Why David HaMelech Was Not Allowed to Build the Bais Hamikdosh (and the Broken Step of “Ichpis Darga” & “Darga Sevir”) by Baruch C. Cohen, Esq., in honor of the 21st Yahrtzeit of his father HaRav Shmuel Yisroel ben HaRav Meir HaKohein
1. Rav Pappa Stumbles on the Broken Step - “Darga Sevir”
There’s an interesting and fascinating Gemarah in Bava Basra 10a, that at first blush appears like a mere story of man on a ladder, but upon the second blush, we see that story is loaded with powerful symbolism and meaning that relates the following:
Rav Pappa Havah Salek BeDarga Rav Pappa was once climbing up a ladder, Ishtamit Kareiy, when his foot slipped, Ba-ee LeMayfal he almost fell. Amar, Hashta Kein Achayiv Man DeSani Lan! He said to himself, I must be liable like one who Hashem hates!
Rav Pappa immediately began an internal audit of his sins (being Yefashfesh Bemaasav) by saying that the kind of heavenly death (Min Hashamayim) that he narrowly averted was one usually reserved for idolators (Ovdei Avodah Zarah) and murderers (Rotzchim) and seemed to panic over his fate.
2. Chiyya bar Rav of Difti’s Novel Suggestion
In order to mitigate the severity of Rav Pappa's self-judgement, the Gemarah relates that Chiyya bar Rav of Difti said to Rav Pappa: Shemah Ani Bah LeYadcha Velo ParnaSaso perhaps a poor person once approached you and you did not sustain him (and therefore you were given a glimpse of the punishment that you actually deserve by slipping on the ladder).
But where did Reb Chiyya divine and dream up (Yiddish “Cholomzuch”) the notion that Rav Pappa’s slipping on the ladder was attributed to the sin of not giving charity? There’s many sins and Aveiros that one could have done, how did Reb Chiya dream up that particular Aveirah? And what is the connection between the ladder of Rav Pappa and giving charity?
3. The Vilna Gaon’s Fascinating Remez of “Darga Sevir”
It’s said in the name of the Vilna Gaon (the GR’A)(1720-1797), in the Sefer Peninim MiShulchan HaGra, that in the Parsha of Reeh, (15:7-8) the Torah says:
Ki Yihyeh BeCha Evyon if there is among you a needy man, MeyAchad Achechah from among your brothers, BeAchad Shearecha BeArtzecha within your gates in your land, Lo SeAmetz es Levavecha do not harden your heart, Velo Sikpotz ed Yadecha MeAchecha HaEvyon and you shall not close you hand from your needy brother, Ki Pasoach Tiftach Es Yadcha Lo, rather, you shall open your hand to him, VeHaabit Tavitenu Dai Machsero Asher Yechser Lo and you shall lend him sufficient for his needs, which he is lacking.
This Possuk presents the source of the Mitzvah of giving Tzedakah.
According to the GRA, if you look at the musical cantillation, (Trop) of “Ki PasSoach Tiftach “ it is a Darga Sevir which in Aramaic means, Darga - step, and Sevir - break ie., a broken step (in fact, the Trop of the Darga looks like steps). In other words, this is a hint (Remez), that the punishment for not opening up one’s wallet for the needy sufficiently, will be a broken step under your feet.
4. “Ichpis Dargah” - the Broken Stair of David HaMelech
There’s a fascinating Gemarah in Shabbos 30b:
What did David HaMelech mean when he said in Tehillim 39:5: Hodieyni Hashem Kitzai, Umidos Yamai Ma Hi, Eydah Mah Chadal Ani?
The Gemarah in Shabbos explains that it means that David HaMelech said before Hashem: Master of the Universe, Hodieyni Hashem Kitzai Lord, make me to know my end; in how long will I die? Hashem said to him: Gezeirah Hi Milfanai SheAyn Modiin Kitzo Shel Basar Vadam - There is a Heavenly decree (Gezeirah) not to reveal to a person the end of the life of flesh and blood.
David HaMelech asked further: Umidos Yamai Ma Hi and the measure of my days; on what day of the year will I die? Hashem responded: Gezeirah Hi Milfanai SheAyn Modiin Midas Yamav Shel Adam - it is decreed before Me not to reveal the measure of a person’s days.
Again David HaMelech requested: Eydah Mah Chadal Ani let me at least know how short-lived I am; on what day of the week will I die? Hashem responded: BeShabbos Tamus - you will die on Shabbos.
