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Shabbat Parashat Teruma 5778

Parashat Hashavua: What is Special About the Aron? (part I)

Harav Yosef Carmel

The aron (ark) was, for several reasons, the most special of the vessels that were in the Mishkan. First, it had a special covering (kaporet) out of which emerged the winged kerubim. It housed the luchot habrit, the Tablets that Hashem presented to Moshe. Perhaps most importantly, it served as the meeting and communicating point between Hashem, the Giver of the Torah, and Moshe, Bnei Yisrael’s representative to receive it (Shemot 25:10-22).

The aron is also the only one of the vessels that is mentioned in the Torah in a context other than that of the Mishkan. The second time it is mentioned is: “And when the aron travelled, Moshe said: ‘Arise, Hashem – Your enemies shall disperse, and Your enemies shall flee from before You’” (Bamidbar 10:35). The third time an aron is mentioned is as a wood container which Moshe took to store the second set of luchot given to him on Sinai (Devarim 10:1-3). Chazal dispute whether the three different Torah passages are talking about one or two different vessels. There is even an opinion among Rishonim that there were actually three aronot (we will discuss this in the future).

The Yerushalmi in Shekalim (6:1) says there were two aronot. One, which was kept in the Mishkan, contained the second set of Tablets and a sefer Torah. There was a different one, which contained the fragments of the broken first set of luchot. According to this approach, the first one is described in our parasha. It was made of wood and encased, on the inside and outside, in gold. We need to explain that first, the second Tablets were placed in an aron of wood and then transferred to the aron that stayed in the Mishkan. It was forbidden to remove this aron from the Holy of Holies of the Mishkan, except when the Mishkan was dismantled to be moved. The second one, which was made only from wood, is the one that is mentioned in Bamidbar and in Devarim.

Chazal attributed miraculous qualities to the aron. One of them is that, even though its size in mentioned in the Torah, it did not take up any space from a physical perspective (Megilla 10b). Thus, while the Holy of Holies was only 20 amot wide, there were 10 amot from one side of the aron and 10 amot from the other side.

Another miracle has to do with its weight. Much of it, including the kaporet and keruvim, were made out of gold, which has a very high specific gravity. It was, therefore, too heavy to carry naturally on people’s shoulders, as the Torah requires. That is why Chazal taught us that the aron “carried those who carried it” (Sota 35a).

Next week we will continue to learn about what was unique about the aron, especially from a spiritual perspective. Let us pray that we will soon merit to witness a revelation of the Divine Presence, as it was in the time that the Mishkan was standing.   

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