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LECTURE 160: WHAT RESTS INSIDE THE ARK AND ALONGSIDE IT? THE COLUMNS OF SILVER AND THE HIGH PRIEST'S GARMENTS

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy

What are the columns of silver?

 

An objection was brought [from the following]: The ark which Moshe made was two cubits and a half in length, a cubit and a half in breadth, and a cubit and a half in height, the cubit being six handbreadths. The tablets were six handbreadths in length, six in breadth, and three in thickness. They were placed lengthwise in the ark… [These are] the words of R. Meir. R. Yehuda says that the cubit of the ark had only five handbreadths. The tablets were six handbreadths in length, six in breadth, and three in thickness, and they were deposited lengthwise in the ark. How much did they take up of the ark? Twelve handbreadths. There was thus left half a handbreadth, a finger's breadth for each side. You have accounted for the length of the ark, now go and account for its breadth. How much of the [breadth of the] ark was taken up by the tablets? Six handbreadths. There were thus left a handbreadth and a half. Take away from them half a handbreadth, a finger's breadth for each side, and there will be left a handbreadth. Here were deposited the columns mentioned in the verse: "King Shelomo made himself a litter of the wood of Lebanon, he made the columns thereof of silver, the bottom thereof of gold, the seat of purple" (Shir Ha-Shirim 3:9-10). (Bava Batra 14a)

 

            This passage deals with the relationship between the tablets and the ark based on the dimensions of the tablets – six handbreadths in length, six handbreadths in breadth, and three handbreadths in thickness.

 

            According to R. Meir, the cubit used here was one of six handbreadths. From this it follows that the tablets took up twelve handbreadths in length, leaving three handbreadths – a handbreadth for the walls and two handbreadths for the Torah scroll. As for the breadth of the ark, the tablets themselves took up six handbreadths, leaving three handbreadths – a handbreadth for the walls and two handbreadths so that the Torah scroll could be put in and taken out without squeezing.

 

            R. Yehuda disagrees with R. Meir and says that the cubit used here was one of five cubits. In length, the tablets took up twelve handbreadths, leaving a half a handbreadth – a finger's breadth for each wall. As for the breadth of the ark, the tablets themselves took up six handbreadths, leaving a handbreadth and a half – a half of a handbreadth for the walls and another handbreadth in which "the columns" were deposited.

 

            I wish today to consider these columns, both from a practical perspective (of what were they made and where were they deposited) and from the perspective of their function and purpose.

 

            Why were there silver columns [amudim]? The Tosafot (ad loc.) say:

 

It seems to Rabbeinu Tam that they symbolized the permanent standing [ha’amada] of Israel. They were not made of gold, so as not to bring the sin of the [golden] calf to mind, because the accuser must not be made the advocate. And so it says in Rosh Ha-Shana 26a that for this reason the High Priest did not serve in the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur in his garments of gold, because the accuser must not be made the advocate. And there it is asked: But surely the ark was made of gold, and it was in the inner chamber! And the gemara answers: [The rule applies only to something that] achieves atonement. And the pillars as well achieved atonement, as they symbolized the permanent standing of Israel… Therefore, the columns were made of silver, and not of gold, so as not to bring the sin of the [golden] calf to mind.

 

            According to the Tosafot, the pillars were made of silver in order not to bring to mind the sin of the golden calf. As for the essence of these pillars, the Tosafot argue that they too achieved atonement, symbolizing the permanent standing of Israel.

 

            Rash Sirillo writes:

 

Rabbeinu Tam explains that they symbolize the permanent standing of Israel and that they were made of silver, and not of gold, so as not to bring the sin of the [golden] calf to mind. But it is more correct to say that we find that is written regarding the Torah (Tehillim 12:6): "Silver … refined seven times (shiv'atayim)," that is, forty-nine times (shiv'a times shiv'a). As we expound (Yeshaya 30:26): "And the light of the sun shall be sevenfold." And regarding the Torah it says (Mishlei 2:4): "[If you seek her like silver] and search for her as for hidden treasures." And we say in general that there are forty-nine reasons to declare something unclean and forty-nine reasons to declare it clean. And this number does not appear with respect to gold, but only the term "pure." Therefore, they were made of silver. (Shekalim 6:1, s.v. lishlot makom la-amudim)

 

According to Rash Sirillo, the Torah is likened to silver that is refined forty-nine times, and therefore the columns were fashioned of silver.

 

The purpose of the columns and how they were positioned in the ark

 

Rashi states (ad loc.):

 

Two silver columns, like the columns of a Torah scroll. They lay along the length [of the ark], with the tablets in between them, as it is stated: "He made the columns thereof of silver."