David HaMelech requested of Hashem: Amus Be’Echad BeShabbos Let me die after Shabbos on the following Sunday (so that the honor of Shabbos will not be tarnished by the pain of my death). Hashem said to him: Kvar Higiyah Malchus Shlomo Beno on that day the time of the kingdom of your son Shlomo has already arrived, VeAyn Malchus Nogaas BaChavartah Afilu KiMlo Nimah - and one kingdom does not overlap with another and subtract or infringe from the time allotted to another even a hairbreadth.
David HaMelech said to Hashem: Amus BeErev Shabbos I will cede a day of my life and die on Erev Shabbos. Hashem declined David HaMelech’s offer to die one day ealrier on Erev Shabbos Ki Tov Yom BeChatzirecha MeyElef for a day in your court is better than a thousand (Tehillim 84:11) Tov Li Echad ShAtah Yosheiv VeOsek BaTorah Mayelef Olos SheAsid Shlomo Bincha LeHakriv Lifnei Al Gabei HaMizBeach a single day in which you sit and engage in Torah is preferable to Me than the thousand burnt-offerings that your son Shlomo will offer before Me on the altar.
The Gemarah in Shabbos continues:
So what did David HaMelech do? Kol Yomah DeShabta Haveh Yasiv VeGares Kulei Yoma every Shabbos he would sit and learn all day long (to protect himself from the Angel of Death (Malach Hamoves)). Hahu Yomeh DeBai LeMeynach Nafshei on that day on which the Angel of Death was supposed to put his soul to rest (the day on which David HaMelech was supposed to die), Kam Malach HaMaves Kamei the Angel of Death stood before him, Velo Yachil Ley and was unable to overcome him, DeLa Havah Paseik Pumei MiGirsah because his mouth did not pause from the study of Torah. Amar May A-Avid Lei the Angel of Death said: What shall I do to him? Havah Lei Bustana Achorei Baisah David HaMelech had a garden behind his house; Asa Malach HaMaves Saleik Uvachish BeIlanei the Angel of Death came, climbed, and shook the trees.
Nafak LeMichzei David HaMelech went out to see, Hevi Salak BeDargah, as he climbed the stair, “Ichpis Dargah” the stair broke beneath him. He was startled and was silent, interrupted his studies for a moment, and died.
So how did David HaMelech die? “Ichpis Dargah” the stair broke beneath him.
So it would appear, from the Vilna Gaon, based on the Gemarah in Bava Basra, that Rav Pappa’s slipping on the steps was attributed to him not giving charity, as deduced by the Trop of Dargeh Sevir the broken step. So one might therefore extrapolate a fascinating connection between David Hamelech’s slipping on his step, the Ichpis Dargah the stair broke beneath him, and the sin of not giving enough charity via the Trop of Dargeh Sevir the broken step.
Now we have to put this in proper context. David HaMelech was an enormous Baal Tzedakah, as reported in the Gemarah in Bava Basra 10b:
"R. Abbahu also said: Shlomo the son of David was asked: Ad Heychan Kochah Shel Tzedaka how far does the power of charity extend? He replied: TzeU UreU Mah Piresh David Aba go and see what my father David has stated on the matter: Pazar Nosan LeEvyonim Tzidkaso Omedes LawAd Karno Tarum BeChovod he has dispersed, he has given to the needy, his righteousness endures forever (Tehillim 112:4).’"
So how are we to understand this? Hold that thought, place a bookmark right here, and we shall return to it.
5. Two Conflicting Reasons Why David HaMelech Was Not Allowed to Build the Bais HaMikdosh
To add to our dilemma, let us now analyze a seeming contradiction in the Torah as to why David HaMelech was not allowed to build the Bais HaMikdosh.
a. Reason # 1: David HaMelech Had Blood in His Hands “Dam LaRov Shafachta”
We see in Divrei Hayamim I 22:7-8, (Chronicles), that David HaMelech prepared the plans for the construction of the Bais HaMikdosh: David HaMelech said to his son Shlomo,
“My son, I wanted to build the Bais HaMikdosh, but Hashem came to me, saying, Dam LaRov Shafachta You have shed much blood, Umilchemes Gedolos Asisah and fought great battles; Lo Sivneh Bayis Lishmi you shall not build a House for My name, Ki Damim Rabim Shafachta Artzah Lefanai for you have shed much blood on the earth in My sight: Behold a son will be born to you… Shlomo will be his name… He shall build the Bais Hamikdosh in My Name.
And thus, because David HaMelech was not allowed to build the Bais HaMikdosh, he instead prepared everything for its construction.
