The Ark, the Kapporet, and the Keruvim - One Vessels / Two Vessels / Two That Are One

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy

 

Mikdash

 

 

LECTURE 135: THE ARK, THE KAPORET AND THE KERUVIM – ONE VESSEL/ TWO VESSELS/ TWO THAT ARE ONE

 

Rav Yitzchak Levi

 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

            In the preceding shiurim, we discussed the ark in the Mishkan, and in this framework we addressed several issues:

 

·           We considered the various names by which the ark is called and the meanings of those names.

·           We examined the relationship between the ark mentioned in Parashat Teruma and the ark mentioned in Parashat Ekev – which was the ark fashioned by Moshe and are we dealing with one ark or with two arks?

·           We brought various views regarding the location of the ark in the Mishkan, as opposed to its location in the Mikdash.

·           We related to Moshe's tent that was pitched outside the camp and also called Ohel Mo'ed.

 

In this shiur, we will first analyze God's command to Moshe to fashion the ark, the kaporet and the keruvim, and then examine the relationship between them.

 

THE PARALLEL BETWEEN THE ARK, THE KAPORET AND THE KERUVIM

 

And they shall make an ark of shittim wood: two cubits and a half shall be its length, and a cubit and a half its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height. And you shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and outside shall you overlay it, and shall make upon it a rim of gold round about. And you shall cast four rings of gold for it, and put them in its four corners, and two rings shall be on the one side of it, and two rings on the other side of it. And you shall make poles of shittim wood, and overlay them with gold. And you shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, that the ark may be carried therewith. The poles shall be in the rings of the ark: they shall not be taken from it. And you shall put into the ark the Testimony which I shall give you. And you shall make a kaporet of pure gold: two cubits and a half shall be its length, and a cubit and a half its breadth. And you shall make two keruvim of gold, of beaten work shall you make them, at the two ends of the kaporet. And make one keruv on the one end, and the other keruv on the other end: of the kaporet shall you make the keruvim on the two ends of it. And the keruvim shall stretch out their wings on high, overspreading the kaporet with their wings, and their faces shall look one to another; toward the kaporet shall the faces of the keruvim be. And you shall put the kaporet above, upon the ark; and in the ark you shall put the Testimony that I shall give you. (Shemot 25:10-21)

 

            This section relates to two vessels: the ark, on the one hand, and the keruvim and kaporet, on the other. A separate section is devoted to each of the other vessels in the Mishkan, whereas here one section deals with two vessels. We must, therefore, examine the relationship between these two vessels.

 

            Rav Elchanan Samet[1] has demonstrated the parallelism between the two parts of the section - between the command regarding the ark and the command regarding the kaporet and the keruvim:

 

 

The ark and its poles (10-16)

The kaporet and the keruvim (17-21)

The vessel itself and its dimensions

10) And they shall make an ark of shittim wood…

11) And you shall overlay it with pure gold…

10) Two cubits and a half shall be its length, and a cubit and a half its breadth…  

17) And you shall make a kaporet of pure gold:

 

 

 

two cubits and a half shall be its length, and a cubit and a half its breadth.

The addition to the vessel and its relationship to it

13) And you shall make poles of shittim wood, and overlay them with gold.

14) And you shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark…

14) The poles shall be in the rings of the ark: they shall not be taken from it.

18) And you shall make two keruvim of gold,

19) And make one keruv on the one end, and the other keruv on the other end: of the kaporet shall you make the keruvim… 20) Toward the kaporet shall the faces of the keruvim be.

The putting of the Testimony

16) And you shall put into the ark the Testimony which I shall give you.

21) And in the ark you shall put the Testimony that I shall give you.

The objective of the vessel in its entirety

22) And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the kaporet, from between the two keruvim which are upon the ark of the Testimony, of all things which I will give you in commandment to the children of Israel.

 

THE REPETITION OF THE COMMAND TO PUT THE TESTIMONY INTO THE ARK

 

            It is interesting to see the conclusion of each of the two parts of the section:

 

·           Following the command to make the ark, we read: "And you shall put into the ark the Testimony which I shall give you" (v. 16).

