The Aron Ha-Kodesh

  • Rav Moshe Taragin

Parshat HaShavua
Yeshivat Har Etzion





The Aron Ha-Kodesh

by Rav Moshe Taragin



Parashat Teruma describes the construction of both the actual structure of the Mishkan as well as the holy utensils (keilim) which were housed therein. The first item which is detailed is the "aron" - the ark which contained the "luchot" and which was placed in the Kodesh Ha-kodoshim (the inner sanctuary). This section begins in 25:10 and concludes with 25:22. There is one instruction which repeats itself twice within the parasha - the command to place the "eidut" (either the luchot, a Sefer Torah or both) into the aron:


25:16 - And you should put in the aron the eidut which I will give you.


25:21- and in the aron you should place the eidut which I will give you.


This blatant and superfluous restatement immediately attracts our attention as it did Rashi's as well. Rashi asserts that the second repetition of the command actually reminds Moshe to place the eidut in the aron PRIOR to covering it with the "kapporet" (the gold 'cover' of the aron). Rashi's interpretation however seems to raise more questions than it solves. Why must Moshe be specifically instructed to insert the eidut prior to covering the aron? Wouldn't practicality dictate as much? If on the other hand from a technical standpoint the luchot can be inserted even AFTER the aron has been covered by the kapporet, why must Moshe insert them PRIOR to covering the aron? Shouldn't the aron begin to house the eidut only after it has been entirely completed (this second question is posed by the Ramban)? These difficulties in Rashi's interpretation suggest an alternate reason for the repetition of this command.



I. Two Sections Detailing the Aron's Construction:

A closer inspection of the section detailing construction of the aron reveals several features which might suggest that this 'parasha' of 13 pesukim must itself be split into two sub-sections. Generally in Parashat Teruma first the actual 'item' is described and only subsequently does the Torah delineate the ancillary utensils or other material which was placed 'on' or within the actual utensil. For example, in the case of the "shulchan" only after the dimensions and specifications of the actual shulchan are given do we learn about the various plates and 'bread-holders' which were placed on the shulchan's racks. The 'breads' themselves are only described in the last pasuk of the shulchan section. Yet, in the case of the aron we learn of the eidut in the 7th pasuk BEFORE being informed about seemingly integral aspects of the aron - such as the kapporet and the "keruvim" which are only described in the last 6 pesukim of the parasha. By describing the eidut at this early stage the Torah might be signaling that one 'section' of aron instructions has concluded. This first section describes the eidut but does not include the kapporet and the keruvim.


An additional aspect surrounds the description of the keruvim. Though commonly associated with the aron, the Torah itself continuously aligns them with the kapporet. In a span of five pesukim the keruvim are associated with the kapporet four times and not once directly with the actual aron - which apparently is the base of both the kapporet and the keruvim:


25:18 - make two KERUVIM of gold... at the two ends of the KAPPORET

25:19 - from/of the KAPPORET make the KERUVIM on the two ends

25:20 - and the KERUVIM should spread their wings, covering with their wings the KAPPORET

25:22- and I will speak with you from above the KAPPORET between the two KERUVIM


Evidently the last few pesukim comprise a separate and independent section describing the kapporet and the keruvim which arose from it, making little mention of the actual aron.




A 'simple' reading of the parasha detailing the construction of the aron yields a parasha which seems to be subdivided into two distinct sections each concluded by a separate command to insert the 'eidut.' While the first section (25:10-16) speaks of the aron and makes no mention of the keruvim, the second section (25:17-22) firmly associates the keruvim with the kapporet. What is the Torah's intent in slicing the aron instructions in two? Are there really two aron's, or more exactly, TWO DISTINCT ROLES which the aron should play, reflected by a double list of instructions?



