Ark or Arks (Part II)

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy

 

Mikdash

 

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DAYS OF DELIVERANCE: ESSAYS ON PURIM AND HANUKKAH

by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik

 

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Lecture 129: Ark or Arks (Part II)

Rav Yitzchak Levi

 

 

Introduction

 

            In the previous shiur, we saw the two main viewpoints regarding the relationship between the two commands relating to the ark – those of Rashi and the Ramban.

 

            According to Rashi, there were two arks: the ark fashioned by Betzalel, which is described in the book of Shemot, and another ark about which Moshe was commanded in the book of Devarim, this being the ark that was taken out to battle with the people of Israel. According to the Ramban, in contrast, only one ark was used in actual practice. He explains the relationship between the two accounts in one of two ways:

 

            1) We are dealing with one ark, to which an overlay of gold was added at the time of the building of the Mishkan.

 

            2) When Betzalel's ark was made and brought into the Mishkan, Moshe's ark was hidden away, in accordance with the law regarding sacred objects that are no longer used.

 

            The main difference between the Ramban's two explanations is that according to the first explanation, there was only one ark. While the ark is described in the book of Devarim as made of wood and in the book of Shemot as overlaid with gold, with a rim, rings, poles, a kaporet and keruvim, and despite the different times and purposes, we are dealing with one and the same ark. According to the second explanation, on the other hand, a temporary ark of wood housed the tablets until the Mishkan was built, but with the building of the Mishkan, it was hidden away and never used again. From that time on, there was only the golden ark that was found in the Mishkan.

 

            There are various difficulties with both the viewpoint of Rashi and that of the Ramban. Regarding the view of Rashi:

 

·           Despite the fact that it rests on the position of a single authority among the Tannaim (see our previous shiur), the objections raised by the Ramban and Abravanel are indeed strong.

·           We hear nothing about an additional ark in the Holy of Holies – not that it was placed there, nor that it was removed from there when the Mishkan was disassembled in preparation for the next journey.

·           When Shelomo brings the ark into the Holy of Holies, there is only one ark, as is explicit in the verses.

·           According to the plain understanding, the whole tablets and the broken tablets were found in the same ark (as is explained in Bava Batra 14a).

 

Regarding the second view of the Ramban:

 

·           The ark of wood was fashioned by Moshe before he ascended the mountain, whereas the ark of Testimony was made by Betzalel after Moshe descended from the mountain.

·           Does it stand to reason that mention is made in the book of Devarim only of an ark of wood, but there is no mention of the kaporet, the keruvim, the gold, the poles, the rings or the rim?

 

THe ark and the tablets

 

            We wish now to note several points emerging from the words of the Rishonim, which relate to the disagreement mentioned above and the relationship between the ark and the broken tablets and the second set of tablets.

 

1. IN Shemot – the resting of the Shekhina on the Mishkan; in Devarim – the essence of the torah

 

            R. Tamir Granot suggests that we examine the differences between the two accounts based on the different nature of the books of Shemot and Devarim.[1]

 

            In the book of Shemot, the role of the ark was to serve as a place for the revelation of God, as part of the resting of the Shekhina in the Mishkan as a whole. In contrast, in the book of Devarim, the role of the ark was to serve as a place for the tablets, upon which were written the most important mitzvot, which are the essence of the entire Torah. The tablets are the essence, and the ark contains the tablets.

 

2. The importance of the relationship between the whole tablets and the Broken Tablets

 

            Chazal's assertion that the broken tablets were kept in the ark has spiritual significance. It teaches us not only to remember what led to the breaking of the tablets, but also the level at which the people of Israel were fit to be prior to the sin of the Golden Calf. The second tablets, with all their importance and with the forgiveness of Israel's sin that they reflect, lie in the shadow of the broken tablets, which had been both hewn and written by God.

 

3. The relationship between war and the broken tablets

 

            Why was it the ark containing the broken tablets that went out to battle?

 

            Was an expression of the Divine revelation that preceded the sin of the Golden Calf necessary for this purpose so that the people of Israel would be worthy of emerging victorious in battle, thus intimating that only such a spiritual reality can enable the resting of the Shekhina in war?

 

4. The relationship between the second set of tablets in the inner ark and the central location of the torah in the Mishkan

 

            In a shiur in a previous year, we dealt with the question of why the second set of tablets was placed in the inner ark. We argued there that this is connected to the fact that the Torah is the heart of the Mikdash.

