The Location of the Vessels According to Chazal

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy

 

Mikdash

 

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This week’s shiurim are dedicated by Drs. Irving and Roberta Strauchler
in memory of Jonas Strauchler z”l

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LECTURE #120a: THE LOCATION OF THE VESSELS – ACCORDING TO CHAZAL

 

BY RAV YITZCHAK LEVI

 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

            In the previous shiur, we began to deal with the location of the sacred vessels in the Mishkan. We examined the Biblical verses that mention the locations of the various vessels, and we discussed several differences between the command and the execution.

 

            As we saw in the previous shiur, the Torah does not address the relationship between the various vessels, or the relationship between the vessels and the walls that surround them. In this shiur, we will examine Chazal's understanding of this issue and how they dealt with this point.[1]

 

THE LOCATION OF THE VESSELS ACCORDING TO CHAZAL

 

            Before we examine the various vessels, it should be noted that very few sources deal directly with the location of the sacred vessels in the Mishkan. One of the main sources is Beraita De-Melekhet Ha-Mishkan, which relates to the plan of the Mishkan. In addition, many sources that deal with the precise measurements of the Second Temple.[2]

 

THE LOCATION OF THE ARK IN THE HOLY OF HOLIES

 

            As we saw in the previous shiur, the ark's presence in the Holy of Holies follows from a precise reading of the verses (Shemot 40:21-22). The Torah, however, does not spell out the location of the ark within the Holy of Holies, and the same is true about Chazal. Moreover, the Torah does not specify the length of the poles of the ark.

 

            The Malbim writes:

 

The length of the poles fashioned by Moshe was not more than ten cubits. For the Mishkan was ten cubits, and when they camped the poles were pulled outwards toward the parokhet, for they would press out against the parokhet like the two breasts of a woman. (Shemot 25:14)

 

            According to the simple understanding, the poles were indeed ten cubits long, and therefore when they pulled the poles out from their usual place, they pressed out against the parokhet like the two breasts of a woman.

 

            If indeed the poles were ten cubits long, it would be reasonable to say that the ark was borne in the middle of the poles. According to this understanding, it turns out that the ark rested in the middle of the Holy of Holies.

 

            This understanding that the ark was located in the middle of the Holy of Holies is supported by the words of Beraita De-Melekhet Ha-Mishkan, which relates to the First Temple, asserting:

 

The ark was placed inside the Sanctuary, and divided the Sanctuary, ten cubits on the one side and ten cubits on the other. (chap. 7)

 

During the First Temple period, the Holy of Holies was twenty cubits long, and therefore the ark was located in the middle of the Holy of Holies.

 

            Despite the change in the measurements, it is possible that this principle, according to which the ark is located in the middle of the structure, was true in the days of the Mishkan and also carried over into the days of the First Temple. Similarly, regarding the words of the gemara, "The ark made by Shlomo had ten cubits on each side," Rashi explains that the ark sat in the middle of the Holy of Holies.[3]

 

            This location of the ark has several possible meanings:

 

·           First of all, its location in the middle of the square chamber turns the ark into the most perfect and sanctified vessel, which constitutes the most important point in the entire structure.

·           Second, and we shall expand upon this point in a later shiur, the fact that the ark rested lengthwise from north to south, in contrast to the rest of the vessels,[4] turns it into a basis to which the entire structure and the rest of the vessels relate.

 

THE PLACE ON WHICH THE ARK STANDS IS NOT INCLUDED IN THE MEASUREMENT

 

            According to Chazal, several miracles relating to the measurements of the vessels were performed in the Mishkan. Thus, the measurements of the ark were greater than the size of the chamber in which it was located, and it was similarly by way of a miracle that the keruvim stood in the Mishkan. The gemara states as follows:

 

R. Levi further said: We have a tradition from our ancestors that the place on which the ark stands is not included in the measurement. It has been taught to the same effect: "The ark which Moshe made had round it an [empty] space of ten cubits on every side." Now it is written: "And in front of the Sanctuary were twenty cubits in length [and twenty cubits in breadth]" (Melakhim I 6), and it is also written: "And the wing of the one keruv was ten cubits and the wing of the other keruv was ten cubits." Where then was the ark itself? We must therefore conclude that it stood by a miracle [without occupying any room]. (Megilla 10b)

 

            In another place as well, the gemara mentions additional miracles relating to a lack of space:

 

For we have learned: Ten miracles were wrought in the Temple: No woman miscarried from the scent of the holy flesh… Though the people stood closely pressed together, they still found wide spaces between them to prostrate themselves[5]… nor did any man ever say to his fellow: The place is too narrow for me to stay overnight in Jerusalem. …But are there no more? Has not R. Shemaya of Kalnevo taught that the fragments of earthenware were swallowed up in the very place [where they were broken]; and Abbaye said: The crop, the feathers, and the ashes removed from the inner altar and from the candlestick were swallowed up in the very place [where they were taken off]? (Yoma 21a)

