The Ark, the Kapporet, and the Keruvim (Part IV)

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy

 

Mikdash

Rav Yitzchak Levi

 

 

Lecture 138: the Ark, the kaporet and the Keruvim – (Part Iv)

 

 

Introduction

 

            In our previous shiurim, we demonstrated the correspondence between the ark and the kaporet and the keruvim, and noted the significance of the Torah's repetition concerning the placement of the tablets both in the description of the ark and in the account of the kaporet and the keruvim.[1] We have also tried to determine whether we are dealing here with one vessel or with two vessels. This examination was conducted both through an analysis of the verses describing the vessels and through an inquiry regarding the roles of each of the vessels.

 

            However we understand the matter, it is clear that there is a most significant connection between the ark, on the one hand, and the kaporet and the keruvim, on the other. The connection is both a practical connection with respect to the structure of the vessel and an essential connection based on the inner substantive relationship between the two parts.

 

            From a practical perspective, it is difficult to imagine the ark containing the tablets and the book of the Torah while it is open and uncovered, and therefore the kaporet serves as a cover for the ark. On the other hand, it is clear, both from the material of which it is made, namely, beaten gold, and from the two keruvim that emerge from the kaporet, that we are dealing not merely with a technical cover, but rather with a cover that enjoys independent importance.

 

            From the essential perspective, we noted two substantive points that connect the ark to the kaporet and the keruvim:

 

·           Both divisions of the Torah – the Written Law and the Oral Law – are revealed in the ark, the kaporet and the keruvim. The tablets and the book of the Torah rest in the ark, which is made of shittim wood overlaid with gold, and God meets with Moshe from between the two keruvim, which are made of beaten gold. In this way, the Oral Law is revealed and given to Israel through Moshe during their journey in the wilderness.

·           On the other hand, what we have here is a royal throne, as it were, for the Shekhina, which is made of two parts. The upper part is the throne itself, the keruvim serving as God's seat, and the ark constitutes His footstool. In the footstool rests the deed to the covenant that binds God to the people of Israel.

 

In consideration of all this, we suggest that we are dealing here with a single aggregate comprised of two parts, each with its own character (both with respect to its material and its form and with respect to its essence and purpose). With all the uniqueness of each part, they constitute together a single entity.

 

Torah and Revelation

 

            I would like to add another point regarding the definition of each part which was suggested by my colleague, R. Itamar Eldar.[2] R. Eldar proposes that we define the purpose of the ark as Torah, and the purpose of the kaporet and the keruvim as revelation.

 

            A model for this relationship can be found at the assembly at Mount Sinai:

 

·           Shemot 19 presents us with God's revelation itself: Thunder, lighting, a heavy cloud on the mountain, the sound of a shofar getting increasingly stronger, fire, smoke like the smoke of a furnace, and the regulations connected to the bounds set on ascending the mountain and the sanctification of the people and the mountain, so that they not break through to ascend the mountain.

·           In contrast, Shemot 20 contains the contents, God's words themselves, the Ten Commandments.

 

It is clear that the content of the Ten Commandments is not conditioned on the revelation that preceded their giving. God, however, chose to give the Torah in this manner, in which He, on the one hand, reveals Himself in such a way that great importance is attached to what is seen and to what is heard, and together with this revelation, He hands over written tablets and the Torah, which includes mitzvot and additional content.

 

According to this, the kaporet and the keruvim represent the aspect of the revelation, whereas the ark containing the Ten Commandments represents the aspect of Torah with all its content.

 

Accordingly, there is an essential connection between the Torah and the revelation. The revelation and the Torah are not separate phenomena, but rather they come together. Each component needs the other, despite the fact that each has independent existence. The Torah was given by way of revelation in order to demonstrate the living, existential and present dimension of the Shekhina's appearance. On the other hand, the revelation itself was accompanied by the formation of a covenant involving the Torah and the tablets.