II. Aron of Torah/Luchot - Aron Ha-eidut:

The most striking feature or function of the aron is that it contained the luchot and/or the Sefer Torah. (See the Yerushalmi in Shekalim 6:1 regarding what was actually inserted.) The Ibn Ezra likens this aron to a safe or box in which valuables are stored (25:16). It was fashioned from gold to highlight the value of the item which was being stored - similar to a jewelry box ("li-havdil") which is adorned or made from precious metal to distinguish it from a breadbox. Chazal repeatedly emphasized the storing of the 'eidut' as a characteristic feature of the aron:


"...just as TORAH preceded all, similarly the construction of the aron was stated first.." (Shemot Rabba 34:2)


"THEY should make an aron: why does the Torah employ a plural tense? Hakadosh Baruch Hu said that everyone should participate in its construction so that they should all merit TORAH learning (Shemot Rabba 34:3, cited by the Ramban (25:9).


"...why when describing the crown of the aron does the Torah write "they should make ABOVE it (alav) (25:11)? To symbolize that the crown of TORAH 'supersedes' the crowns of priesthood and royalty (Shemot Rabba 34:2, see also Rashi (25:11)).


"It should be gold within and without" - from here we derive that any TALMID CHOCHOM whose inner thoughts do not reflect his outward gestures (She-ein Tokho Ki-baro) is not truly a Talmid Chochom (Yoma 72b).


"R. Yochanan noted: the word 'zer' (the crown of the aron) is written in a manner which suggests the reading 'zar' (strange). If a person merits, his TORAH becomes a crown, if not his TORAH becomes strange as he forgets it (Yoma 72b).


These repeated statements by Chazal confirm that which is already obvious from the text itself. A primary function of the aron was to store the eidut, on a practical level protecting them and facilitating transport, and on an aesthetic level glorifying and honoring them. It is this role which lent the aron its title as ARON HA-EIDUT (Shemot 25:22, 26:33,34, 30:6,26, 39:35, 40:3,5,21.).



III. The Aron as the 'Seat' of the Shechina:

There does, however, appear to be a second role which the aron played. The Mishkan/Mikdash in general was intended as the site of the greatest concentration of God's presence on this world (Shechina). Though this is true of the Mikdash in general, the aron served as a miniature "Kisei Ha-kavod" (royal throne) to the Shechina, corresponding to the actual Kisei Ha-kavod in heaven. The Rabbeinu Chananel (25:10), Ramban (25:21), and Chizkuni(25:18,20) all make this association, and their view is based upon the Midrash in Bemidbar Rabba (4:13). Throughout Tanakh we witness the aron symbolizing no less than the presence of Hashem Himself during several national experiences:


1) Travel -

During travel the aron paced the nation to select a suitable site for rest (Bemidbar 10:33). This scouting was obviously performed by Hashem as the Torah announces two pesukim later: "When the aron traveled Moshe declared 'May God arise... and when the aron rested Moshe said "May God return to the tens of thousands of his people'" (Bemidbar 10:35).


2) Parting of the Yarden -

This miracle which marked their entry into Israel was centered around the movement of the aron. The third and fourth chapters of Yehoshua provide an elaborate description of the nation's crossing, coordinated and led by the aron's crossing. " soon as the soles of the feet of the Kohanim who carried the ARON rested in the Yarden... they [the waters] shall stand in a heap" (Yehoshua 3:13, see also 4:7). The presence of the Shechina during the parting of the Red Sea so promidescribed by the pasuk "Zeh Keili - This is my God," is symbolized here by the spotlight upon the aron.


3) The Conquest of Yericho -

The first 'battle' in the acquisition of Israel is spearheaded by the aron which circled Yericho along with the Kohanim blowing the horns. This battle initiated the tradition of carrying the aron out to war, a practice which reflected God's presence in the battle-camp, as indicated by the verses in Devarim:


Devarim (23:15) - "...for God walks in the midst of your camp to deliver you..."

Devarim (19:4) - "...for God goes with you to fight your enemies..."


Hashem's presence in leading us to battle is symbolized by the location of the aron in the center of the camp.


4) The Oath at Har Eival -

Upon entering Israel, Yehoshua fulfills the command given to Moshe to recreate Har Sinai in Israel. The nation assembles as the covenant of Ki Tavo is read aloud, with the aron situated at the center to symbolize the presence of God (see Yehoshua 8:33).


