Lecture 49: The Conquest of Eretz Yisrael (Part I)

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy

Mikdash

 

 

Lecture 49: THe conquest of Eretz Yisrael (Part I)

 

Rav Yitzchak Levi

 

Introduction

 

            In the previous lectures, we discussed the history of the resting of the Shekhina from the time of creation, through the periods of the patriarchs, the people of Yisrael in the wilderness, the building of the Mishkan, and Yisrael's journey toward Eretz Yisrael. In the upcoming lectures, we will deal with the history of the resting of the Shekhina from the time of Bnei Yisrael's entry into Eretz Yisrael. These lectures will begin with the period of the conquest and settlement, continue with the period of the Shofetim, and conclude with the building of the Temple in the days of David and Shelomo.

 

            We will try to understand the conceptual significance of Bnei YYisrael's entry into the Land as compared to their wandering in the wilderness by way of an examination of various factors (such as the location and function of the ark). We will consider the various stations of the Mishkan from the time of the entry into the Land until the building of the permanent Temple, and examine whether there is particular significance to the places where the Mishkan rested. We will then relate to significant events, such as the paschal sacrifice offered in Gilgal upon Bnei Yisrael's entry into the Land, the covenant made at Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival, the status of the Giv'onim, the great assembly in Shekhem at the end of the period of Yehoshua, and the like.

 

            In this lecture, we will examine several issues connected to Bnei Yisrael's entry into Eretz Yisrael.

 

The Entry into Eretz Yisrael

 

            Along with Bnei Yisrael's entry into Eretz Yisrael, we find several important changes in comparison to the period of their sojourn in the wilderness.

 

1)         Yehoshua's leadership

 

One of the points that best characterizes the difference between the two periods is the change in leadership. The change in leadership includes both Yehoshua, who replaces Moshe (Bamidbar 24:22-23 and Devarim 31:14 and on), and Elazar, who even earlier replaces his father Aharon as High Priest (Bamidbar 20).

 

2)         The transition from miracle to nature

 

Another point that characterizes the new period is the transition from life under the shadow of God to a period of natural governance. In this framework, the cloud that had accompanied Bnei Yisrael throughout their stay in the wilderness disappears, as do the well and the manna. The gemara in Ta'anit states as follows:

 

Rabbi Yose the son of Rabbi Yehuda says: Three good leaders rose up for Yisrael, [and] they are: Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam. And three good gifts were given at their hand, and they are: The well, and the cloud, and the manna.

The well was because of the merit of Miriam, the pillar of cloud was because of the merit of Aharon, the manna was because of the merit of Moshe.

[When] Miriam died, the well disappeared… but it returned because of the merit of the two of them [Aharon and Moshe].

[When] Aharon died, the clouds of glory disappeared… They both returned because of the merit of Moshe.

[When] Moshe died, they all disappeared… The three good gifts were annulled, and they all disappeared in one month. (Ta'anit 9a)

 

            The miraculous governance that, more than anything else, characterized the period of the wilderness comes to an end and a transition to human governance transpires. The gemara notes three miracles that come to an end with Bnei Yisrael's entry into the Land, and one of the most striking expressions of this change in Scripture is the transition from eating manna to eating the produce of the Land.

 

            The Torah states:

 

And Bnei Yiisrael ate the manna for forty years, until they came to an inhabited land; they did eat the manna, until they came to the borders of the land of Cana'an. (Shemot 16:35)

 

            The execution of this transition is described in the book of Yehoshua:

 

And they ate of the corn of the land on the morrow after the Passover, unleavened cakes and parched corn that very day. And the manna ceased on the morrow when they ate of the corn of the land; neither had Bnei Yisrael manna anymore; but they did eat of the produce of the land of Cana'an that year. (Yehoshua 5:11)

 

3)         The allowance of meat to satisfy the appetite

 

Another distinction between the two periods relates to the allowance of meat eaten to satisfy the appetite. According to the simple understanding of Vayikra 17, throughout their stay in the wilderness, Bnei Yisrael ate meat only as peace offerings (this is also Rabbi Yishmael's position in Chullin 16b). Upon their entry into the Land, meat that was not offered as a peace offering was permitted, as is stated explicitly in the book of Devarim (chap. 12):

 

If the place which the Lord your God has chosen to put His name there be too far from you, then you shall kill of your herd and of your flock, which the Lord has given you, as I have commanded you, and you shall eat in your gates to your heart's desire… Only your holy things, which you have and your vows you shall take and go to the place which the Lord shall choose. And you shall offer your burnt offerings, the meat and the blood, upon the altar of the Lord your God. And the blood of your sacrifices shall be poured out upon the altar of the Lord your God, and you shall eat the meat. (Devarim 12:21-27)

 

            This change led to a clear distinction between the sacrifices, all of which had to be brought to "the place which the Lord shall choose," and regular meat, referred to as meat eaten to satisfy the appetite, which could be slaughtered and eaten in all places, as the Torah states: "And you shall eat in your gates to your heart's desire."