 

In this way, R. Eldar explains the repetition concerning the placement of the tablets:

 

The first command is connected to the ark and the Torah, whereas the second command, which relates to the kaporet and the keruvim, mentions once again the testimony as a means of revelation, and therefore it results in a revelation of the Shekhina.

 

The relationship between the ark and the kaporet

 

            Thus far we have dealt with the question of whether the ark and the kaporet are one vessel, two vessels, or two vessels that are one. As was mentioned at the beginning of the shiurim dedicated to this issue, we wish to examine the relationship between the two parts. Beyond the practical aspects, does one of the vessels serve the other, or is there a mutual relationship between them, each part helping the other part in one way or another?[3]

 

            With respect to the structure, it should be remembered that the lower portion that rests on the ground is the ark, which is made of shittim wood overlaid with gold. It is with the poles of the ark that we carry the ark, the kaporet and the keruvim – that is to say, the vessel in its entirety – and therefore, it is certainly the ark that constitutes the basis, the foundation upon which the kaporet and the keruvim are placed.

 

            With respect to the materials, the fact that the ark is made of shittim wood overlaid with gold, whereas the kaporet and the keruvim are made of beaten gold, appears to strengthen the understanding that the ark is the foundation, while the kaporet and the keruvim are above it, and in this sense materially at a higher level.

 

            On the other hand, the ark contains the tablets and the book of the Torah, namely, the Written Law and the Ten Commandments, a written reminder of the assembly at Mount Sinai, and on the face of it, they are at a very elevated level, perhaps even more elevated than the Torah that was revealed and handed over orally by God to Moshe from between the two keruvim.

 

            In any event, it is our assumption that each vessel has its own role and essence, and that together they comprise a single entity. We shall try to suggest several directions that will explain the relationship between the vessels.

 

            R. Israel Ariel[4] points to the places in the Torah where the kaporet appears among the vessels of the Mishkan as an independent vessel (Shemot 31:7; 35:12; 39:35; 40:21).[5]

 

            We mentioned in earlier shiurim that the kaporet is not listed among the vessels that were anointed with the anointing oil (Shemot 30:26). The absence of any mention of the kaporet can be understood as implying that the kaporet is included in the ark that was anointed, but it can also be understood in the opposite direction: It does not require anointing. In this sense the kaporet is the source of the anointing of the rest of the vessels; in it rests, as it were, the Shekhina – "For I appear in the cloud upon the kaporet" (Vayikra 16:2); from it issues forth the fire that burns the sacrifices.

 

            R. Ariel suggests that the verses give priority to each of the vessels from a different perspective:

 

            Regarding the kaporet, expression is given to the Divine revelation on the visual plain, whereas in the ark the Torah is remembered on the auditory plain.

 

            In this sense, the live and direct encounter with God's presence takes place more above the kaporet from between the two keruvim than in the ark. On the other hand, it is in the tablets of stone and the Torah that rest in the ark that more significant expression is given to the eternity of the Torah, whereas from between the two keruvim from above the kaporet, the constantly renewing Oral Law reveals itself. It is there that emergency rulings are issued, and it is there that God spoke to Moshe as the representative of the people of Israel.

 

            From this perspective, it is clear that priority is given to the fixed and eternal Written Law in the ark, whereas the Oral Law that is handed over between the keruvim is seen as an added level.

 

            According to this, each vessel is in some way at a higher level than the other, and so we cannot say that either vessel enjoys superiority over the other. It all depends on the area under discussion.

 

            Regarding the issue of sight and hearing, it should be noted that the verse describing the Yom Kippur service, "For I appear in the cloud upon the kaporet" (Vayikra 16:2), seems to imply a connection between the kaporet and sight, whereas the verses relating to the Torah and the tablets which were given at the assembly at Mount Sinai emphasize the idea of hearing.