These national events all require the presence of God, which is supplied by the aron serving as a miniature 'Kisei Hakavod.' This role of the aron, as the seat of the Shechina, endows the aron with another 'title,' what one might call the "aron Hashem," a phrase which doesn't appear in Parashat Teruma, but recurs persistently in later sections of the Torah (and more so in Tanakh - particularly in Sefer Yehoshua in which this role of the aron is most often manifest).



IV. The Keruvim and the Kapporet:


It is possibly the keruvim and the kapporet which are the components of the aron most vital toward establishing it as a 'Kisei Ha-kavod.' Similar to the actual 'Merkava,' the Holy 'chariot' in Heaven which is comprised of Angelic creatures and serves as the seat of God's presence (see Yechezkel 1), the aron contains two angel figures, their WINGS outspread and their GAZE CAST DOWN (a gesture symbolic of the awe in the presence of God - see the Chizkuni and Rabbeinu Chananel). The wings and the averted eyes are images which are reminiscent of the description of the actual Kisei Ha-kavod provided in Yeshayahu (6:1-2): "...I saw God sitting upon a throne... Serafim stood above Him, each had six WINGS, with two he COVERED HIS FACE" (see Chizkuni for the actual parallel). The keruvim as components of a miniature Kisei Ha-kavod, the site of God's presence, is connoted as well by the recurring phrase "Yoshev Ha-keruvim" - God who rides upon the keruvim (Tehillim 80:2, Shemuel II 6:2).


The keruvim in turn were molded from the kapporet (they were Miksha - hammered from the same piece of gold, rather than fastened to the kapporet) and are constantly affiliated with the kapporet. In truth the aron as Kisei Ha-kavod does not require a BOX capable of storing material items but rather necessitates only Merkava (KERUVIM) and a PLATFORM (KAPPORET). It is understandable that the keruvim, the most visible symbol of the miniature Kisei Hakavod, rise specifically from the kapporet and not from the aron proper.


This area of the aron (beneath the keruvim on top of the kapporet) factored heavily in two momentous experiences in the Mikdash. It was upon the kapporet under the keruvim where the Shechina 'appears' on Yom Kippur during the burning of the incense:


Vayikra 16:2 " a 'cloud' I will appear upon the KAPPORET..."

Vayikra 16:13 "...the 'cloud' of the ketoret should COVER the KAPPORET..."


It was also through this 'window' or 'route' that the voice of God was heard by Moshe when he entered the Mishkan - as the pasuk attests: "and there I will meet you and I will speak with you from above the covering from between the two keruvim...." (25:22). Each of these events demonstrated the ability of the kapporet to serve as the 'seat' of the Shechina in the Mikdash. During the entire year God's spoken word emanates from this area and reverberates in the Ohel Mo'ed. On Yom Kippur a human is actually permitted to approach this Kisei Ha-kavod for the purposes of achieving atonement (kappara=kapporet).


It is now quite obvious why the Torah divided the aron section into two - to underscore the two different functions of the aron. The first pesukim describe the aron Ha-eidut, an ornate gold chest intended to store the luchot or Torah. Alternatively, the second part of this section describes the aron Hashem, a base upon which stood angel figures, representing a miniature Kisei Ha-kavod for the presence of the Shechina within the Mikdash.


These two roles amply reflect the two functions of the Mikdash itself. One the one hand it is the site of the concentrated presence of Shechina. Alternatively it is also an epicenter from which Torah knowledge emits (Ki Mi-tzion Tetzei Torah). As such it was a center of the written Torah (symbolized by the aron Ha-eidut housing the luchot/Torah, but also a hub of Oral Torah. The Sanhedrin - the embodiment of Torah She-be'al Peh, referred to by the Rambam (Hilkhot Mamrim 1:1) as the "pillars of the Masorah" charged with guiding the unfurling of Torah She-Be'al Peh, resided in the Lishkat Ha-gazit adjacent to the Azara.