·           Following the command to make the kaporet and the keruvim, we find: "And in the ark you shall put the Testimony that I shall give you" (v. 21).

·           The concluding verse: "And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the kaporet, from between the two keruvim which are upon the ark of the Testimony, of all things which I will give you in commandment to the children of Israel" (v. 22).

 

Why does the Torah repeat the command to put the Testimony into the ark?

 

The answer that emerges from our analysis of the structure of the passage is that the putting of the Testimony has significance for both vessels – the ark and the kaporet.

 

Let us first see how the commentators dealt with the apparent redundancy.

 

1. Rashi:

 

"And in the ark you shall put the Testimony" – I do not know why this is repeated, for it has already been commanded: "And you shall put the Testimony in the ark." One may say that it intends to tell us that while the ark is still by itself – i.e., without the cover – he should first put the Testimony into it, and only afterwards should he put the cover on it [for the first time]. Thus indeed do we find, that when he erected the Mishkan, it is stated: "And he took and put the Testimony into the ark" (Shemot 40:20), and afterwards it says: "And he put the cover upon the ark above it" (Shemot 25:21).

 

            Rashi's answer may be understood as a practical answer that relates to the order of the actions. First, the Testimony is put into the ark, and only afterwards is the kaporet put upon the ark.

 

            It may, however, be suggested that putting the Testimony into the ark before putting the kaporet upon the ark is an essential matter. The kaporet relates to the Testimony no less so than the ark itself, and therefore this is the order. When the kaporet is set in place to cover the ark, it must be placed over the Testimony, so that God's oral meeting with Moshe above the kaporet is joined to the written Testimony – the tablets of Testimony found in the ark.

 

2. The Maharal in his Gur Aryeh offers two answers to Rashi's question:

 

"I do not know, etc." I do not know why he does not know, for in my opinion, it teaches an important matter - that the Testimony is indispensible for the ark. For had this not been written, I might have said that if there is no Testimony, there can still be an ark. For regarding the choshen it also says: "And you shall put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Tumim" (Shemot 28:30). Nevertheless, during the Second Temple period, even though there were no Urim (Yoma 21b), there was a choshen (Rashi, Shemot 28:30). Here, too, perhaps [we should say] that even when there are no tablets, the ark demonstrates honor for the Shekhina. Therefore, it says again: "And you shall put into the ark the Testimony." Scripture repeats it in order to teach that it is indispensible (Pesachim 61a), that there is no ark if there is no Testimony. And during the Second Temple period, when there was no Testimony (Yoma 21b), therefore they did not make an ark. But they made a choshen even though they did not have the Urim and the Tumim. From where do they know this? Because regarding the ark, it repeats: "And you shall put into the ark the Testimony," to teach that it is indispensible, which is not the case regarding the Urim and the Tumim. So it seems to me.

However, what seems from a precise reading of the section: Regarding the ark, it says that it should be a container for the Testimony, and regarding the kaporet, it says that it should be a covering for the Testimony. Lest you say that the main thing was the ark, which contained the Testimony, and the kaporet merely served as a covering, it was necessary to say that this is not the case, but rather that each is a separate vessel, serving the Testimony. The ark received the Testimony, and the kaporet completed the ark with the keruvim that were above it. Therefore, in all places, there are two things serving the Testimony – the ark and the kaporet. It therefore says: "And you shall put the covering above, upon the ark; and in the ark you shall put the Testimony," thereby teaching that the Testimony lies in the kaporet, as it does in the ark. Each is a separate matter, and therefore it is written twice, once regarding the ark and a second time regarding the kaporet.

 

            The Maharal's first explanation relates to the connection between the Testimony and the ark. The Maharal wishes to learn from here that the tablets are indispensible for the ark – in contradistinction to the relationship between the choshen and the Urim and the Tumim. That is to say, the Torah says the same thing twice in order to teach that without the tablets there is no ark. In this way, he explains why an ark was not made during the Second Temple period – because there were no tablets.