 

5. The relationship between rest and war with one ark and with two arks

 

            According to the Rabbis and the Ramban who maintain that there was only one ark and that it went out to war, this means that the revelation of God in the Temple in a time of peace is the same as the revelation of God in the battlefield in a time of war. According to R. Yehuda ben Lakish and Rashi, on the other hand, there were two arks, one of which went out to battle while the other remained in the Holy of Holies. It may be suggested that in their opinion, there is a fundamental separation between the various revelations of God, between the revelation of God in a time of peace and the revelation of God in a time of war.

 

The position of CHazal

 

            We saw two main approaches in the Rishonim about how to understand what the Torah says in the book of Devarim regarding the ark of wood. As we saw, the main question dealt with by Rashi and the Ramban, each according to his own position, is an exegetical one – with which ark is the wooden ark mentioned in the book of Devarim to be identified?

 

            There are many sources in Chazal that relate to the question of whether there was only one ark or two arks. We will cite below only two of the most important sources.[2]

 

            It is interesting that these sources do not deal with the exegetical question, but rather with the essential question of how many arks there were in the wilderness. Accordingly, the proofs that are adduced are not from the verse in the book of Devarim, but rather from various incidents related to the ark, especially the accounts of the ark's travel three days' journey in front of the camp, Israel's departure from Mount Sinai, and the leaving of the ark in the camp when the Ma'apilim tried to ascend the mountain.

 

            Based on these accounts, Chazal bring a variety of proofs to their positions from various references to the ark in the words of the Prophets.

 

1. Yerushalmi:[3]

 

It was taught: R. Yuda ben Lakish said: Two arks traveled with Israel in the wilderness, one in which the Torah was placed, and one in which the broken tablets were deposited. The one in which the Torah was placed rested in the Ohel Mo'ed. This is what is written: "And the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and Moshe, departed not out of the camp" (Bamidbar 14:24). And the one in which the broken tablets were deposited went in and out with them, and sometimes it was seen with them. And the Rabbis said: There was one ark, and once it went out in the days of Eli and was taken captive. A verse supports the Rabbis: "Woe to us! Who shall deliver us out of the hand of these mighty gods" (I Shmuel 4:8). This was something that they had not seen all their days. [This supports the view of the Rabbis that the ark went out only once, for had the ark gone out with them every time they went out, the Pelishtim would not have surprised.] A [different] verse supports R. Yuda ben Lakish: "And Shaul said to Achiya: Bring the ark of God here" (I Shmuel 14:18). But surely the ark was in Kiryat-Ye'arim! [Which was the place of the ark until David brought it up to the city of David. This implies that the ark would go out with them to battle.] What do the Rabbis do with this? [Shaul meant:] Bring the tzitz here. [The reference is to the ark in which the tzitz was deposited. Shaul asked for the tzitz because he wished to inquire of the Urim ve-Tumim, and the High Pries can only make such an inquiry when he is wearing the tzitz.] A [different] verse supports R. Yuda: "The ark, and Israel, and Yehuda, dwell in booths" (II Shmuel 11:11). But surely the ark was in Zion! What do the Rabbis do with this? A ceiling of twigs (sekhakh) which was like a roof, for the sanctuary had not yet been built. [That is to say, the ark was in fact in Zion, and did not go out to battle. And it says that it dwelt in booth, because it rested under a ceiling of twigs which was like a roof.] (Shekalim 6:1)

 

            The Yerushalmi teaches as follows: According to R. Yehuda ben Lakish, there were two arks. The first one was in the Ohel Mo'ed, and a Torah scroll was found in within it. About this ark, it is stated: "And the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and Moshe, departed not out of the camp" (Bamidbar 14:24). The second ark, which housed the broken tablets, went in and out with Israel and at times would be seen with them.

 

            The verse that proves that there was an ark that remained in the camp is the verse that relates to the ark that remained in the camp in the story of the Ma'apilim. It is interesting that no proof is brought that the broken tablets went out to battle with Israel in the second ark.

 

            According to the Rabbis, on the other hand, there was only one ark; only once did it go out to battle and it was then taken captive. The verse which supports this position is the verse in Shmuel which describes the Pelishtim's reaction to the arrival of the ark: "Woe to us! Who shall deliver us out of the hand of these mighty gods" (I Shmuel 4:8). The dread of the Pelishtim proves that they were not accustomed to the ark's going out to battle, and from here we learn that there was only one ark, and that it when it went out that one time in the days of Eli, it was taken captive, in accordance with the view of the Rabbis.