 

            The spiritual significance of this change is very great. The fact that it was no longer necessary to go to a central sanctuary in order to eat meat brought about that Bnei Yisrael were no longer concentrated around the Mishkan and eating from the "table of heaven."

 

            Bnei Yisrael were engaged at first in the conquest of the land and afterwards in its settlement, each person in the conquest and settlement of his own territory. In such a situation, their connection to the Mishkan would clearly diminish. To the exclusion of the period of the wars, when the entire camp was located in Gilgal together with the Mishkan, each tribe was busy with its own needs and the Mishkan was forgotten.

 

4)         The role of the ark in the conquest of Eretz Yisrael

 

As we saw in our previous lectures,[1] over the course of Bnei Yisrael's wanderings in the wilderness, the ark went before them the distance of a three days' journey to search out a resting place (Bamidbar 10:33) and to scatter their enemies. This formation was followed beginning with Bnei Yisrael's journey from the foot of Mount Sinai, through all their wanderings in the wilderness, and until they arrived in the plains of Moav opposite Jericho before crossing the Jordan River. The verses, however, do not tell us how the ark moved after Bnei Yisrael crossed over to western bank of the Jordan.[2]

 

The first change is that the ark is now within the range of sight of all of Bnei Yisrael, and it serves as a sign for them to move forward and as a guide in practice.

 

A detailed description of the movement of the ark is given at the beginning of the book of Yehoshua. Owing to the importance of the issue, we will cite here the greater part of that description:

 

And it came to pass after three days, that the officers went through the camp; and they commanded the people, saying, "When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the priests the Levites bearing it, then you shall remove from your place, and go after it; yet there shall be a space between you and it, about two thousand cubits by measure. Come not near to it, that you may know the way by which you must go. For you have not passed this way heretofore…

And Yehoshua spoke to the priests, saying, "Take up the ark of the covenant, and pass before the people." And they took up the ark of the covenant, and went before the people…

And you shall command the priests that bear the ark of the covenant, saying, "When you are come to the brink of the water of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan…"

And Yehoshua said, "Hereby you shall know that the living God is among you and that He will without fail drive out from before you the Cana'ani, and the Chiti, and the Chivi, and the Perizi, and Girgashi, and the Emori and the Yevusi. Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth passes over before you into the Jordan…"

And it shall come to pass, as soon as the soles of the feet of the priests that bear the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, that the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off, those waters that come down from above; and they shall stand in a heap…

And it came to pass, when the people removed from their tents to pass over the Jordan, and the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, and as those who bore the ark came to the Jordan. And the feet of the priests that bore the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (for the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of the harvest), that the waters which came down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far from the city Adam, that is beside Tzartan; and those that came down toward the sea of the Arava, the salt sea, failed, and were cut off. And the people passed over opposite Jericho. And the priests that bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, and all Yisrael passed over on dry ground, until all the people were passed clear over the Jordan…

Then Yehoshua called the twelve men, whom he had prepared of the Bnei Yisrael, out of every tribe a man. And Yehoshua said to them, "Pass over before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take up every man of you a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Bnei Yisrael. That this may be a sign among you, that when your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean you by these stones? Then you shall answer them, That the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. And these stones shall be for a memorial to the  Bnei Yisrael forever. And Bnei Yisrael did as Yehoshua commanded, and took up twelve stones out of the midst of the Jordan, as the Lord spoke to Yehoshua, according to the number of the tribes of Bnei Yisrael, and they carried them over with them to the place where they lodged, and laid them down there. And Yehoshua set up twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests who bore the ark of the covenant stood, and they are there to this day. For the priests who bore the ark stood in the midst of the Jordan, until everything was finished that the Lord commanded Yehoshua to speak to the people according to all that Moshe commanded Yehoshua, and the people hastened and passed over. And it came to pass, when all the people were passed over, that the ark of the Lord passed over, and the priests, before the people. (Yehoshua 3-4)