 

This role of the ark to contain the tablets is especially emphasized in the book of Devarim:

 

And I turned and came down from the mountain, and put the tablets in the ark which I had made; and there they were, as the Lord commanded me. (Devarim 10:5)

 

            In any event, according to the Maharal, from here we learn that without the tablets there is no reason for an ark, this being its objective[2] (this is also the position of the Minchat Chinukh, commandment no. 95[3]).

 

            In his second explanation, the Maharal emphasizes that the ark serves as a container for the Testimony and the kaporet serves as a cover for the Testimony. We should not think that the ark is the main thing because it contains the Testimony, whereas the kaporet is merely a cover. Rather, each of these two vessels, the ark and the kaporet, is a vessel in its own right that serves the Testimony – the ark contains the Testimony, and the kaporet completes the ark with the keruvim that are above it. The repetition comes to emphasize that the Testimony rests within the kaporet just as it rests within the ark, each one significant in its own way.[4]

 

3. The Chizkuni (ad loc.) explains the repetition in a different way. According to him, the first mention of putting the Testimony in the ark is connected to the prohibition of removing the poles from the ark, which according to this understanding is connected to the fact that the tablets are in the ark. In the second mention, the Torah comes to teach that the tablets must be placed in the ark.

 

4. The Ramban (ad loc.) writes as follows:

 

But the explanation thereof is as follows: Because he had  commanded that the keruvim shall spread out their wings on high, but had not said why they should be made altogether and what function they should serve in the Mishkan and why they should be in that form, therefore, He now said: And you shall put the kaporet with the keruvim, for they are all one, above upon the ark, because in the ark you shall put the Testimony that I shall give you, so that there be for me a throne of glory, for there I will I meet with you and I will cause My glory to dwell upon them, and I will speak with you from above the kaporet, from between the two keruvim because it is upon the ark of the Testimony.

It is thus identical with the Divine chariot that the prophet Yechezkel saw, of which he said: "This is the living creature that I saw under the God of Israel by the river Kebar; and I knew that they were keruvim" (Yechezkel 10:20). This is why He is called "He who sits upon the keruvim," for they spread out their wings on high in order to teach us that they are the chariot, who carry the glory, just as it is said: "And gold for the pattern of the chariot, even the keruvim, that spread out their wings, and covered the ark of the covenant of the Lord" (I Divrei ha-Yamim 28:18), as I have mentioned.

In the opinion of our Rabbis (Chagiga 13B), the keruvim had the forms of a human being, the word being of the Aramaic language which calls a lad ravya. In that case, the letter kof in the word keruvim is not part of the root of the word, but merely serves in a comparative function, the name indicating their substance. If you will further contemplate as to why their faces were turned one to another, and why they were of beaten work, you will be able to know that it was proper for them that they be spreading their out their wings on high, for they are the throne of the Supreme One, sheltering the Testimony, which is the writing of God. This is the meaning of the expression, "the pattern of the chariot," for the keruvim which Yechezkel saw carrying the glory are the pattern of the keruvim on high, these being the glory and the majesty. And the keruvim which were in the Mishkan and in the Mikdash were of a likeness to them, for one higher than the high watches, and there are higher than they. And this is he meaning of "and I know [and not "and I saw"], for Yechezkel saw one and knew the other [on high]. This is why he said "they" ["and I knew that they were keruvim"]. The students learned in the mysteries of the Kabbala will understand.

 

            According to the Ramban, the repetition comes to emphasize that the ark together with the kaporet and the keruvim constitute a single entity, and that there is a deep connection between the keruvim which spread their wings on high and the ark.

 

            The Ramban relates to the essence of the vessels themselves, arguing that the ark serves as a throne of glory for the Shekhina, and therefore it is called in several places in the books of the Prophets "the ark of the Lord of hosts who sits upon the keruvim." In other words, the keruvim are God's chariot and the bearers of His glory.