However, if you think about it, so what if David HaMelech spilled a lot of blood, wasn’t he waging war per Hashem’s directives? Wasn’t his battles sanctioned by Hashem (Milchemes Mitzvah)? Can one who performs the Mitzvah of circumcision (Milah) not build the Bais Hamikdosh because he’s got blood on his hands? His blood is from the Mitzvah of Milah? It’s Dam Mitzvah? And who did David HaMelech kill? He killed our enemy Amalek, the Sonei Yisroel. David HaMelech’s battles were a Milchemes Mitzvah. So why couldn’t he build the Bais Hamikdosh? So what if he’s got blood on his hands?
In fact, HaRav Ovadia Yosef (Teshuvos Yechaveh Daas 2:14) grappled with the Halachic question of whether Kohanim who fought in Israel’s wars and killed soldiers from the opposing side, could still serve as Kohanim and Duchen and bless Klal Yisroel. Specifically, HaRav Ovadia Yosef ruled, that in the case of Israeli Chayal soldiers who killed enemy soldiers in a defensive war where Kohanim IDF soldiers risked their lives to confront the enemy and to save Jewish lives, it is proper to tell these soldiers ‘Yeyasher Kochachem’ and ‘May your hands be strengthened.’ HaRav Ovadia Yosef wrote: that the matter is clear beyond any shadow of a doubt that these IDF Kohanim are eligible and worthy of Nesias Kapayim, and they should be blessed from the One above.”
If anything, David HaMelech should specifically (BeDavkah) build the Bais HaMikdosh because he cleared out Eretz Yisroel from the enemies of the Jewish People. What’s the big deal that he had blood on his hands?
b. Reason # 2: David HaMelech Didn’t Give (Enough) Tzedakah
If we look elsewhere in Divrei Hayamim I 22:14 we see that David HaMelech said:
VeHinei BeAni in my poverty, See, by denying myself, I have laid aside for the Bais HaMikdsosh, Zahav Kikarim Meah Elef 100,000 Kikar talents of gold, VeKesef Elef Alafim Kikarim and 1,000,000 talents of silver, and so much copper and iron it cannot be weighed; I have also laid aside wood and stone, and you shall add to them.”
David HaMelech had literally billions of dollars prepared for the Bais HaMikdosh that he claimed he held in his poverty (BeAni).
The Midrash Yalkut Shemoni on Divrei Hayamim I 22:14 asks, could a poor man have so much money? Where did David HaMelech get so much money? He explains that on the day he killed Golias, Jewish women threw their silver and gold at David, and he gathered it and dedicated it for the Bais HaMikdosh. Meaning that VeHinei BeAni he was still impoverished because he didn’t keep the money for himself and designated and sanctified it as Holy Money (Momon Hekdesh) and saved it for the building of the Bais HaMikdsosh.
The Midrash Yalkut Shemoni continues that one day, David HaMelech decided to take a census of the Jewish population of his kingdom. He ordered Yoav, the general of his army, to count the nation. Now, every Jewish schoolchild knows that you don’t count the Jewish People—it’s just not allowed. But David HaMelech, despite Yoav’s petitions to the contrary, insisted that the Jewish Nation be counted. And as a result of that, a plague struck the Jewish Nation, in addition to a famine that lasted for three years during the reign of David HaMelech. Now, at that same time, David HaMelech had stores of silver and gold that had been designated for the Bais HaMikdosh, and he should have withdrawn them and used them to feed the people, but he did not do so.
This angered Hashem Who said to him,
“My Children are dying by famine and you’re collecting money to build a building with?! I swear that you will not merit building the Bais Hamikdosh, and it will be your son Shlomo to build it, and Shlomo will have no need for that money whatsoever!” (Midrash, Yalkut Shimoni Chap. 186.)
In other words, David HaMelech had an endowment fund set up with which to build the Bais HaMikdosh, and he invested all of his soul into it. Suddenly, he now had a devastating famine on his hands, and the people needed money to survive. And I’m sure David HaMelech had his reasons not to touch the money that he had dedicated for the Bais HaMikdosh—he perceived it as belonging to the Bais HaMikdosh, not him, and so he did not use it.