 

            A simple analysis of these verses regarding the location of and role played by the ark gives rise to the following points:

 

A) The name of the ark and its meaning

 

The ark, which is mentioned sixteen times in this section, is referred to by various different names, which give expression to its essence:

 

        · The ark of the covenant of the Lord your God (Yehoshua 3:3)

        · The ark of the covenant (ibid. vv. 6, 8, 14; 4:9)

        · The ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth (ibid. v. 11)

        · The ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth (ibid. v. 13)

        · The ark of the covenant of the Lord (ibid. 17:4, 7)

        · The ark of the Lord your God (4:5)

        · The ark of testimony (ibid. v. 16)

 

The ark receives two important names: On the one hand, it is described as "the ark of the covenant," which recalls the fundamental covenant between God and Yisrael and accompanies them now as they enter the Land. In addition, it is referred to as "the ark of testimony." It seems that in this context, "the ark of testimony" relates to the tablets of the law that rest in it, and the verse highlights the strong connection between the testimony and Yehoshua. As is stated explicitly in Yehoshua 1:7, "Only be strong and very courageous, and observe to do so according to all the Torah, which Moshe My servant commanded you. Turn not from it to the right hand nor to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go." The tablets testify not only to the covenant with God, but also to its substance, to the fundamental commandments inscribed on the tablets.

 

Alternatively, the term "ark of testimony" means testimony to the covenant made between God and the people of Yisrael, and not necessarily to the tablets placed in the ark.

 

In this context, it is interesting to note that the term "the ark of the covenant" appears nowhere in the book of Shemot. In that book, the ark is referred to simply as "the ark," or as "the ark of testimony," but it is not called "the ark of the covenant." Only in the book of Bamidbar and on, when the ark begins to wander, is it referred to as "the ark of the covenant" (Bamidbar 10:33: "And they departed from the mountain of the Lord three days' journey. And the ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them in the three days' journey, to search out a resting place for them").

 

The explanation of this phenomenon may depend on the principle role of the ark in each period. When the ark was first placed in the Mishkan following the giving of the Torah, the idea of the testimony given at Sinai was more important; during the course of the journey through the wilderness, the emphasis shifted to the keeping of the covenant. According to this explanation, it can be argued that the meaning of the covenant that God makes with man is "a bond of life." This is true about the covenant made during the days of Noach (Bereishit 9:13), the covenant with the patriarchs (Bereishit  15:18 and 17:21), and the covenant with the people of Yisrael in the aftermath of the sin of the golden calf (Shemot 34:10). Their meaning lies in the connection that accompanied the people of Yisrael not only when they stood at the foot of Mount Sinai, but also during their wanderings, through the difficulties of life, when there was a need to join together spiritual and physical reality.[3] By virtue of the covenant that God made with us and with our forefathers, we can stand up to reality, and the ark represents and symbolizes this covenant.

 

B) The location of the ark while in transit

 

The verses in the book of Yehoshua cited above say that the ark went before the camp of Bnei Yisrael. Rashi (ad loc.) explains:

 

This journey was different than the rest of the journeys, for as long as Moshe was alive, the pillar of cloud would move forth first and show them the way, and the ark would move forth after the first [two] banners, [but] now the ark moved forth first.[4] (Rashi, Yehoshua 3:13, s.v. ve-halakhtem acharav)

 

            The Ralbag explains:

 

Now, the officers ordered the people at Yehoshua's command to follow behind the ark of the covenant of God that would be borne by the priests the Levites. Now this required a [special] command, for during the days of Moshe their camping and journeying was at the command of God by way of the movement of the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire at night to show them the way. But now they no longer moved in this manner, but rather they were led by the priests the Levites, the bearers of the ark of the covenant of the Lord, based on the words of the prophet. And in order that all should see it, it was appropriate that they distance themselves from it, and for this reason, they ordered them to distance themselves from it two thousand cubits. (Ralbag, Yehoshua 3:3-4)

 

            In other words, following Bnei Yisrael's entry into the Land, the manner in which the camp moved changed, and now the ark moved forth ahead of the camp. What is the significance of the ark being found in that location?