 

            To a certain degree, however, we can say just the opposite. The unique aspect of the Divine revelation that took place above the kaporet from between the two keruvim relates to speech, as is explained in several places:

 

And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the kaporet from between the two keruvim which are upon the ark of the Testimony, of all things which I will give you in commandment to the children of Israel. (Shemot 25:22)

 

And similarly regarding the incense altar:

 

And you shall put it before the parokhet that is by the ark of the Testimony, before the kaporet that is over the Testimony, where I will meet with you. (Shemot 30:6)

 

            And similarly in the account of the dedication of the Mishkan:

 

And when Moshe was gone into the Ohel Mo'ed to speak with Him, then he heard the voice speaking to him from off the kaporet that was upon the ark of Testimony, from between the two keruvim; and it spoke to him. (Bemidbar 7:89)

 

            It is clear from these three sources that God met with Moshe from above the kaporet from between the two keruvim, and that this meeting was by way of speech that issued forth from this place and was heard by Moshe. From here we see that the primary dimension associated with the kaporet is that of hearing, rather than seeing.

 

            It is absolutely clear that the High Priest's entry into the Holy of Holies brings him to an encounter with the Divine presence that finds expression by way of sight and by way of hearing. It is also clear that the cloud serves as a screen that prevents the priest from setting his eyes on the ark, the kaporet and the keruvim. But it is difficult to understand how this turns the revelation above the kaporet to one of sight.

 

            On the other hand, it is precisely with respect to the ark that we find a prohibition of looking. When the torah relates to the tribe of the families of the Kehati, it states as follows:

 

Do not cut off the tribe of the families of the Kehati from among the Levites: but thus do to them, that they may live, and not die, when they approach the most holy things. Aharon and his sons shall go in, and appoint them every one to his service and to his burden. But they shall not go in to see when the holy things are covered, lest they die. (Bamidbar 4:18-20)[6]

 

            When the children of Kehat come to cover the ark of the Testimony in order to disassemble the Mishkan and move it, the Torah states:

 

Aharon shall come, and his sons, and they shall take down the parokhet of the screen, and cover the ark of Testimony with it. (Bamidbar 4:5)

 

The simple objective of this command is to prevent the ark from being seen.

 

            Similarly, when the ark that had been taken captive by the Pelishtim at the battle of Even-ha-Ezer is returned and arrives in Beit-Shemesh, the prophet states:

 

And they of Beit-Shemesh were reaping their wheat harvest in the valley: and they lifted up their eyes, and saw the ark, and rejoiced to see it. (I Shmuel 6:13)

 

            And in the continuation:

 

And he smote the men of Beit-Shemesh, because they had looked into the ark of the Lord, smiting fifty thousand and seventy men of the people: and the people lamented, because the Lord had smitten many of the people with a great slaughter. (ibid. v. 19)

 

            The punishment was for looking at the ark of God. So explains the Rashbam:

 

"But they shall not go in to see when the holy things are covered, lest they die" (Bamidbar 4:20) – When the Heikhal is disassembled, the ark is revealed, and if people will see it, they will die. As we find regarding the people of Beit-Shemesh that they saw the ark of God when God swallowed up and showed no mercy… As soon as they began to take the Mishkan apart, the children of Kehat distanced themselves, as it is written: "Aharon shall come, and his sons, and they shall take down the parokhet of the screen… after that, the sons of Kehat shall come to bear it; but they shall not touch any holy thing, lest they die" (Bamidbar 4:5-15). (Bamidbar 4:20)

 

            So too writes the Abravanel:

 

The soul of man when he draws near the holy yearns to see beyond his limit. You must therefore cover and hide [the vessels], so that they not die when they breach to see.

 

            The Ramban (ad loc.) also connects the passage to what happened with the ark in Beit-Shemesh, and explains as follows:

 

Because the glory of He who sits on the keruvim is there, the Levites were warned not to breach to see God, until the priests take down the parokhet. For then the glory will be seen in the hiding of His power, and it will return to its former place in the Holy of Holies… and the one who understands will understand.