 

            It is clear from the gemara in Megilla that it is the measurements of the First Temple that are under discussion. The gemara calculates the overall length of the wings of the keruvim as reaching twenty cubits, and since this is the width of the entire Holy of Holies, they take up the entire expanse, leaving no room for the ark itself.[6]

 

            Rashi explains (ad loc.):

 

"The place on which the ark stands is not included in the measurement" – It did not take up room to reduce the area of the open space on each of its sides. As it is stated: "It had round it an [empty] space of ten cubits on every side." It rested in the middle of the Holy of Holies, and there was a space of ten cubits between it and the walls on each side. And the entire chamber was only twenty by twenty cubits. Thus, it turns out that [the ark] took up no room whatsoever.

 

            According to Rashi, the ark rested in the middle of the Holy of Holies, and so too it would seem from the gemara itself. The gemara describes the situation during the First Temple period, but it stands to reason that this was true with respect to the Mishkan as well. Thus, according to this viewpoint, the ark stood in the Mishkan in the middle of the Holy of Holies.

 

            Parallel to the gemara in Megilla, the gemara in Yoma says in the name of R. Levi:

 

This matter has been handed down as a tradition to us from our forefathers: The place on which the ark stands is not included in the measurement; and has not Rabbanai said in the name of Shemuel: The keruvim would stand by sheer miracle? (Yoma 21a)

 

            Here the gemara relates to both the ark and the keruvim. Rashi explains:

 

"The place on which the ark stands is not included in the measurement" – It did not take up room to reduce the area of the chamber at all. As it has been taught: "The ark which Moshe made had round it an [empty] space of ten cubits on every side," when it was set in the middle of the room with the kaporet. And surely the entire space was only twenty by twenty cubits, as it is stated: "And in front of the Sanctuary were twenty cubits in length and twenty cubits in breadth." Thus, it turns out that the place on which the ark stands did not reduce the area at all.

 

            The Gemara in Bava Batra adds to what is stated in Megilla and in Yoma, teaching as follows:

 

For R. Levi said, and some say it was R. Yochanan: We have it as a tradition from our fathers [that] the place of the ark and the keruvim is not included in the measured [space]. So, indeed, it has been taught: The ark which Moshe made had a free space of ten cubits on every side. )Bava Batra 99a)

 

            The beraita explicitly states that the distance between the ark (which was two cubits long and a cubit and a half wide) and the walls of the Holy of Holies was ten cubits in every direction – east, west, north and south.[7]

 

            Later in the passage, the gemara brings in the name of Shemuel that the keruvim "stood by a miracle," adducing proof from the dimensions of the wings as recorded in the verses that describe the keruvim in the First Temple. The gemara then brings a series of objections and understandings of the verses, according to which there was no miracle.

 

"And gather all the congregation together to the door of the Ohel Mo'ed" (Vayikra 8:3) – R. Elazar said: All of Israel were sixty myriads, and you say: "To the door of the Ohel Mo'ed"? Rather this is one of the places where a small place contains a great number. Similarly, "Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together in one place" (Bereishit 1:9)… Similarly, "Take for yourselves handfuls of soot from the furnace" (Shemot 9:8)… And similarly, "The length of the court shall be a hundred cubits, and the breadth fifty everywhere" (Shemot 27:18). R. Yose bar Chalafta said: "The length of the court shall be a hundred cubits," and all of Israel stood there? Rather, this is one of the places where a small space contained a great number. And similarly, "And Moshe and Aharon gathered the congregation together before the rock" (Bamidbar 20:10). R. Chanina said: It was like a sieve, and all of Israel stood before it? Rather, this is one of the places where a small space contained a great number. And similarly, "And Yehoshua said to the children of Israel, ‘Come here’" (Yehoshua 3:9). R. Huna said: He stood them between the two poles of the ark. R. Chama bar Chanina said: He placed them between the two poles of the ark. And Rava said: He squeezed them between the two poles of the ark. This is what is written: "And Yehoshua said, ‘Hereby you shall know that the living God is among you’" (ibid. v. 10). He said to them: From the fact that you were contained by the two poles of the ark, I know that the Shekhina is among you. The same was true in the Temple, for we have learned: "They stood crowded, yet prostrated themselves with wide spaces between them" (Avot 5:5). R. Shmuel bar Iyveh said in the name of R. Acha: There was a space of four cubits between each and every person, a cubit in each direction, so that one person should not hear the voice of his fellow when engaged in prayer. The same will be true in the future, as it is stated, "At that time they shall call Jerusalem the throne of the Lord, and all the nations shall be gathered to it" (Yirmiyahu 3:17). R. Yochanan went up to inquire about the welfare of R. Chanina, and he found him occupied in these verses: "At that time they shall call Jerusalem the throne of the Lord, and all the nations shall be gathered to it." He said to him: But does it contain them? He said to him: The verse states, "Enlarge the place of your tent… For you shall break forth on the right hand and on the left" (Yeshayahu 54:2-3).  (Vayikra Rabba 10:9)

 

            The midrash brings several expositions which describe situations in which a small space contained a great number of people. The proofs are brought from various contexts, but prominent among them are the examples directly connected to the Mishkan and the Mikdash.