 

        · Rashi (ad loc., s.v. rachok yiheyeh) explains that "this was to the honor of God." In other words, the reason for Bnei Yisrael's remaining at a distance from the ark was the honor of the ark.[5]

 

        · Another way to understand the distance that had to be kept from the ark relates to its sanctity and the danger involved in excessive closeness to it.

 

        · According to our approach, it can be argued that the reason that the ark went before the camp relates to the gradual transition from clearly miraculous governance to earthly governance. The objective of this change was to clarify that the conquest of the Land would only be achieved through God. Going after the ark means, as it were, following the Shekhina, by virtue of which the Land would be conquered. In a world in which there is no pillar of cloud, the ark leads the people of Yisrael as they enter the Land, and it symbolizes that the living God is in their midst and that the Land is being conquered by way of the Lord of all the earth.

 

        · Another explanation of this formation is proposed by the Abravanel in his commentary to Devarim:

 

At the first journey, when [Yisrael] moved forth from Mount Sinai, the ark went out [first]. This was because the Holy One, blessed be He, wished to purify Yisrael, so that the ark of the covenant should go out before them in that first journey, because it set forth from the mountain of the Lord, as if their king was before them, with God at their head. And this is also what He did on their last journey when [Yisrael] entered the Land; when they crossed the Jordan, He commanded that the Divine ark go before them, in the manner of one who accompanies his friend when he leaves the city and when he arrives in it in order to honor him. (Abravanel, chap. 10)

 

            The Abravanel draws a connection between the first journey from the foot of Mount Sinai to the last journey as Yisrael entered the Land, and he notes that in both cases the ark went before the people of Yisrael. It is interesting that the Abravanel offers different reasons for the two journeys: When leaving Mount Sinai, the ark went before the people of Yisrael like a king who goes out before his people after his coronation. On the last journey, the ark went out before them like a person who accompanies his friend as he leaves or arrives in his city in order to honor him.

 

            Logically, however, it can be argued that regarding the last journey as well, the ark went before the camp of Yisrael in anticipation of the conquest of the land like a king who goes out before his people. God, as it were, was accompanying Yisrael as they left the wilderness and entered the Land. Essentially, then, this is another reason for the change in the ark's location.[6]

 

            Another point that characterizes the manner in which the people of Yisrael entered the Land is the distance between the ark and the people. The verses indicated that a two thousand cubit gap between ark and Bnei Yisrael was required. As opposed to the situation when Yisrael left Egypt, when the ark went before them three days' journey and was not visible to them, here we are dealing with a distance that allowed for the ark to lead the people and to be seen by them.

 

            No explanation according to the plain sense of Scripture accounts for this distance, but Chazal in Tanchuma explain this point in another way:

 

Where did the Sages find support [for the idea of two thousand cubits regarding techum Shabbat] in the words of the Torah? As it is stated: "And you shall measure from outside the city on the east side two thousand cubits, etc." (Bamidbar 35:5). And similarly you find regarding Yehoshua that when he went to destroy Jericho, Yehoshua said to Yisrael: You will eventually stand there and make Shabbat there. If you distance yourselves from the ark, distance yourselves not more than two thousand cubits in every direction. Why? So that you be permitted to come to pray before the ark on Shabbat. And thus it says: "Yet there shall be a space between you and it, about two thousand cubits by measure" (Yehoshua 3:4). (Tanchuma Bamidbar 9)

 

C) Who carries the ark (the priests or the Levites)?[7]

 

We cannot give an unequivocal answer to this question, for the various sources appear to contradict one another on this issue. Let us consider the various sources:

 

        · In the book of Bamidbar it says:

 

And when the camp sets forward, Aharon shall come, and his sons, and they shall take down the veil of the screen, and cover the ark of testimony with it… And when Aharon and his sons have made an end of covering the sanctuary, and all the vessels of the sanctuary… After that, the sons of Kehat shall come to bear it. (Bamidbar 4:5-15)

 

            We see from here that the priests cover the ark and the rest of the vessels, but the mitzva of carrying the ark falls upon the Levites, specifically the sons of Kehat (so, too, in Bamidbar 3:29-31; and in Bamidbar 7:9).