V. Complementary or Independent:


Are these two roles of the aron distinct ? Are we to view the aron ha-eidut and the aron Hashem as two different logical structures? Was the aron really one ornate chest storing the eidut/Torah and a separate platform upon which stood keruvim signifying the concentrated presence of the Shechina? Is the aron of Torah distinct from the aron of Shechina? One might have arrived at this conclusion but the Torah specifically campaigns against this notion. The warrant for a Mikdash, for the concept of God revealing himself to human beings, is the fact that we were given His Torah - the closest approximation of His essence in this world. Were it not for Torah and our ability to understand Hashem by studying and performing His will, there would be no sanction for the concept of Mikdash, and for the indwelling of Shechina on this limited physical world. Just as the Divine revelation at Har Sinai was 'channeled' through the experience of Torah, similarly the Shechina's presence in the Mikdash rested - literally and figuratively - upon the presence of Torah within the Mikdash. These two roles of the aron reflect the symbiotic relationship between Torah and Shechina which characterizes the Mikdash itself.


For this very reason the Torah reiterates the command to insert the eidut/Torah into the aron. After firmly establishing the concept of an aron Hashem - a miniature Kisei Ha-kavod, the Torah highlights that this VERY SAME ARON must contain the eidut/Torah else it cannot be a Kisei Ha-kavod in this world, in this Mikdash. Though the ARON might have TWO functions, they are very much integrated and mutually dependent.





As stated above, one can detect two functions which the aron Ha-kodesh in the Mikdash performed; our parasha intentionally highlights the difference. Throughout our unfortunate history of Galut we have retained one aron but lost another. Each Jewish community or Beit K'nesset has taken great care to erect an aron Ha-kodesh to house its most precious possession - the Torah. These arks have played significant roles in the evolution of Jewish history as they were often transferred across many seas from one community to another as a sign of Jewish continuity. Sadly, the aron Hashem, the site for the revelation of the Shechina, has been hidden for centuries.


It is highly symbolic that the Torah describes the "badim" (the poles used to transport the aron) in the first section describing the aron Ha-eidut. Historically it is only this aron which has enjoyed portability and has been preserved in Galut. The aron Hashem has not enjoyed 'historical badim' and has been an object and experience rooted in the Mikdash proper. May we merit the rebuilding of the Mikdash, the re-establishment of the "dual aron" and the realization of the following prayer which again fuses Torah with the overall revelation of Shechina:


She-yibaneh Beit Ha-mikdash bimheira bi-yameinu, vi-tein chelkeinu BI-TORATEKHA, Vi-sham NA'AVODKHA bi-yir'a....


(...that the Beit Ha-mikdash be rebuilt, we be provour SHARE IN TORAH, and in that site WORSHIP you in the awe of your PRESENCE).




Further points and questions:

1. In different places in Tanakh, the aron is called by different names. Only by examining the context of each, can we determine the meaning of each name, with today's shiur being used as the basic distinction.

a. "Aron" (Yehoshua, from ch. 3 on)

b. "Aron Ado(shem)" (I Melakhim 2:26)

c. "Aron Ha-Elokim" (I Shmuel ch. 3)

d. "Aron Elokei Yisrael" (I Shmuel ch. 5)

e. "Aron ha-kodesh" (II Divrei Ha-yamim 35:3)

f. "Aron ha-brit" or "aron brit Hashem" (Yehoshua 3:6; 3:11; Bemidbar 10:33; Shoftim 20:27 et. al.)

g. "Aron ha-eidut" (Shemot 25:22 et. al.)


2. Note that the luchot themselves are sometimes called "luchot ha-brit" and sometimes "luchot ha-eidut." What is the difference, for the luchot and the aron, between brit ("covenant") and eidut ("testimony," or possibly "meeting").


3. There is a disagreement in the Yerushalmi (Shekalim 6:1) whether there were two or one aronot. See Rashi and the Ramban (Devarim 10:1), who reflect the different opinions. The main question revolves around the practice of taking the aron out during battle. According to Rashi, one aron had the broken luchot and one had the whole luchot, or a copy of the Torah.






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