 

            It is interesting that it is precisely at the end of the midrash and in connection with the future that an account is given of the expansion of Jerusalem, based on the verse in Yeshayahu: "Enlarge the place of your tent… for you shall break forth on the right hand and on the left" – in other words, the place will continue to expand. What this means is that in the future, the phenomenon of a small space containing a great number will cease; instead, a great space will contain a great number.

 

What is the significance of the fact that it is precisely in the most sanctified area that physical space has no meaning?

 

It may be suggested that it is specifically those vessels that clearly represent the resting of the Shekhina that do not take up any physical space, because the Shekhina is the spiritual revelation of the Divine. The reference is first and foremost to the ark, the keruvim, and the area between the poles of the ark, and then, by extension, to the door of the Ohel Mo'ed, the courtyard, and all of Jerusalem. What the gemara says in Yoma about the miracles that were performed in the Mikdash and in Jerusalem constitute an extension of this idea to the entire city of Jerusalem.

 

Even though the Torah describes the dimensions of the ark and the shape of the keruvim and the poles, in essence these things do not leave a mark in the material world. The Divine appearance is so elevated that it does not constrict itself in the material world, and thus these vessels do not take up any space.

 

In a certain sense, this marvelously illustrates the fact that in its very essence, this place expresses the connection between the spiritual and the material, between the Infinite and the finite, between the Divine and the human. If, despite the dimensions spelled out in the Torah, the ark does not take up space, this means that although it indeed exists, it cannot be measured by spatial dimensions.

 

In this context, it should be noted that the site of the ark, in the Holy of Holies on the Even ha-Shetiya, is identified by Chazal as the place from which the world was created. In other words, in the place that more than anywhere else gives expression to the very appearance of the material world and to the very creation of the universe as separate from God Himself – there we find that which is most spiritual.

 

It is precisely there that we find the ark, the tablets of the law, the broken tablets, and a Torah scroll – which more than anything else express the relationship between God and the created world, the most spiritual reality which is revealed in the material world. Therefore, this revelation takes up no space whatsoever.

 

To be continued.

 

(Translated by David Strauss)



[1] In order to make it easier to understand this shiur, we have attached a plan of the structure of the Mishkan which includes the general location of the various vessels.

[2] It should be noted that with respect to the First Temple, we do not have precise measurements that can help up locate the vessels. Furthermore, it must still be clarified to what extent the location of the vessels in the Mishkan corresponds to their location in the First and Second Temples.

[3] Dissenting views are found in the Rishonim. The Rambam in Hilkhot Bet Ha-Bechira (4:1) and the Rashbam in Bava Batra (99a, s.v. “aron she-asa Moshe”) understand that the ark rested on the Even ha-Shetiya in the western part of the Holy of Holies. The Ritzba (Tosafot, Bava Batra 25), however, maintains that the ark stood in the eastern part of the Holy of Holies. The Tosafot in Menachot (91b, s.v. “rochakin”) agree with Rashi.

[4] The outer altar also stands lengthwise on a north-south axis, as will be discussed below. The table and the candlestick also stand on a north-south axis, but there is disagreement as to whether they were set lengthwise from east to west or from north to south.

[5] The Tosafot explain that "when they prostrate themselves and fall, a miracle is performed for them and the area expands until there is four cubits between them, so that one person should not hear the confession of his fellow, so that the latter should not be embarrassed."

[6] According to Melakhim I 6:24-25, the width of each wing is five cubits, so that the two keruvim with two wings each total twenty cubits.

In addition, further clarification is required as to how is it possible to adduce proof from the keruvim fashioned by Shelomo regarding the area taken up by the ark. For the keruvim were ten cubits high, and their wings were above the ark, and so it is difficult to prove that the ark did not take up space.

[7] It should be noted that according to those who maintain that the ark stood on the western side of the Holy of Holies (Rashbam, Bava Batra 99a, s.v. “aron she-asa Moshe” and Rambam, Hilkhot Beit ha-Bechira 6:1), ten cubits in each direction refers only to the north and south, for on the east there were twenty cubits, and on the west there was no space at all.