The Uniqueness of the Ark

We live in an age that pursues wholesome products. People often search for items with no additives, just pure ingredients through and through. In our Parshah this week, Terumah, we read about the fascinating ritual vessels that were constructed and utilized in the Tabernacle. We begin with the Ark that housed the Tablets Moshe brought down from Sinai, its contents were as follows:

The verse states:

Exodus 25:11

וְצִפִּיתָ֤ אֹתוֹ֙ זָהָ֣ב טָה֔וֹר מִבַּ֥יִת וּמִח֖וּץ תְּצַפֶּ֑נּוּ וְעָשִׂ֧יתָ עָלָ֛יו זֵ֥ר זָהָ֖ב סָבִֽיב׃ 

Overlay it with pure gold—overlay it inside and out—and make upon it a gold crown molding round about.

Rashi, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki  (1040 –1105), the father of all commentators quotes the Talmud Yoma 72a that lists and clarifies the ingredients of the Ark-

מבית ומחוץ תצפנו. שְׁלֹשָׁה אֲרוֹנוֹת עָשָׂה בְצַלְאֵל, שְׁנַיִם שֶׁל זָהָב וְאֶחָד שֶׁל עֵץ

Bezalel made three arks, two of gold and one of wood

What is the message behind constructing three arks that fit into one another, the two outer arks gold and the inner one wood?

Although several commentaries point out a practical benefit of a wooden middle ark, namely that it would be much easier for the Levites to carry, the Maharal of Prague, Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel (16th century,)  advances a different lesson. 

He explains that the Aron represents Torah; and Torah is the ultimate elixir of growth. Therefore, the Ark in the middle must be made of natural wood that grows from a seed to great heights. Torah not only expands our intellect with wisdom and understanding, but also with character education and development.

As stated, the two outer Arks were made of pure gold. The Talmud also explains that the outer Arks represent those that study and practice the Torah. It is incumbent upon them that their outsides reflect their insides. It is not enough to know the laws and lessons of Torah, one must also behave with the precepts of the Torah in both their public and private lives.

The Ark is one of the three vessels that had a crown. The Table and the Altar also were adorned with a crown. Whereas the Altar represents the Priesthood,  and only those from the tribe of Levi can be Priests; and the Table represents Royalty which only comes from the tribe of Judah, the Aron represents Torah that is accessible to every single Jew. Every Jewish man, woman, and family can adorn themselves with the crown of Torah. Yet it must be a Torah of growth and it must be practiced sincerely and consistently in front of  the outside world as well as behind closed doors, just like the  Ark /Aron was golden on the outside and the inside, with a natural wooden one in the middle.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Epstein
Community Scholar in Residence