But Hashem disagreed, with David HaMelech’s reasons and held that it didn’t matter how important the Bais HaMikdosh was—feeding people was more important than any construction project you may have; even than the Bais HaMikdosh! (as it says in the Gemarah Yerushlami Peah 88a, Mitzvas Tzedakah LeAniyim Yoser MiBinyan Bais HaMikdosh - that giving Tzedakah is greater Mitzvah than building the Bais HaMikdash)
So here we see that David HaMelech was the richest man on earth, he had the richest treasury at his disposal, yet and at the same time he was the poorest man, because he denied himself access to these funds. And when the 3-year famine came, he didn’t give Klal Yisroel the monies that he collected. So it appears that Hashem felt that David HaMelech had his priorities wrong and miscalculated, because Hashem had said Tzedakah is greater than the building of the Bais HaMikdosh. Therefore David HaMelech was punished by not being allowed to build the Bais HaMikdosh.
So it appears that we have a contradiction (Stirah), as to why David HaMelech couldn’t build the Bais Hamikdosh. Was it because (Reason #1) he killed a lot of people and was a warrior with blood on his hands, or was it because (Reason #2) he didn’t give Tzedakah and support the people?
6. Reb Yonasan Eibeschitz’s Brilliant Resolution
The Gemarah in Brachos 3b describes David HaMelech’s daily learning schedule. David HaMelech wrote in Tehillim 119:62: Chatzos Laylah Akum Lehodos Lecho, “At midnight I rise to give thanks for Your righteous laws,” meaning that David HaMelech rose at midnight, two watches before dawn, in order to study Torah. David HaMelech had a sign indicating when it was midnight. A harp suspended over David’s bed, and once midnight arrived, the northern midnight wind would come and cause the lyre to play on its own. David would immediately rise from his bed and study Torah until the first rays of dawn.
Once dawn arrived, the Sages of Israel entered to advise him with regard to the various concerns of the nation and the economy.
They said to him: Adoneinu HaMelech Our master, the king, Amcha Yisroel Tzrichin Parnassah your nation requires sustenance, they need money. David HaMelech answered them Lechu VehiParsu Zeh MiZeh let them do business with one another, and so they will earn their money. The Chachamim further answered him with a parable: Ain HaKometz Masbiah Es HaAri a single handful of food does not satisfy a lion, VeAiyn HaBor MisMaleh MayChulyaso and a pit will not be filled (merely from the rain that falls directly into its mouth but other water must be piped in). So too, the nation cannot sustain itself using its own resources. In other words, David HaMelech, your system is not working and the nation cannot sustain itself using its own resources.
So David HaMelech advised them to Lechu Upishtu Yedeiychem Bigedud go and take up arms with the troops in battle in order to expand our borders and provide our people with the opportunity to earn a livelihood, to capture the thieves and that will solve the problem. (ie., war is good for the economy, so go fight a war, plunder and raise the necessary funds to support yourself.
On the one hand, we have the Divrei Hayamim I 22:7-8 that says that he could not build the Bais HaMikdosh because he had blood on his hands Dam LaRov Shafachta; and on the other hand, we have the Gemarah in Brachos 3b that concludes that he could not build the Bais HaMikdosh because he didn’t want to give up of his treasury of all the gold and silver that the Jewish women threw at him after killing Golias, and didn’t share his wealth and give Tzedakah and support the Jewish People during the 3-year famine. So which reason was it?
Reb Yonoson Eibeschitz (5450-5524; 1690-1764) says in his Sefer Ya'aros Devash, that this Gemarah in Brachos 3b actually unlocks the mystery as to why David HaMelech couldn’t build the Bais Hamikdosh. According to Reb Yonoson Eibeschitz, both were correct.
David HaMelech had a lot of money stored up in his treasury, and could have supported Klal Yisroel in their greatest time of need, but instead, he told them to go wage a permissible war (Milchemes Reshus), not an obligatory war (Milchemes Mitzvah). Had David HaMelech’s advice to go wage war to generate income been an obligatory war (Milchemes Mitzvah), it would not have invalidated him to build the Bais HaMikdosh, because his actions would have been immunized by the mere fact that his battle was an obligatory war (Milchemes Mitzvah). The reason of Dam LaRov Shafachta that his hands shed much blood would not have been the reason. But since those wars were due to David HaMelech’s rationalization not to give Tzedakah, said wars were not a Milchemes Mitzvah, but rather were a permissible war (Milchemes Reshus), that is why he was punished by Hashem that he couldn’t build the Bais HaMikdosh.
Hashem basically told David HaMelech, “I don’t want your money” (to build the Bais HaMikdosh). It wasn’t because Dam LaRov Shafachta that your hands were full of blood from being a warrior in battle of an obligatory war (Milchemes Mitzvah), but that Dam LaRov Shafachta your hands were full of blood because you didn’t come through with financial support when Klal Yisroel needed it most and he instead sent them off on an unnecessary battle of a permissible war (Milchemes Reshus).