 

            According to this, there is an intimate connection between the ark containing the tablets and the kaporet and the keruvim that overspread it. We are dealing with a throne of glory that overspreads the Testimony, and therefore there is a most direct and essential connection between the throne and the Testimony. Hence, the repetition was necessary in order to emphasize the relationship between the throne and the Testimony itself.

 

            It may be suggested that in addition to the putting of the Testimony in the ark that is explicitly mentioned in verse 16, the Torah wishes to connect the kaporet (that rests upon the ark) to the placement of the Testimony, as if to say that the Testimony were placed in the ark, both for the ark and for the kaporet.

 

            This relationship emerges in many places. We shall mention several of them:

 

            1) Later in this passage, the Torah states: "And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the kaporet, from between the two keruvim which are upon the ark of the Testimony, of all things which I will give you in commandment to the children of Israel." Once again, emphasis is placed upon the relationship between the kaporet and the ark of the Testimony.

 

            2) In the description of the location of the incense altar: "And you shall put it before the veil that is by the ark of the Testimony, before the kaporet that is over the Testimony, where I will meet with you" (Shemot 30:6). Here, the Testimony is associated in the verse with both the ark and the kaporet "that is over the Testimony."

 

            3) "The Ohel Mo'ed, and the ark of the Testimony, and the kaporet that is on it, and all the furniture of the tent" (Shemot 31:7).

 

            4) When Moshe erects the Mishkan, it says: "And he took and put the Testimony into the ark, and set the poles on the ark, and put the kaporet above upon the ark" (Shemot 40:20).

 

            5) Regarding the Yom Kippur service, it says: "And he shall put the incense upon the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of the incense may cover the kaporet that is upon the Testimony, that he die not." (Vayikra 16:13).

 

            6) "And when Moshe was gone into the Ohel Mo'ed to speak with Him, then he heard the voice speaking to him from off the kaporet that was upon the ark of Testimony, from between the two keruvim; and it spoke to him" (Bamidbar 7:89).[5]

 

            God meets with Moshe from above the kaporet from between the two keruvim on the Testimony or on the ark of the Testimony because the Torah wishes to connect God's oral meeting with Moshe from above the kaporet from between the two keruvim to the Written Law and the tablets resting in the ark, and thus to connect the Oral Law that is newly taught to Moshe to the Written Law that is permanent and eternal.

 

            This explains the kaporet's location above the ark of the Testimony and the Torah's emphasis of the fact that the kaporet is upon the Testimony. Therefore, the Torah repeats this fact also with respect to the kaporet, even though it was already stated with respect to the ark.

 

            In the next shiur, we shall continue with this issue, and we shall focus on the question of whether the ark, the kaporet and the keruvim constitute a single vessel, two separate vessels, or two vessels that are actually one.

 

 

(Translated by David Strauss)



[1] In his book, Iyunim be-Parashat ha-Shavu'a, Sefer Shemot, Parashat Teruma, “He-Aron u-Badav ve-Kaporet ve-ha-Keruvim," pp. 224-236. The book is based on shiurim that were given for the VBM.

[2] We shall not enter here into the question that was dealt with in previous shiurim regarding whether in Devarim the Torah is describing the ark in the Mishkan or a different ark.

[3] This issue requires much expansion, especially regarding the status of the Second Temple and why a new ark was not built for it.

[4] The Maharal here emphasizes that the ark and the kaporet are two vessels, each one standing on its own. We shall discuss this point further in the next shiur.

[5] Regarding the Testimony, according to the simple sense, we are dealing with the tablets of the Testimony mentioned in Shemot 31:18: "And He gave to Moshe, when He had made an end of speaking to him upon Mount Sinai, two tablets of the Testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God." It is because of the tablets of the Testimony that the ark is called the ark of the Testimony (in many places in Shemot 26:33-34, 39:35; 40:3, 5, 21; Bamidbar 4:5; 7:89). We dealt with this matter in previous shiurim.