 

It therefore seems that we should connect the prohibition of seeing to the ark and the matter of hearing to the kaporet and the keruvim.

 

            There is room to discuss the relationship between these two dimensions, seeing and hearing.[7] Hearing is a more internal phenomenon, whereas seeing is more external.

 

Testimony and meeting

 

            In a previous year, when we dealt with the Mishkan and the Ohel Mo'ed, we spoke about the relationship between testimony and meeting:

 

            On the one hand, the Holy of Holies houses the ark of the Testimony, which testifies to the covenant between God and the people of Israel, this being the basis for the name, "Mishkan of the Testimony." The testimony is to the very formation of the covenant at Mount Sinai, and its perpetuation for all generations by way of the tablets, the book of the Torah and the ark in the Holy of Holies. In this sense, the Holy of Holies, with the ark, the tablets, and the book of the Torah, represent the aspect of the testimony.

 

            On the other hand, the Holy is also a place of meeting, the place where an encounter takes place between God and the people of Israel. In this place, God meets with Moshe as the representative of all of Israel (Shemot 28:21-22; 30:7) and with Israel (Shemot 29:42-43; Bamidbar 12:19).

 

            The Sifrei presents a contradiction between the verses and reconciles it:

 

"And I shall speak with you from above the kaporet." And elsewhere it says: "And God spoke to Moshe from the Ohel Mo'ed, saying" (Vayikra 1:1) – this is the Mishkan outside the parokhet. We find then two verses that contradict each other, until a third verse comes and reconciles them. "And when Moshe was gone into the Ohel Mo'ed to speak with Him, then he heard the voice speaking to him from off the kaporet [that was upon the ark of Testimony, from between the two keruvim, and it spoke to him]." Moshe would enter the Mishkan, and as soon as he was in the entranceway, a voice issued forth from heaven to between the keruvim, and from there it went out and was heard by Moshe in the Ohel Mo'ed. (Sifrei, Naso 58)

 

            It turns out that the voice that issued forth from between the two keruvim was heard by Moshe in the Heikhal, i.e., the Ohel Mo'ed. According to this, the words were uttered in the Holy of Holies, but they were heard in the Holy.

 

            The Baraita de-Melekhet ha-Mishkan (chapter 14) tries to clarify the site of the meeting. The Baraita expounds upon the following verses:

 

This shall be a continual burnt offering throughout your generations at the door of the Ohel Mo'ed before the Lord: where I will meet you, to speak there to you. And there I will meet with the children of Israel, and it shall be sanctified to My glory. (Shemot 29:42-43)

 

            Where is "shama" (there)?  The Baraita brings three viewpoints regarding the meeting place between God and the people of Israel:

 

·           Above the kaporet between the two keruvim in the Holy of Holies.

·           Above the incense-altar in the Holy.

·           Above the burnt-offering altar in the courtyard.

 

There is clearly an essential connection between testimony and meeting. The testimony in this sense perpetuates Mount Sinai, the foundational meeting between God and the people of Israel, the enormous novelty of the revelation of the Torah in this world – the Torah which maintains the world, the Torah which constitutes the blueprint of the world ("God looked into the Torah and created the world"), the Torah on behalf of whose observance the world was created.

 

The meeting between God and Israel is the living and continual revelation of the Testimony, its appearance in actuality. This encounter continues the connection that had been created; it also contains a revelation of God and of new content that explains and complements what had been handed over in writing.

 

Just as the sealed testimony is completed by the living and renewing meeting, so too meeting by itself which is not preceded by testimony lacks a basis and foundation.

 

In this context, we can understand that the testimony is located in the Holy of Holies, whereas the meeting takes place in the Holy.

 

I wish to propose that there is a correspondence between the relationship between the Holy of Holies and the Holy, and the relationship between the vessels in the Holy of Holies itself. It may be suggested that the relationship between the ark and the kaporet and the keruvim is the basic relationship between the testimony and meeting, between the ark of the testimony and the kaporet above which and from between the two keruvim God meets with Moshe and with the people of Israel.