 

        · On the other hand, in the book of Devarim it says:

 

And Moshe wrote this Torah, and delivered it to the priests the sons of Levi, who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and to all the elders of Yisrael. (Devarim 31:9)

 

            The difficulty raised by this chapter grows even further in the continuation of the chapter where it says:

 

Moshe commanded the Levites, who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord, saying. (ibid., v. 25)

 

        · When Yisrael embarks on the journey that brings them into the Land, the priests bear the ark of the covenant (throughout chapters 3-4; in 6:6-12, and in 8:33). As we saw above, this is stated explicitly both at the crossing of the Jordan, and at Jericho, and at the assembly involving the blessing and the curse at Mount Eival.

 

        · In the book of Shmuel, when the ark is returned by the Pelishtim, it says: "And the Levites brought the ark of the Lord down," whereas in the discussion regarding the return of the ark to the City of David during the time of the rebellion of Avshalom, mention is made of Tzadok and Evyatar the priests (II Shmuel 15:24-29).[8]

 

        · Similarly, it is stated in the book of Melakhim:

 

And the priests took up the ark. And they brought up the ark of the Lord, and the Tent of Meeting, and all the holy vessels that were in the Tent, even those did the priests and the Levites bring up… And the priests brought in the ark of the covenant of the Lord to its place, into the sanctuary for the house, to the most holy place, under the wings of the keruvim. (I Melakhim 8:3-6)

 

        · But in the parallel account in the book of Divrei ha-Yamim, we read:

 

And the Levites took up the ark. And they brought up the ark, and the Tent of Meeting, and all the holy vessels that were in the Tent, those did the priests and the Levites bring up… And the priests brought in the ark of the covenant of the Lord to its place, to the inner sanctuary of the house, to the most holy place, under the wings of the keruvim. (II Divrei Ha-yamim 5:4-7)

 

        · When the ark is brought up by David from the house of Oved Edom the Giti to the City of David, it is carried by the Levites:

 

Then David said, "None ought to carry the ark of God but the Levites; for the Lord has chosen them to carry the ark of God, and to minister to Him forever"… And David assembled the children of Aharon, and the Levites… And David called for Tzadok and Evyatar the priests, and for the Levites… So the priests and the Levites sanctified themselves to bring up the ark of the Lord God of Yisrael. And the children of the Levites bore the ark of God… And it came to pass, when God helped the Levites who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord… And David was clothed with a robe of fine linen, and all the Levites who bore the ark…. (I Divrei Ha-yamim 15:2-27)

 

        · When the ark is hidden away in the days of Yoshiyahu, the Levites carry the ark (II Divrei Ha-yamim 35:3).

 

We see from these verses that, as a rule, it was the Levites who bore the ark, but in particular cases it was borne by the priests. The cases regarding which it is stated that the priests bore the ark are: the crossing of the Jordan, the encircling of Jericho, the assembly involving the blessing and the curse at Mount Eival, the return of the ark to Jerusalem, the rebellion of Avshalom, and the entry of the ark into the Holy of Holies in the days of Shelomo.

 

The gemara in Sota (33b) cites the view of Rabbi Yose in the Tosefta that:

 

The priests bore the ark in three places: When they crossed the Jordan, when they encircled Jericho, and when they returned it to its place.[9]

 

            To which event is Rabbi Yose referring when he says, "when they returned it to its place?" The commentators disagree on this point. Rashi explains that the reference is to the return of the ark in the days of Shelomo to the Holy of Holies, the ark's home. The Radak, on the other hand, explains that the reference is to the return of the ark during Avshalom's rebellion.[10]

 

            Why did the priests carry the ark on these three occasions?

 

            The Radak explains:

 

"And the priests the Levites" – Until now, the Levites bore the ark, and from now on the priests bore it in order to increase its sanctity owing to the miracle performed before it at this time. Our Rabbis said: The priests bore the ark in three places: When they crossed the Jordan, when they encircled Jericho, and when they returned it to its place. This was when David was running away from Avshalom, as it is stated: "Therefore Tzadok and Evyatar carried back the ark of God to Jerusalem" (II Shmuel 15:29). And all this was to increase its sanctity. (Radak, Yehoshua 3:3)[11]

 

            The Rambam adopts a slightly different approach:

 