 

            Another verse that seems to support R. Yehuda ben Lakish is from the story about Shaul's battle in Mikhmash, in which he says to Achiya: "Bring the ark of God here." Even though the ark was essentially located in Kiryat-Ye'arim, it seems from here that the ark was taken out to war with Israel, in accordance with the view of R. Yehuda ben Lakish. (The Rabbis explain that this verse relates to the tzitz, for Shaul wished to inquire through the Urim ve-Tumim, which required that the High Priest wear the tzitz.)

 

            Another verse that is cited in support of the viewpoint of R. Yehuda ben Lakish relates the words of Uriya the Chitti, "The ark, and Israel, and Yehuda, dwell in booths" (II Shmuel 11:11), which seems to indicate that the ark was regularly taken out to war. (The Rabbis explain this verse as saying that the ark was located under a ceiling of twigs which was like a roof, for the permanent sanctuary had not yet been built.)

 

            According to R. Yehuda ben Lakish, what is interesting is that the inner ark in which the Torah rested did not go out to war, but rather it was fixed in its place in the Ohel Mo'ed. It was the second ark, which contained the broken tablets, that went out to battle and was seen with Israel.

 

            One striking omission here is whether the second set of tablets was located together with the book of the Torah which was found in the camp or together with the broken tablets.

 

2. Baraita de-Melekhet ha-Mishkan

 

R. Yehuda ben Lakish says: There were two arks – one that remained in the camp, and another one that went out with them to war and in which were the broken tablets, as it is stated: "And the ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them [in the three days' journey]" (Bamidbar 10:33). The one which was with them in the camp had in it a book of the Torah. This is what it says, "And the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and Moshe, departed not out of the camp" (Bamidbar 14:24). And so it says about Shaul: "And Shaul said to Achiya: Bring the ark of God here" (I Shmuel 14:18). And so too it says about Uriya: "The ark, and Israel, and Yehuda, dwell in booths" (II Shmuel 11:11). But the ark of the covenant only went out to war once, as it is stated: "So the people sent to Shilo, that they might bring from there the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts" (I Shmuel 4:4). R. Yehuda says: In the ark, there were only the tablets of the covenant, as it is stated: "There was nothing in the ark save the two tablets of stone" (I Melakhim 8:9). (end of chap. 6)

 

            The verse that is brought as proof that an ark went out to war with Israel and in it were the broken tablets is the verse that describes the travel of the ark before the camp, when the camp of Israel departed from Mount Sinai to the wilderness of Sinai. The ark that remained in the camp and which contained the book of the Torah is connected to the story of the Ma'apilim, where the ark was left in the camp.

 

            Proof for this position is brought from what Shaul says to Achiya to bring the ark of God and what Uriya the Chitti says about the ark that dwelt in booths. But the ark of the covenant went out to war only once at the time of the battle against the Pelishtim at Even-ha-Ezer.

 

R. Yehuda seems to disagree and say that the ark that remained in the camp contained only the tablets of the covenant, based on the verse that relates to the ark that was brought into the First Temple.[4]

 

            According to R. Yehuda ben Lakish, there were basically two arks: the one in the camp, which contained the book of the Torah, and the one that went out to war, which contained the broken tablets.

 

            According to the Yerushalmi in Shekalim, R. Yehuda ben Lakish maintains that there were two arks: one containing the whole tablets, which was in the Ohel Mo'ed, and one containing the broken tablets, which went out with Israel to war.

 

            The Yerushalmi deals primarily with the proofs adduced from the biblical verses in support of the position of R. Yehuda ben Lakish that there were two arks.

 

the Tannaitic dispute

 

            I wish to raise several questions regarding this dispute, based on the assumption that we are dealing here not with a technical disagreement about how to understand the verses, but with different opinions regarding the relationship between the tablets, the ark, and the Mishkan in the aftermath of the sin of the Golden Calf.

 

            According to R. Yehuda ben Lakish, who argued that there were two different arks, it may be asked whether there is significance to the fact that the ark of wood was constructed by Moshe in the wake of the sin of the Golden Calf, whereas the second ark was fashioned by Betzalel together with the other vessels of the Mishkan.

 

            It may further be asked why the command to construct an ark in which to place the tablets was given only for the second tablets, in the wake of the sin of the Golden Calf, and not for the first tablets. Were the first set of tablets less in need of a place where they could be safely deposited than the second set of tablets, or was the whole matter connected to the sin?

 

            Furthermore, if the separation between the tablets and the Mishkan and between the two arks was a consequence of the sin, it is possible to suggest that the various Rishonim are consistent with their own approaches with respect to this matter.

