Thursday, February 7, 2019

The Poles of the Ark

The second half of the book of Exodus commences with parashat Terumah. Nachmanides suggests that while the first half of the Book describes the physical redemption of the Children of Israel from the subservience and shame of slavery in Egypt, the second half of the Book of Exodus identifies a means of spiritual redemption by creating the Tabernacle, a physical structure where Jews can encounter the Divine.

The first vessel of the Tabernacle described in the Torah is the Holy Ark, also known as the “Ark of the Covenant,” a phrase made famous by the 1981 movie Raiders of the Lost Ark. The Torah states (Exodus 25:16) that the ark will contain “the testimony which I shall give you.” The Talmud (Bava Batra 14a-b) claims that a variety of historically important items were placed in the ark for safekeeping, including the broken Tablets of Law (which Moses broke upon witnessing the Golden Calf), the second complete set of Tablets of Law, and a Torah scroll written by Moses.

Since the Tabernacle was built for travel and mobility, attachable carrying poles were designed for many of the vessels in order to allow for easy transportation. The Torah, in describing The Ark, the Table upon which the special loaves of bread were placed, the copper altar where animal sacrifice took place, and the golden incense altar, also included commands to create accompanying poles and rings to hold the poles to allow easy movement of the vessels. The Torah, however, contained an anomalous command regarding the rings and poles of the Holy Ark: “The poles shall be in the rings of the Ark; they shall not be taken from it” (Exodus 25:15). Why were the poles of the Holy Ark non-removable, and designed to be a permanent part of the ark?

Some point out that the command to keep the poles permanently attached to the Ark was a practical one. Since the Ark remained sequestered in the Holy of Holies section of the Tabernacle, as such, it was not seen by anyone, save for the High Priest’s one annual encounter in the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur. But, Rabbi Israel Meir Hakohen Kagan, known as the Chafetz Chaim, identified an important lesson that may be derived from the law of the poles of the Ark. The Ark is the most significant material representation of the Torah. It itself contained the Torah! Yet its support, that which carries it, is eternally connected to it. The message is that those who support the Torah are connected intrinsically to the Torah itself. People who enable Torah to be studied, and elevated are literally equal partners with those studying, teaching and immersing themselves in the Torah’s messages.

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