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The Ark at the Center of the World

In Parashat Terumah (Ex. 25:1–27:19) the Creator shows Moses the pattern for the Tabernacle, the Mishkan (from the Hebrew shakan to dwell). To build the Mishkan and its kellim (vessels), God asks Israel to offer materials for this sacred project and to give according to their hearts—thus the Mishkan’s magnificence reflected Israel’s wholehearted commitment. The Mishkan would recreate and reinforce the Sinai experience. It would also house the Aron HaKodesh (Ark of the Covenant). A young descendant of Hur, thirteen year-old Betzalel was tasked by HaShem to carry out the building, possibly even designing the ark.

The ark was topped by two kruvim (the name for these two figures comes from the Hebrew root which means, "to draw near"). These angelic beings were shaped and hammered from a single lump of precious gold. The top of the ark was rimmed by a crown ("the crown of Torah"), sealed by a covering called the kaporet. The corners of this golden box were fastened with rings into which two staves were inserted. The staves were made from acacia wood, covered with gold and never to be removed from the rings.

Regarding the placement of the staves, most paintings, illustrations and the film, Raiders of the Lost Ark mistakenly depict the two staves as attached to the longer sides of the ark, however, according to Torah commentators, including the Rambam, the staves actually ran along the short sides of the ark. This is supported in the Talmud, as described in Yoma, 52b:9, on Yom Kippur, the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies with a pan of incense and would kneel between the two staves. If the staves were placed in the manner as usually depicted in popular art and films, then the High Priest would be kneeling behind one of the kruvin!

The top of the ark was rimmed by a crown (alluding to the crown of Torah) and sealed by the kaporet (cover). Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim Luntschitz, in his commentary Kli Yakar taught that a Divine light shined outward from the ark affecting everything around it. The design of the Ark and its eventual placement in the Holy of Holies, upon the Foundation Stone (where creation began), represents a sublime interface between the physical realm and the supernal. The ark itself serves as a profound visual metaphor offering a myriad of secrets and lessons. One lesson comes from the humble wooden ark within the golden one, symbolic of the potential for molding one's life according to God's direction, a life that reflects the crown of Torah.

The amount of gold used in the ark leads us to speculate how much it weighed. The wood used is also a factor since acacia is a very dense material. So, the ark must have almost impossible to lift. However, Chazal (Jewish Sages) relate that the kohanim responsible for carrying the ark, were actually carried along by it. The staves were likely used to guide the ark. This teaches that those who support Torah scholars are actually supported by them

We have already discussed how Israel enthusiastically contributed to the construction of the Mishkan---according to their hearts. The timeless design of the Mishkan was the basic layout of the First and Second Temples, as it will for the Third Temple. God never told us to wait on building the Third House. He’s only waiting for us to begin, then give according to all hearts, to build a House of Prayer for All Nations.

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