked in a tent and a tabernacle. In all the places that I walked among the Children of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the tribes of Israel whom I commanded to pasture My People Israel, saying: ‘Why have you not built Me a house of cedar?’ “

“When your days are fulfilled, and you will sleep with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will proceed from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a House for My Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.”

“And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before you; your throne shall be established forever.”

HaShem has told David that because he offered to build a “House for the Divine Presence,” that House will indeed be built, but by a son of his. David himself will not be allowed to build the House of HaShem, for his hands have shed blood. But HaShem promises to build a “House” for David, an eternal dynasty of kings, that will serve the Jewish People. That dynasty will be eclipsed “temporarily” during the Exile of the Jewish People, but it will come back, and be restored to its glory, at the time of the “Mashiach.”

Peace Negotiator

David played the role of one of the early Peace Negotiators for the Jewish People. And he had to engage in this activity with a more-or-less similar cast of characters that Modern Israel is dealing with. Or perhaps, he was using his power of prophecy and was actually envisioning our situation when he uttered the words found in Psalm 120, In this Psalm, David describes the immense difficulties of dealing with a “peace partner” (?) for whom truth has no meaning.