The thirty-fourth commandment is that He commanded us that the priests should bear the ark on their shoulders when we wish to carry it from place to place. This is what He said: "Because the service of the sanctuary belonged to them; they bore it on their shoulders" (Bamidbar 7:9). Even though this commandment was given then to the Levites, this was due to the small number of priests at that time, for Aharon was the first. In later generations, however, the priests were obligated in this mitzva, and they would carry [the ark], as is clarified in the book of Yehoshua and in the book of Shmuel…. And after this it says: "These were the orderings of them in their service to come into the house of the Lord, according to the form prescribed to them by the hand of Aharon their father, as the Lord God of Yisrael had commanded them" (I Divrei Ha-yamim 24:19) – the Sages explained that this alludes to the fact that it is the service of the priests to carry the ark on their shoulders, and this is: "As the Lord God of Yisrael had commanded them" (Sefer Ha-mitzvot, positive commandment 34).[12]

 

            Despite the view of the Rambam, most commentators understand that the task of carrying the ark falls upon the Levites. Most of the commentators explain the instances where the priests carry the ark as exceptional cases, and they explain what was special about each case (owing to the increase in the ark's sanctity, the small number of Levites, the occurrence of a miracle [Seforno, Devarim 31:9]).

 

            In addition to the explanations proposed above to explain why the priests carried the ark in those cases, it seems that we can point to another special factor that characterizes those instances. In all those places, the carrying of the ark involved a dimension of added sanctity, and it was precisely the priests, the most sanctified sector of the entire people, who were appropriate to carry the ark. Let us explain:

 

        · Crossing the Jordan and encircling Jericho – in these cases, it was precisely the priests who carried the ark in order to give expression to the sanctity of Eretz Yisrael in general and the sanctity of the conquest of the first city conquered in the Land. Indeed, with its capture, Jericho was put under a ban and wholly dedicated to God (Yehoshua 6:17-25).

 

        · Bringing the ark into the Holy of Holies when Shelomo completed the building of the Temple – obviously only the priests can bring the ark into the Temple's inner chamber.

 

        · Carrying the ark at the time of Avshalom's revolt – the return of the ark to the city signifies the selection of the Jerusalem as the city where the Temple would be built. David chooses to bring the ark from Kiryat-Ye'arim to the city, because he wishes to turn his capital into the place where, when the time comes, the Temple will stand. Now, when Avshalom is on his way to Jerusalem and the question arises what to do with the ark, David decides the matter, against his own personal interest at the time, to leave the ark in Jerusalem and thereby to determine that the city is not merely the royal capital, but also the designated seat of the future Temple. This objective is directly connected to the sanctity of Jerusalem in which the Shekhina will dwell, and therefore it is the priests who carry the ark.[13]

 

        · The covenant at Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival – according to the opinion that the priests, rather than the Levites, carried the ark, this was a special assembly which came to complete the covenant of Arvot Mo'av in Eretz Yisrael, and it is similar in various senses to Yisrael's entry into the Land. Writing the Torah on the stones served as the Land's identity card, which those who entered into the Land accepted upon themselves to fulfill, and therefore it was appropriate that the priests should carry the ark at this assembly.

 

In addition, mention should be made (in line with the distinction made in one of our earlier lectures between the priests and the Levites[14]) of the words of Yisrael Ariel:[15] it is the role of the priests who lift up their hands and recite the priestly blessing to bring the Shekhina to the people and to draw light and abundance from heaven down to earth, whereas it is the role of the Levites, who accompany the priests, to raise the earthly world heavenward. The priests face the people, whereas the Levites face inwards toward the Temple and upwards. The priests are found in the place of abundance and they send it out, while the Levites are thirsty for it and turn to that source to receive it. In general, the Levites carry the ark, for it appropriate that they lead the journey directed at the objective of "Rise up, Lord, and let Your enemies be scattered; rise up, Lord, to Your rest." On the other hand, here it the priests who carry the ark, because the ark serves not only to pave the path, but to bring about the appearance of the Shekhina by way of the miracle that will be performed with it when Yisrael reaches the Jordan. The same is true when they encircle Jericho, and when they bring the ark into the Temple.

 

The emphasis here is on the fact that on these occasions the priests' carrying of the ark makes it possible for the Shekhina to appear, which brings about the sanctification of the Land (at the crossing of the Jordan and at the encircling of Jericho), Jerusalem (when the ark is left in Jerusalem) and the Temple (when the ark is brought up to the Temple).

 

(Translated by David Strauss)



[1] Lecture no. 41: The History of the Resting of the Shekhina (Part XIX), The Mishkan in the Camp and in Transit (Part III), The Vessels of the Mishkan During the Journey.

[2] Rashi, however, in Yehoshua 3:3, understands that when Bnei Yisrael walked in the wilderness, the ark set forth in the middle of the camp following the first two banners. We will relate to his position later in the lecture.

