We’ve spent the past few weeks looking at the end of David’s dream of building the בית המקדש:
How does David react? This brings to mind one of the great English-language poems:
What happens to David’s dream, deferred? We know his immediate reaction:
David goes and sits before ה׳, presumably in the אהל הארון that he has built, the building that would have been the בית המקדש. And he sits, which we’ve never seen as a position of prayer:
The Maharsha says that this symbolized what it meant to be a scion of בית דוד:
He sits because he is the מלך המשיח.
The midrash, however, interprets וישב metaphorically:
David then acknowledges that he doesn’t deserve it: מי אנכי א־דני ה׳. The name א־דני ה׳ is an echo from Abraham:
Abraham was promised that his progeny would fulfill his mission, but still questioned and asked for a sign. David has been promised that his progeny would fulfill his mission, but Rabbi David Fohrman points out an important point. נתן's נבואה says (שמואל ב ז:יב-יג), הֲקִימֹתִי אֶת זַרְעֲךָ אַחֲרֶיךָ אֲשֶׁר יֵצֵא מִמֵּעֶיךָ…הוּא יִבְנֶה בַּיִת לִשְׁמִי. The son who will build the בית המקדש is one אֲשֶׁר יֵצֵא מִמֵּעֶיךָ, who will come from your loins, in the future. It will not be one of the sons you already have. David is in the same position as Abraham; he needs more reassurance that this son will be born.
David acknowledges that he is asking for too much; he doesn’t even deserve being brought עַד הֲלֹם, ”hither“, to the point of being king. Others may have deserved it more and not achieved it:
And if this [making David king] wasn’t enough, ה׳ has also given David a vision of the far future, of his dynasty:
The phrase וְזֹאת תּוֹרַת הָאָדָם is very hard to translate. Rashi reads it as a rhetorical question, “is this how a [regular] person is treated?”
Radak translates תּוֹרַת as “the nature of” and הָאָדָם as “a great man” (hence the ה הידיעה):
This is from the parallel in דברי הימים, which acts as a sort of פרוש on ספר שמואל:
תּוֹר is from שיר השירים:
Such a person, in perfect harmony with his inner nature, deserves to be king. David cannot claim to be that man.
With that self-deprecating introduction, David starts his prayer. It has the classical structure of prayer, starting with שבח then בקשה, then הודאה:
That was the שבח. The בקשה is that the נבואה come true, בית עבדך דוד יהיה נכון לפניך:
And the הודאה is thanking ה׳, as though his prayer were already answered:
That’s beautiful. David obviously hears נתן's message, that ה׳ will build him a בית. But what about David’s original request? Where is the בית that David will build for ה׳? Rabbi Eisemann says his prayer reflected a profoundly different David, whose priorities have changed:
That’s even more beautiful. And I think it accurately reflects the David of דברי הימים, the one who can do no wrong. He hears נתן's message as we said last time, that the בית המקדש is only a symbol of the ממלכת כהנים that Israel is to become. It is an ideal vision of דוד מלך המשיח.
It is also the David of ספר תהילים. We’ve seen תהילים קלב, about David’s oath to build the בית המקדש. Note how it ends: not with the building of בית ה׳, but with the building of בית דוד:
And תהילים קכב presents David’s feelings about not building the בית המקדש:
He’s not bitter. His dream has dried up, but there’s a better future ahead.
All the מפרשים understand לשלמה to mean “dedicated to שלמה” rather than “written by שלמה”. I think that fits the meaning of the perek as well.
Building anything, especially the בית, will be in vain unless ה׳ supports it. And the way to make sure that it is not in vain is to ensure the spiritual survival of the next generation:
Without worthy children, ה׳ will not help and there’s no point to waking early and staying up late, of sacrificing and eating לחם העצבים. If you are a ידיד of ה׳, then you will sleep well. There’s a hint there to David’s situation. He did not sleep (as in תהילים קלב) and did not eat (we’ll see the ירושלמי פאה on this) in his dedication to building the בית המקדש. Sholomo his son (explicitly called ידידיה) will sleep well:
And those children are the “arrows” that can be aimed anywhere, to accomplish anything. It’s a nice metaphor, since it emphasizes how all we can do is sharpen our arrows (note that ושננתם לבניך literally means “you shall sharpen your children”) and aim them. Once they’ve left the bow, they are out of our control. If they don’t go the way we want, we have Shakespeare’s take on the metaphor:
The next perek is a continuation of the same thought:
Labor, יגיע כפיך, is important; you can’t live on בטחון alone:
But it all has to be in the context of ירא ה׳ ההלך בדרכיו. Then ones children will grow סביב לשלחנך, with the family intact, and that it what truly leads to שלום על ישראל.
This is how the David of ספר תהילים looks at the meaning of ציון and what he presents to his successor Shlomo.
But ספר שמואל focuses on David the human being and I think that the בית המקדש remains David׳s focus for the rest of his life. His dream deferred becomes crusted and sugared over like a syrupy sweet—always there, preserved but out of reach. It is what drives his greatest successes and his most tragic failures. Everything that happens for the rest of ספר שמואל comes from this perek and we will have to see how that develops.
For now, we know something of how David (the person, not the symbol) reacts to the news from how he describes it to his son:
נתן said nothing about דם לרב שפכת. Where did that come from? I think it is David, looking back at his life, who realized that he had made mistakes that may have prevented him from building the בית המקדש. The Malbim proposes that David had another נבואה after making all the preparations for building the בית המקדש, hoping that now he would be allowed to build it:
But why does דם לרב שפכת affect the Temple? The concept of David as a man of bloodshed comes from an incident during Avshalom’s rebellion:
Look at what David is thinking: his son is rebelling against him, and it’s the wrong son. Avshalom (ironic name, that!) is one of those born before David comes to Jerusalem, not one אֲשֶׁר יֵצֵא מִמֵּעֶיךָ after. David’s dream lies in ruins. If Avshalom becomes king, then the נבואה will not come true, at least not in the next generation. It also means that David is not a real מלך, since there will have been no peaceful transfer of power. And now this relative of Saul comes and curses him and reminds him that he, David, came to power in the same way, after a civil war with Saul and Ish Boshet. Maybe Shimi is right; maybe David could have avoided the war, not been an איש הדמים. David should have been king as the son-in-law of the previous king, and then could have been the מלך who built the בית המקדש. And that’s what he tells Shlomo at the end of his life.
There’s another understanding of דם לרב שפכת ומלחמות גדלות עשית. Immediately after being told he will not build the בית המקדש, he starts preparing for it:
The Yerushalmi says David even gave up his food for the sake of saving money for the מקדש:
He goes to war to pay for the בית המקדש. It may be justified, but is it just? The Ramban (like the Malbim cited above) says that these wars were the reason David could not build the בית המקדש; these are the דם לרב שפכת ומלחמות גדלות עשית:
Because the בית המקדש is a symbol of peace:
And there’s another understanding of דם לרב שפכת. Something odd happens when Shlomo actually builds the בית המקדש:
He doesn’t use that money at all! He puts it into storage. Why? The answer we will follow is based on the midrash:
The משבצות זהב sums up the lesson, that David’s single-mindedness had a dark side:
We’ve made the point before, that Ramban says David could have built the בית המקדש if the impetus had come from the people. If David had created the ממלכת כהנים that the בית המקדש is supposed to represent (as Rabbi Eisemann said above), then much of the tragedy of David’s life could have been averted.
I am hesitant to criticize a צדיק like דוד המלך. The David of תהילים is the “real” David, his underlying motivations and what he represents as a symbol. But learning ספר שמואל gives us a perspective on David as a human being, flawed and fundamentally human.