The Ark of the Covenant and the Land of Israel- Thoughts on Parshat Terumah 5774

“And they shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst. According to all that I show you, the pattern of the Mishkan and the pattern of all its vessels; and so shall you do.”

This week’s Torah portion provides a detailed account of the first vessel that was to be built in the Mishkan, the Ark of the Covenant. The verses state, “They shall make an ark of acacia wood…And you shall overlay it with pure gold; from inside and from outside you shall overlay it… The poles of the ark shall be in the rings; they shall not be removed from it. And you shall place into the ark the testimony, which I will give you.” (Exodus 25:10-16) This emphasis on the intricate detail of the Ark is quite remarkable in light of the fact that the Torah, as a rule, is precise and exact with its language. We know that there are no superfluous words or extraneous details in the Torah; rather, the Torah is dynamic and every verse has within it a lesson that can be learned in order to enrich our daily lives. What, then, is the lesson that can be gleaned from a seemingly dry and detailed architectural account of the construction of the Ark of the Covenant in the Mishkan?

I believe that the verses describing the Ark of the Covenant, and its physical characteristics have much meaning to our times. With a deeper explanation of the text a beautiful message related to the Jewish People and their eternal connection to the Land of Israel emerges.

In his work Emek Daver, Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin points out that Moses is commanded to build a Mishkan in order so that God’s presence can dwell within; “And they shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst.” However, Moses is faced with a dilemma: how can it be possible to build a home for God to dwell in if His presence fills the entire world? God is simply too tremendous to be confined to a bricks and mortar house. As it is written in Isaiah, “…the whole earth is full of His glory.” (Isaiah 6:3) To Moses’ question, God shows him the entire world and commands that the Mishkan represent a microcosm of the universe. I would like to posit that in line with this idea, it would seem that the vessels within the Mishkan would also correlate to specific aspects of our physical world; this connection begins with the Ark of the Covenant as it relates to the Jewish people and the Land of Israel.

Beginning with the verse, “They shall make an ark of acacia wood, two and a half cubits its length, a cubit and a half its width, and a cubit and a half its height” Rabbi Haim Ben Moshe Attar (also known as the Ohr Hachaim) comments on the use of the word “וְעָשׂוּ-they shall make” as opposed to the singular form “וְעָשִׂיתָ -you shall make” as it is written for all of the other vessels. We know that the Ark of the Covenant was the resting place of the tablets upon which the Ten Commandments where etched; essentially, the Ark was the home of the Torah. Writes the Ohr Hachaim, the reason that the plural form is used here is to emphasize that the Torah can only be fulfilled when all of the Jewish people are unified and work together. Some mitzvoth are designated for Kohanim, some for Leviim and others for Yisraelim; no one person alone can fulfill all of the commandments and realize the true vision of the Torah singlehandedly.

The same idea rings true regarding the Jewish People and the Land of Israel. Rav Samson Refael Hirsch explains on the verse in Genesis 48:4, “and I will make you into a congregation of peoples…” that from here we learn that the very secret and strength of the Jewish people lies in its diversity. Writes Rav Hirsch, “The Jewish nation is to represent agriculture as well as commerce, militarism as well as culture and learning. The Jewish people will be a nation of farmers, a nation of businessmen, a nation of soldiers and a nation of science. Thereby, as a model nation, to establish the truth that the one great personal and national task which God revealed in his Torah is not dependent on any particular kind of talent or character trait, but that the whole of humanity in all its shades and diversity can equally find its calling in one common spiritual and moral mission and outlook on life.” (Rav Hirsch Commentary on Bereishit 48:3-4) In the Land of Israel, we need intellectuals and lay-workers, businessmen and soldiers, rabbinic scholars and pioneers to join hands in order to create a vibrant and prosperous society. Just as every Jew is needed in order to fulfill the purpose of the Torah, so too all of the Jewish people must unify together and contribute to the Land of Israel so that it can actualize its potential.

The verses continue to reinforce and takes this noble idea a step forward into the world of action. The Torah notes that the original box from which the Ark was created was from acacia wood, and that wooden base was then covered with pure gold. As it is written, “And you shall overlay it (the wood of the Ark) with pure gold.” First the basics, then the adornment. Rav Abraham Isaac Kook correlates this idea with the work of the early, and mostly secular, pioneers of Israel. “[The repairmen] work with mundane [materials], and they sanctify it afterwards.’” (Me’ilah 14a) History has shown us that first the physical needs of the land need to be tended to, but within that is created an opportunity to enhance the existing structure with spirituality and holiness.

The next descriptive verse of the Ark of the Covenant is perhaps the most inspiring. “The poles of the ark shall be in the rings; they shall not be removed from it. And you shall place into the ark the testimony, which I will give you.” Whether in transit or in its resting place, the poles of the Ark were never removed; rather they remained firmly in place. Even during the darkest nights of our long exile, the yearning for the Land of Israel was never removed from the heart and memory of the Jewish people. And just as the poles were never separated from the Ark of the Covenant, so too will the Jewish people be intimately and forever connected to the Land of Israel. For more than 2000 years, the Land has belonged to the Jewish people and the people to it. So it is today, so it will be.

May we merit to fulfill the vision of the Ark of the Covenant, the Torah and the Land of Israel for generations to come.

About the Author
The Author is a Jerusalem based Rabbi and Jewish Educator, and is the author of the Two Volume book "A People, A Country, A Heritage-Torah Inspiration from the Land of Israel."
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