 

            The first point that should be noted is that Rashi speaks of two columns. Chazal do not explicitly mention the number of columns, but the number two certainly fits in, according to R. Yehuda, with the empty space in the ark. Second, Rashi notes that the columns lay along the length of the ark.

 

            The columns were similar to the columns around which the Torah scroll is rolled and which make it easier to read the Torah.

 

            The Shita Mekubbetzet writes the following in the name of the Ra'avad:

 

It is possible that they took the Torah out to read from it at the Hakhel assembly, and then they would roll it [on the columns]. Even though the king had a Torah scroll that came in with him and went out with him, at the Hakhel assembly, he read from the scroll in the Temple. (Bava Batra 14a)

 

The Ra'avad suggests that even though the king had his own personal Torah scroll that accompanied him wherever he went, at the Hakhel assembly, he would read from the scroll that was kept in the Temple, and that scroll would be rolled on the silver columns that were stored in the ark.

 

            The Ra'avad does not relate to the question of why the king would read specifically from the scroll that was kept in the Temple, rather than from the scroll that accompanied him at all times. I wish to suggest that this follows from the similarity between the Hakhel assembly and the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. The Hakhel assembly was held every seven years, following the Sabbatical year. Those who ordinarily worked in agriculture would study Torah for the entire year, and at the end of the year, they would all go up to the Temple Mount, where the Torah was read publicly. At such an important event, which symbolized the continuous giving of the Torah, they would read specifically from the Torah scroll that was kept in the Temple, and not from a different scroll, in order to symbolize the fact that the Temple served as a continuation of the giving of the Torah at Sinai.

 

            The Shita Mekubbetzet adds another point:

 

I maintain that even though it is written, "King Shelomo made himself a litter of the wood of Lebanon, he made the columns thereof of silver" – they were from the days of Moshe, even though we do not find mention of them, neither in the command nor in the execution. It is possible that they were only made after the Torah was completed and Moshe was commanded to deposit them along the side of the ark.

 

            On the face of it, the verse that alludes to the existence of the columns implies that it was King Shelomo who made the columns of silver. According to this understanding, it could be argued that these columns existed only during the First Temple period, in the Temple built by Shelomo. Moreover, these columns are not mentioned either in the command to Moshe to build the Mishkan, nor in the account of the execution of this command.

 

            An entirely different approach is recorded by the Ritva:

 

Some explain that the columns served to support the kaporet, whether from the outside or from the inside, and there were also columns in the middle, one on this side and another on the other side. It was like a litter with columns on both sides. And this is correct, as we have explained. (Bava Batra 14a)

 

The Ritva suggests an entirely different understanding of the function of these columns, wholly unrelated to the Torah scroll – the columns were used to support the kaporet. The assumption seems to be that the weight of the kaporet and the keruvim that it bore was exceedingly great, and the silver columns served to support them.

 

            This suggestion also accords with the verse, for according to this understanding, the columns formed a sort of litter that supported the kaporet.

 

            This understanding also accords with the following midrash:

 

"Litter" – this is the ark; "he made the columns thereof of silver" – these are the columns and joints of silver; "the bottom thereof of gold" – this is the kaporet; "the seat of purple" – this is the parokhet of purple; "the midst of it being inlaid lovingly" – these are the tablets. (Shir Ha-Shirim Zuta 3:10)

 

The verse in Shir Ha-Shirim is interpreted as referring to the ark and the columns found therein. R. Kasher suggests that it is possible that the silver columns were needed for the construction of the ark.

 

            Another understanding is brought by the Lekach Tov (Shemot 25:6), who proposes that the silver columns were wedged in between the tablets in order to prevent them from moving about while the ark was in transit.

 

            Several sources describe the columns as sort of a shelf:

 

R. Berakhya explained the verse as referring to the ark: ["We will make you necklets of gold studded with silver" (Shir Ha-Shirim 1:10)]. "Necklets of gold" – this refers to the ark, as it is written: "And you shall overlay it with pure gold" (Shemot 25:11). "Studded with silver" – this refers to the two columns standing before it that were made of silver, in the form of shelves [itztevin]. (Shir Ha-Shirim Rabba 1:11)

 

R. Kasher writes in a note: "An alternative reading: 'Shelf' [itzteba]. But the meaning is the same." According to R. Kasher, this understanding fits in with the view of R. Yehuda, according to which the Torah scroll rested outside the ark.

 

            The Yerushalmi (Shekalim 6:5) states:

 

Where was the Torah scroll placed? They made a kind of casing [gluskim] for it on the outside, and the Torah scroll was placed in it.

