Terumah 5778

The Holy Ark and the Torah[1]

ועשו ארון עצי שטים אמתים וחצי ארכו ואמה וחצי רחבו ואמה וחצי קמתו
You shall make an Aron out of acacia wood: an amah and a half its width, an amah and a half its length, and an amah and a half its height[2]

In the wilderness, the Jews were commanded to construct the Aron Kodesh, the Holy Ark, for the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. It was a golden box, with two angels carved out of its lid. Inside the Aron Kodesh was the Torah[3]. Today, we no longer have the original Aron Kodesh[4]. However, as a remembrance for the original, every shul contains its own Aron Kodesh. While there are differences between the two structures, they serve the same purpose: a designated place to store the Torah. Chazal instruct us[5] regarding the tremendous kedusha, the holiness, contained within the Aron Kodesh. Where did this kedusha come from? The Aron Kodesh of today may be a pretty structure, but at first glance it’s simply a box.

The following is an example of just how severe this kedusha is: there used to be people who would call the Aron Kodesh “Arona”. That was a way to refer to the Ark in Aramaic. The gemarra says that someone who shows such disrespect is worthy of punishment[6]. Not mentioning the adjective “Holy” shows a lack of reverence. Something with this level of kedusha should exclusively be referred to as the Aron Kodesh. However, this stringency still requires explanation. What’s the big deal? As well, Chazal teach us[7] that the original Aron Kodesh produced a miracle: it didn’t occupy any physical space. On both of its sides, the Aron Kodesh had ten amos of space to the walls of the Kodesh HaKodoshim, the Holy of Holies where it was housed[8]. The Holy of Holies was only twenty amos wide[9]. If so, where was the Aron Kodesh? The conclusion must be that it didn’t occupy space. What was the point of this miracle?

Chazal teach us[10] that if the Torah hadn’t been given, we could have learned from nature how to be good people. We could have learned from ants that it’s improper to steal. We could have learned modesty from cats[11]. However, there’s a major difference between learning from nature and learning from the Torah. Someone who becomes a good person by learning from nature may know the facts, but they won’t fully comprehend the reasons behind them. Therefore, they will be unsuccessful at influencing others to be like them. Only if the other person agrees with the facts will they follow in that path. This is why we see that many of the righteous individuals from before Avraham[12] were unsuccessful at raising righteous children. However, once the Torah was given, things changed. Every Jew has a portion in the Torah, and can achieve some level of understanding. As well, there is Divine assistance when learning Torah. This connection with the Torah allows a person to successfully influence others to be good people. This is why Judaism was started with Avraham, as opposed to other righteous individuals such as Enosh[13]. Avraham was able to influence others, while Enosh was not. We can conclude from this that it is Hashem’s desire that we influence others to greatness. This is in fact one of the main purposes behind life itself.

With this information, we can now begin to answer our questions. On its own, the Aron Kodesh is simply a box. However, the fact that it contains the Torah makes a tremendous impact. The Torah is the source of its kedusha[14]. This is because the Torah has a unique power to impact. The kedusha of the Torah spreads to its surroundings, making the Aron Kodesh holy. This is why a person who learns Torah can influence others to be better people; they tap in to the Torah’s power to impact. The Torah is similar to the soul of a person. The soul, which comes from a holy source, is able to make an impact on a person’s body. The physical gets imbued with spirituality. Therefore, when a person mentions the Aron Kodesh, they should emphasize that it has kedusha. This is a reminder of the holiness of the Torah within, which has the capacity to influence others. A person will then learn the lesson that they must also be a positive influence on others. If they simply call it “Arona”, or Ark, they’re missing the message. As a result, they’ll miss a major component of life[15].

As mentioned, Hashem created a constant miracle with the original Aron Kodesh, such that it didn’t occupy physical space. This was to show that the purpose of life can’t be confined to any physical entity. Nothing in creation has its own independent purpose, as everything was created to help Man grow to greater spiritual levels. Therefore, there’s no space in the universe that is independent of this purpose. Everything in reality has an intrinsic connection to spirituality. This is why the Aron Kodesh didn’t occupy any physical space. It is similar to the soul, which doesn’t have a specific location in the body[16]. A person can’t point to a specific limb and say that’s where their soul is. If a person uses their soul properly, then their entire body can become holy. The same is true with the rest of creation. These are the lessons that the Ark and the Torah are teaching us.

Good Shabbos.

[1] Based on Darash Moshe derush 14

[2] Exodus 25:10

[3] Ibid verses 16 and 21 command the Jews to place the “testimony” inside the Ark, Rashi ad. loc. says this means the Torah. There’s a disagreement cited in Sifsei Chachamim if Rashi means a Torah scroll, or the ten commandments. There’s actually a discussion in Bava Basra 14a about this, and everyone agrees that the ten commandments were placed in the ark (see I Kings 8:9). There’s a disagreement if a Torah scroll was placed inside as well, or next to the Ark (see Deuteronomy 31:26)

[4] Yoma 52b says it was hidden away by King Yoshiyahu

[5] Megillah 26b

[6] Shabbos 32a. The gemarra says that someone who refers to the Aron Kodesh this way is worthy of death

[7] Yoma 21a; Bava Basra 99a; Megillah 10b

[8] The gemarra says there is a mesorah (oral tradition) that this was so

[9] I Kings 6:20

[10] Eruvin 100b; Bereishis Rabbah 1:2

[11] They don’t relieve themselves in front of others and they cover their excrement (Rashi ad. loc.)

[12] Rav Moshe explains that even though Avraham was before the giving of the Torah, he and the other Avos were able to comprehend the Torah on their own as if they had received it

[13] Rav Moshe quotes from LeBeis Yaakov that this explains the statement in Bereishis Rabbah 25:1 that Enosh was considered both wicked and righteous. Righteous in that he learned to be a good person from nature, wicked in that he failed to influence others

[14] As evident from Megillah 26b

[15] Which is why a lack of this sensitivity is worthy of death, as they missed the point of life

[16] Cf. Nefesh HaChaim 1:15