Now we know why David HaMelech died with a fall from the broken step (Ichpis Darah), as he neglected the poor when they needed his money. Chiyya bar Rav of Difti’s answer to Rav Pappa was also correct, that not giving Tzedakah can be the cause for slipping off a step, therefore he got the Vilna Gaon’s insight into the Trop of Darga Sevir broken step as his final death blow.
And now we know why David HaMelech was not allowed to build the Bais HaMikdosh, because both reasons are correct; he didn’t give (enough) charity to Klal Yisroel during the 3-year famine, and because Dam LaRov Shafachta he had blood on his hands, and because the wars that he instructed the Jewish People to wage were not necessary (Milchemes Mitzvah), but were permissive and optional (Milchemes Reshus).
7. David HaMelech’s Foot Slipped - “Im Amarti Matah Ragli”
Parenthetically, we find David HaMelech’s foot slipping elsewhere. There is a fascinating reference to this elsewhere, as we say in the Shir Shel Yom for Wednesdays, David HaMelech says in Tehillim 94:18:
Im Amarti Matah Ragli if I said, my foot has slipped, Chasdecha Hashem Yisadeini Your kindness, O Lord, supported me.
When we wrap ourselves in the Tallis in the morning Shacharis we say:
Ma Yakar Chasdecha Elokhim, Uv’nei Adam B’tzeil K’nafecha Yechesayun How precious is Your kindness, O G d! The children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings.
The Chofetz Chaim’s Sefer Ahavas Chesed, 2:2, says that we awaken the Chesed of Hashem, when we do Chesed. That it’s Midah Keneged Middah, Bo Ureay, Kocho Shel Baaley Tzedakah VeGomlei Chesed, SheNemar, Mah Yakar Chasdecha Elokim... That we can trigger Hashem’s Heavenly Chesed to us, by us doing Chassadim for others, and in that merit, B’tzeil K’nafecha Yechesayun, we take refuge in the shadow of Hashem’s wings.
Perhaps David HaMelech was saying: Im Amarti Matah Ragli if I see that my foot has slipped, meaning that I didn’t give enough Tzedakah, and deserved to be punished, then Chasdecha Hashem Yisadeini, it’s only Your Chesed, Hashem, that sustains me.
This is all an amazing revelation that the Vilna Gaon teaches us about Rav Pappa, which ties into the Yalkut Shimoni that David HaMelech couldn’t build the Bais HaMikdosh because he didn’t want to support the poor with his money for the Bais HaMikdosh, that resulted in the fate of the broken steps of David HaMelech’s Ichpis Dargah, and Rav Pappa’s Dargah Sevir, which perhaps can explain what David HaMelech meant when he said Im Amarti Matah Ragli Chasdecha Hashem Yisadeini.
8. Conclusion - Tzedakah Maavirin Es Roah HaGezeirah
During the Yomim Noraim, we say: Teshuva, Tefillah, UTtzedakah Maavirin es Roah HaGezeirah that repentance, prayer and giving charity will remove the decree.
Let us take heed of the powerful lessons of the broken step of Rav Pappa via the Vilna Gaon’s Trop of the Dargah Sevir, let us remember the broken step of David Hamelech, the Ichpis Dargah, and let us strengthen our resolve to be charitable. And while we clench our fists and beat our hearts to repent and do Teshuvah on Yom Kippur when we say Vidui, let us now unclench our fists and open our hands and turn away no one who’s hand is outreached to us for Tzedakah, that in that awesome merit (Zechus) of our renewed commitment to charitable giving, Maavirin es Roah HaGezeirah the decrees against us will be removed.
Let us also remember that Im Amarti Matah Ragli, and when we try to do our best in life, but our feet slip, we stumble and falter, that Chasdecha Hashem Yisadeini, that Hashem will still recognize and acknowledge our efforts, and will reciprocate and shower us with His Chassadim, and blessings via Mah Yakar Chasdecha Elokim that how precious is Hashem’s kindness, that B’tzeil K’nafecha Yechesayun, we will always take refuge in the shadow of Hashem’s wings.
In that merit, may we be merit (Zoche) that Hashem will see our modest attempts to improve our lives during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, and provide us with Siyata Dishmaya and enable us to return to Him BeTshuvah Shleimah, and may we be Zoche to emerge from the Yom HaDin with a Kesivah VaChasimah Tovah.