 

In the commentary of a student of the Rashbam, we find: "'A kind of casing [gluskim]' – a kind of chest. 'And he was put in a coffin' (Bereishit 50:26) is translated into Aramaic as, 'And they put him in a gluskema.'" Similarly, the Anfei Yehuda brings a manuscript reading of the words of R. Yehuda: "But the Torah scroll was not in the ark, but in a chest, and it was placed on the side."

 

            Joining together the various sources, R. Kasher suggests that the two columns of silver formed a kind of shelf, upon which rested the chest in which the Torah scroll was deposited. It stands to reason that this shelf held also the chest that was sent by the Pelishtim, the jar of manna, and the jar of anointing oil, so that they did not stand on the floor.

The Measurements of the columns[1]

 

The Length of the columns

 

            According to R. Yehuda, who maintains that the cubit used for the vessels was one of five handbreadths, the external dimensions of the ark were 12.5 X 7.5 handbreadths, and its internal dimensions were 12 X 7 handbreadths (a finger's width for each wall). The tablets took up 12 handbreadths in length and 6 handbreadths in width, leaving a space of one handbreadth by 12 handbreadths along the length. It is reasonable to assume that the tablets were slightly less than 12 handbreadths (and at most 12 handbreadths, as they were meant to be put in, but not to be taken out).

 

            According to the Ra'avad, who maintains that when a Torah scroll was taken out for the Hakhel assembly, they rolled it on the columns of silver, it is possible that they removed the columns from the ark. A question arises according to R. Meir, who says that the columns were outside the ark. In his view, were the columns equal in length to the columns according to R. Yehuda, or, as Tosafot suggest (Bava Batra 14b, s.v. ve-Rabbi Meir), were the columns were much less than twelve handbreadths long?

 

The width of the columns

 

            As we saw above, according to R. Yehuda, there was a space of a handbreadth along the length of the ark for the two columns of silver, so that each column was a half a handbreadth in width. It is reasonable to assume that this was also the position of R. Meir.

 

The Location of the columns

 

            Rashi (Bava Batra 14a, s.v. she-bo amudim) writes that two columns of silver, similar to the columns of a Torah scroll, rested along the length of the ark, with the two tablets resting between them, as it is stated: "He made the columns thereof of silver." It turns out that the tablets rested in between the two columns because the columns belonged to the tablets.

 

            Midrash Lekach Tov says that the silver columns were wedged in between the tablets in order to prevent them from moving about while the ark was in transit.

 

            Were the silver columns placed on the side of the ark where the Torah scroll rested (as was understood by the author of the book Chokhmat Ha-Mishkan, on the assumption that Rashi agrees with the Tosafot, Bava Batra 14b, s.v. ve-Rabbi Meir)? According to Rashi, who maintains that the columns were the columns of the ark, there is no reason to think that they rested specifically on the side of the ark where the Torah scroll rested. According to R. Meir, who says that the columns were placed outside the ark, they rested either on a sort of shelf, as proposed above, or else they were deposited on the floor of the Holy of Holies.

 

The Garments of the High Priest

 

            According to the Yalkut Shimoni (372), in addition to the jar of manna, the jar of anointing oil, and the staff of Aharon, the garments of the High Priest and the garments of the ordinary priests also rested in the Holy of Holies.

 

            This is also the position of Midrash Lekach Tov (chap. 36) and the Midrash Ve-Hizhir:[2]

 

And the garments of the priests and the garments of the High Priest, and therein entered the High Priest four times on Yom Kippur. (Tetzaveh, s.v. haya oreg)

 

            The Anfei Yehuda, in his commentary to Sefer Ve-Hizhir, points out that it was already noted by the Zayit Ra'anan that the garments of the priests and the garments of the High Priest were not kept in the Holy of Holies, but rather they were stored in the Heikhal, so the text of this midrash must be emended.

 

            He relates to what is stated in Vayikra 16:23 regarding the High Priest's service in the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur: "And Aharon shall come into the Ohel Mo'ed, and he shall put off the linen garments, which he put on when he went into the holy place, and shall leave them there." This verse might have been understood as implying that the High Priest's linen garments were kept in the Tent of Meeting, and it was there that he removed them. He notes that this is not the correct understanding.