 

Rashi, who fundamentally maintains that the Torah's stories are not necessarily arranged in chronological order and that God's command to Moshe to build the Mishkan was issued after the sin of the Golden Calf, also maintains that there were two parallel arks, as was argued by R. Yehuda ben Lakish. The Ramban, who maintains that God's command to Moshe to build the Mishkan preceded the sin of the golden Calf agrees with the Rabbis that there was only one ark.

 

Is there a difference between Moshe and Betzalel, based on their personalities and upon their roles? Is it possible that Moshe expresses a higher and more perfect dimension than does the building of Betzalel, just as we find with respect to the relationship between the structure and the vessels,[5] or is there no room for any such conclusion regarding the matter?

 

Does the existence of two arks point to a fundamental distinction between the ark's role as the place in which to store the whole tablets and the broken tablets, as opposed to an ark containing the book of the Torah, whose clear place was in the Mishkan?

 

We have posed a series of questions which suggest different possibilities of understanding the situation. We did not decide between the various possibilities, but merely wished to raise several directions of thought.

 

The Broken tablets in the middle of the camp

 

            The Sifrei presents a position that is different from that found in the Yerushalmi in Shekalim or in Baraita de-Melekhet ha-Mishkan:

 

"And the ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them [in the three days' journey]" (Bamidbar 10:33). And it is stated: "And the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and Moshe, departed not out of the camp" (Bamidbar 14:24). Some say that there were two arks with them, one before the camp and one in the middle of the camp. That which was before the camp contained the Torah, and that which was in the middle of the camp contained the broken tablets. (Sifrei Zuta on Bamidbar 10:33)

 

            According to the Sifrei Zuta, the ark that was in the middle of the camp (i.e., the ark that was in the Mishkan), contained the broken tablets, whereas the ark that went before the camp contained the Torah, i.e., the book of the Torah.

 

            It is possible according to this that the broken tablets, which clearly bring to mind the sin, were found inside the Mishkan in order to serve as a reminder not only of what had happened in the past, but also to emphasize the idea of the Mishkan as a place designated for the resting of the Shekhina in proper manner (without necessarily hanging this idea on the question of the timing of God's command to build the Mishkan). The Torah, on the other hand, which contains God's word to man as a whole, was placed in the ark that went before the camp and showed the people of Israel the way.

 

THe broken Tablets in the Ark

 

            The gemara in Bava Batra attempts to determine from where we know that the broken tablets were placed in the ark:

 

And from where does R. Meir learn that the fragments of the [first] tablets were deposited in the ark? From the same source as R. Huna, who said: What is the meaning of the verse: "Which is called by the Name, even the name of the Lord of hosts that sits upon the keruvim" (II Shmuel 6:2)?  [The repetition of the word "name"] teaches that the tablets and the fragments of the tablets were deposited in the ark. And what does R. Yehuda make of these words? He requires them for the lesson enunciated by R. Yochanan, who said in the name of R. Shimon bar Yochai: This teaches us that the Name [of four letters] and all the subsidiary names [of God] were deposited in the ark. And does not R. Meir also require the verse for this lesson? Certainly he does. From where then does he learn that the fragments of the first tablets were deposited in the ark? He learns it from the exposition reported [also] by R. Yosef. For R. Yosef learned: "Which you broke, and you shall put them" (Devarim 10:2) - [the juxtaposition of these words] teaches us that both the tablets and the fragments of the tablets were deposited in the ark. (Bava Batra 14b)

 

            According to R. Meir, the book of the Torah that Moshe wrote was placed in the ark, and he learns that the broken tablets were placed in the ark from R. Huna's exposition of the verse in the account of David's transfer of the ark from Kiryat-Ye'arim to the city of David: "Which is called by the Name, even the name of the Lord of hosts that sits upon the keruvim."

 

            It might be that the doubling of the word "name" teaches that both the whole tablets and the broken tablets were placed in the ark. R. Yochanan learned from this verse that the Tetragrammaton and all the subsidiary names of God were deposited in the ark.

 

            R. Yosef learned that the broken tablets were placed in the ark from what it says in the book of Devarim about Moshe's breaking of the tablets, "Which you broke, and you shall put them.” This suggests that both the first tablets which had been broken and the second tablets which were put into the ark were put into the same ark.

 

            Beyond the exegetical issue, the question may be raised whether the different sources have different spiritual meanings.

 

            In any event, according to the understanding that the whole tablets and the broken tablets were placed in the same ark, there is a connection between the original plan, according to which both the hewing of the tablets and the writing was Divine, and the reality, in which only the writing was Divine, but the hewing was human. Placing them together in the same ark implies that despite the sin of the Golden Calf, it is still important that the broken tablets lie alongside the second tablets so that the original dream and hope should remain before our eyes.