[3] Rav Avraham Remer also noted the conceptual significance of the covenant in his book, Me-Avor Ha-Aretz, Sefer Yehoshua (Jerusalem, Tevet 5755), 34-36. He defines the covenant as "a bond of life."

[4] According to Rashi, it was only at the first journey from the foot of Mount Sinai that the ark went before Bnei Yisrael a three days' journey, but the ark later returned to the center of the camp and set forth after the first two banners.

[5] Further investigation is required regarding the question of why there was no need for distancing when Yisrael journeyed through the wilderness and the ark was in the center of the camp, but when they journeyed in Eretz Yisrael, it was necessary to distance the people from the ark as a show of honor to it. It is possible that there was no need for distancing in the wilderness, because there Yisrael enjoyed miraculous governance; when they entered Eretz Yisrael, the governance was natural, making distancing necessary.

[6] Another explanation of the ark's position during this journey was proposed by the Maharsha: "Every day the ark set forth after the two banners, but today it set forth first – as long as Yisrael was outside the Land in an impure country, the Shekhina dwelt only in the midst of the people of Yisrael, in the middle of the banners, as is explained. But when they arrived in the holy land, the Shekhina set forth first two thousand cubits before them, indicating that He is the God of that land" (Maharsha, Sota 33b). It should be noted that the Maharsha does not relate to the internal contradiction in the verses of the Torah regarding the location of the ark. I dealt with this contradiction in the lecture mentioned in note 1, and brought various explanations from the Rishonim in order to resolve it.

[7] Several articles deal with this issue:

Eitan Sandorfi, in his book, Hadar Olam, Jerusalem 5758, in the chapter entitled, "Al Mi Mutelet ha-Mitzva la-Set et Aron ha-Berit," pp. 271-314.

Yitzchak Kashani, in his article, "Ki Bam Bachar Ha-Shem la-Set et Aron Ha-Shem (Devarim 15:2) – Be-Mi Bachar Ha-Shem la-Set et ha-Aron?" in Mayim Midolyo, 12 (5761), pp. 71-87.

[8] In I Melakhim 2:26, in Sholomo's command to Evyatar, it says: "But I will not at this time put you to death, because you did bear the ark of the Lord God before David my father;" in other words, Evyatar the priest carried the ark.

[9] Rav Sandorfi explains the fact that Rabbi Yose makes no mention of the covenant involving the blessing and the curse at Mount Eival based on the gemara in Sota 37a. According to that gemara, it was indeed the Levites who carried the ark there.

[10] Note should be made of the difficulty in the position of Rabbi Yose, for both according to Rashi and according to the Radak there are instances not mentioned by the gemara, and we must understand why Rabbi Yose relates only to the main instances.

[11] This explanation is a little difficult, for if the matter follows from the sanctity of the ark, why is there a difference between the priests and the Levites? It would seem that the sanctity does not change in the wake of the various events and that it remains in force. In the continuation of the lecture, I will relate to the various events and to this question.

[12] Rav Velvel Soloveitchik (the Griz) in his novellae on the Rambam, in a letter at the end of the volume (p. 77a) distinguishes between two aspects of the ark, each of which is governed by its own law: the mitzva of carrying the ark in the framework of the laws of carrying the vessels of the Mishkan is cast upon the Levites; the mitzva of carrying the ark as a separate mitzva is cast upon the priests.

[13] Both the removal of the ark from the city and its return are executed by the priests. According to this understanding, however, it might be asked why the ark was not carried by the priests when it was first brought to Jerusalem from Kiryat-Ye'arim. The answer is that David sinned there, and God was therefore angry with him. Even when the sin was being repaired, when the ark was brought up from the house of Oved Edom the Gitite to Jerusalem, the priests do not carry it. In II Shmuel 6, it does not indicate who carried it, whereas in I Divrei Ha-yamim 15:26 it is emphasized that it was the Levites who carried it, and not the priests. In this case, according to our approach, it may have been expected that the priests would repair the sin and carry the ark. This point requires further clarification.

[14] Lecture no. 38: The History of the Resting of the Shekhina (Part XVIII), "Those who Stand Before the Lord" (Part III) – The Relationship between the Priests and the Levites.

[15] Yisrael Ariel, Penei Levana, Kivunim Be-Sefer Yehoshua, (Jerusalem 5763), 23.