 

            Indeed, the Rishonim (ad loc.) did not understand the verse in this way. Rashi (s.v. ve-henicham sham) explains:

 

This teaches that they must be hidden away and that the four garments may not be used on another Yom Kippur.[3] (Torat Kohanim 16:61; Yoma 12b)

 

The Ramban (ad loc.), in contrast, writes:

 

In truth this verse requires explanation, for it is absolutely impossible that Aharon should be commanded to enter the Ohel Mo'ed for no other purpose than to remove his garments and stand naked in God's sanctuary and leave them there to rot. We are forced to say that "And Aharon shall come into the Ohel Mo'ed" to perform a service that did not have to be mentioned, namely, the removal of the shovel and the censer…

There was nothing left to do in these garments, but to remove the shovel and the censer. It is the way of Scripture in many places to finish the matter it started, even if it will only take place after something that will be mentioned afterwards. Therefore it says, "And Aharon shall come into the Ohel Mo'ed" in these garments to complete his service with them, namely, the removal of the shovel and censer which he must remove from there. "And he shall put off" after he comes out "the linen garments which he put on" in the morning when he entered the Holy of Holies. "And he shall leave them there" in the place where he removed them. This teaches that he should not wear them on a different Yom Kippur. This completes all that was done with the linen garments all day in one order.[4]

 

            The Rambam writes as follows:

 

The white garments which the High Priest wears on the day of the fast should not be worn a second time at all. Instead, they are hidden away in the place where he removes them, as [Vayikra 16:23] states, "And he shall leave them there." (Hilkhot Kelei Ha-Mikdash 8:5)

 

            Without a doubt, the Rambam means that when the High Priest completed the service in the inner chamber, a screen was erected between him and the people, and he immersed himself and donned his golden garments, the white garments were immediately hidden away in a holy place. But there is no mention in the Rambam of the garments being deposited before the ark.

 

            Rabbeinu Bechaye writes:

 

"And he shall leave them there" – that he should not wear them on a different Yom Kippur. So Chazal expounded: "Garments that were worn on one Yom Kippur must not be worn on a different Yom Kippur, as it is stated: 'And he shall leave them there' – this teaches that they must be hidden away" (Yoma 24a). And we find further in the Yerushalmi: "R. Chiyya taught: 'And he shall wear them' (ve-lavsham) – and they shall become outworn there (u-balu sham) – there they were allowed to rot, and they were not fit for the next Yom Kippur (Yoma 7:3). This is an explicit allusion to their being hidden away. (Vayikra 16:23)

 

            The Maharal writes in his commentary, Gur Aryeh:

 

"This teaches that they must be hidden away." You cannot say that he should leave them there and not take them outside, for no place is mentioned earlier to which "And he shall leave them there" should refer. For you cannot say that it refers to "when he went into the holy place" or "and Aharon shall come into the Ohel Mo'ed," and regarding this it says: "And he shall leave them there." For if so, there would be entry into the Holy of Holies in golden garments, for he went into the Holy of Holies, and this cannot be. Rather, "And he shall leave them there" means that they should be hidden away in a certain place and not used at all. (Vayikra 16:23)

 

            Based on the sources that we have seen, it is difficult to understand the verse describing the completion of the High Priest's service on Yom Kippur as referring to leaving the white garments in the Holy of Holies. There are, however, a number of sources, albeit of secondary importance and of late origin, that mentions such a possibility.

 

            Let us try to understand the matter according to these sources. It may be suggested that the High Priest's service in his white garments in the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur is a unique service of singular nature that accords with the special situation of the people of Israel before God that year. The priestly garments themselves constitute service. Not only are they service, but without them it is impossible to perform the service. Each year, the garments that allowed the High Priest to enter that year into the Holy of Holies are left in the Holy of Holies, before God, in the place closest to the place that expresses the Shekhina's presence and revelation in this world – as it were to symbolize and express the efforts made each year by the people of Israel.

 

(Translated by David Strauss)

 



[1] We bring here the gist of the words of Asher Meyers in his book, Melekhet Ha-Mishkan, p.62.

[2] The Roke'ach and Rabbeinu Bechayei also mention the garments of the High Priest, but they do not mention the priestly garments.

[3] It is interesting that in Mussaf Rashi, it says (s.v. ve-henikham sham): "As he is forbidden to wear them again. They shall put off their garments in which they minister, and shall leave them in the holy chambers, as Moshe our master, peace be upon him, said: 'And he shall put off the linen garments, and he shall leave them there." He cites the verse in Yechezkel 44:19 relating to the priests the Levites, the sons of Tzadok: "And when they go out into the outer court to the people, they shall put off their garments in which they minister and lay them in the holy chambers, and they shall put on other garments, so as not to hallow the people with their garments."

[4] Rabbeinu Bachyei also mentions the High Priest's garments in his commentary to Shemot 26:33. Rav Chavel notes the difficulty and that he was unable to find an allusion to this in any source.