 

            According to Baraita de-Melekhet ha-Mishkan, the fact that the broken tablets went out to war is derived from the verse, "And the ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them in the three days' journey," which relates to the first journey undertaken by the camp of Israel when it left Mount Sinai and entered the wilderness.

 

            It is interesting that according to the view that the second ark remained in the camp, it contained the book of the Torah and not the tablets. According to this, the idea is that the ark in the camp must contain the book of the Torah, i.e., the comprehensive written version of the word of God which obligates for all generations, and not only the original deed of the covenant made at Mount Sinai.

 

The Ark of wood, its location, its dimensions and its form

 

            Beyond the fact that the ark existed, that it was made of wood and that it contained the tablets, the verses do not relate to many of the details connected to the ark made by Moshe.

 

            The Ramban (Devarim 10:1) understands that the ark had a wooden cover over it. Common sense tells us that the ark containing the whole tablets and the broken tablets was not left open, but rather it was covered with a wooden cover.

 

            It is reasonable to assume that the dimensions of the wooden ark were similar to the ark in the Mishkan. This is the position of the Tosafot in Chullin:

 

And so too they asked in chapter Ba lo (Yoma 72b): It is written: "And you shall make for yourself an ark of wood," and it is written: "And they shall make an ark of shittim wood." Even though it was a different ark, it stands to reason that the two were similar.[6] (Chullin 92a, s.v. barukh)

 

            The Chatam Sofer (Shabbat 92a, s.v. velikhe'ora) understands that the height of the ark that went out with Israel to war and the thickness of the cover that was placed over it were the same as those of the ark and the kaporet in the Holy of Holies.[7]

 

            According to the Alshikh (brought in Zera Avraham on Sifrei Beha'alotekha 82), the law that the ark must be carried on the shoulders applied also to the ark that went out with Israel to battle. Similarly, it would appear that it had rings and poles made of shittim wood without an overlay of gold.

 

            Nowhere does it say where this ark was located. The Maharsha (Berakhot 63b) notes that the verse only mentions that Moshe pitched a tent for himself, but it is possible that the ark of God was also found there. He explains that this ark was not the ark that was found in the Mishkan. If so, this was the ark that went out with them to battle, and its place was in Moshe's tent.

 

            Without going into the details concerning the tent of Moshe, the fact that it was the place where God revealed Himself and spoke to Moshe explains why the ark with the broken tablets may have been found in Moshe's tent.

 

            In addition to the disagreement among the Tannaim as to the number of arks and what each contained, there is no explicit reference in the sources regarding the location of the tablets themselves.

 

Summary

 

            In the last two shiurim, we dealt with the relationship between the section in Devarim dealing with the ark of wood that Moshe made to contain the second tablets and the account in Shemot of the ark as one of the vessels of the Mishkan.

 

            We examined the viewpoints of Rashi and the Ramban. Are we dealing with two parallel arks, one for the tablets and one in the Mishkan, as argued by Rashi, or was the ark of wood a temporary ark that was used to store the tablets until the building of the Mishkan, as argued by the Ramban in his first explanation, or are we dealing with two different accounts of the same ark, as proposed by the Ramban in his second explanation? We tried to understand the possible meanings of the various viewpoints.

 

            We saw the words of Chazal that serve as sources for the views of Rashi and the Ramban and also the proofs for the various positions. We examined the relationship between the various statements in Chazal. And finally, we related to some of the details connected to the ark of wood – its location, its dimensions and its form.

 

(Translated by David Strauss)



[1] R. Tamir Granot, in his shiur for the VBM on Parashat Ha-shavua Parashat Ekev 5767.

[2] We decided here to open with the words of the Rishonim – Rashi and the Ramban – and not with the words of Chazal, because they present a succinct version of the two main viewpoints – the view of R. Yehuda ben Lakish that there were two arks and the view of the Rabbis that there was one ark. There are additional sources, but we decided to limit the discussion.

[3] The bracketed portions are explanations of what is written in the Yerushalmi.

[4] R. Yehuda relates to what was found in the ark itself. According to him, the book of the Torah was found alongside the ark.

[5] We discussed this issue earlier in the year in our shiur dealing with the relationship between the structure and its various vessels.

[6] These sources are brought in Nachum Weinreb's book, Melekhet ha-Mishkan ve-Keilav, p. 56.

[7] He writes that it is possible that the ark that contained the broken tablets did not have a cover, and indeed there is no hint to such a cover in the verses themselves.