 

While in the Holy of Holies there is the testimony and above it there is the meeting, fundamentally, the testimony is in the Holy of Holies and the meeting is in the Holy.

 

THe Ark and the Table, the Kaporet and the candlestick

 

            My colleague, R. Yoni Grossman, has demonstrated in a remarkable article[8] the very interesting parallel that exists between the ark and the table, on the one hand, and the kaporet and the keruvim and the candlestick, on the other.

 

            Let us briefly summarize his arguments:

 

The ark and the table:

 

1)     Are both made of shittim wood overlaid with gold.

2)     Both have a rim, rings, and poles for carrying.

3)     Are described in Scripture in similar and parallel fashion.

 

These vessels express a multi-dimensional world; the objective of these two vessels is defined by some external object – the tablets of the Testimony and the showbread.

 

The kaporet and the candlestick:

 

1)     Both lack precise measurements.

2)     Both are made of pure beaten gold.

3)     Both are rounded, and from the ends face the middle.

4)     Both come from one place, go to one place, and face one place.

5)     Both express a unified world and are defined by themselves.

6)     The kaporet is placed on the ark, and the candlestick is placed across from the table.

 

There is a clear relationship between the two vessels in the Holy of Holies and the two vessels in the Holy.

 

            According to what we have said, what is interesting in this correspondence is the understanding that in the Holy of Holies, the ark and the kaporet with the keruvim constitute a single aggregate, with its various characteristics, whereas in the Holy, this single entity divides into the table that parallels the ark and the candlestick that parallels the kaporet.[9]

 

            There is room to ask whether this parallel sharpens the essential difference between the ark, on the one hand, and the kaporet and the keruvim, on the other, or perhaps just the opposite, joining the two more strongly together.

 

            This question can be formulated differently: Is the fundamental connection between the vessels tested in the Holy of Holies or in the Holy?

 

·           If in the Holy of Holies, their basic character is unified.

·           If in the Holy, each vessel stands on its own.

 

There is also a certain parallel to what we said above regarding the relationship between testimony and meeting. In the Holy of Holies, the ark of the Testimony and the kaporet where God meets with the people of Israel constitute a single entity, whereas from a broader perspective, the testimony is in the Holy of Holies, and the meeting is in the Holy.

 

In any event, our examination of this joining of two vessels – the ark, on the one hand, and the kaporet and the keruvim, on the other - does not clearly point to one vessel that serves the other, but rather to two vessels each of which has its own characteristics, and in certain senses the one serves the other and vice versa. But in the Holy of Holies, they appear in a unified form, while in the Holy they each stand apart.

 

This certainly alludes to the unity that characterizes the Holy of Holies, the chamber which expresses the presence of the Shekhina, as apposed to the division of the vessels which finds expression in the Holy, the chamber which expresses man's service before God.

 

(Translated by David Strauss)

 

 



[1] Thus far we have dealt with the significance of the connection between the ark and the kaporet. In the coming shiurim, we shall examine the relationship between the kaporet and the keruvim and the essence of the keruvim.

[2] I wish to take this opportunity to thank Rav Eldar for his precise formulation. What is said here is connected to what we said concerning the relationship between the Written Law and the Oral Law, but defining the kaporet and the keruvim as revelation emphasizes another aspect of the same idea.

[3] This does not mean that one vessel is more important than the other, but rather that each one has certain aspects that assist in the functioning of the other.

[4] In his book¸ Min ha-Pardes, in the chapter “Bein Kaporet la-Aron,” pp. 245ff.

[5] Since these passages were already analyzed in previous shiurim, we will not discuss here the details of each passage.

[6] Those who count the mitzvot differ as to the prohibition against seeing. The Halakhot Gedolot and the Yerei'im (329) count this prohibition as a negative commandment, while the Rambam in his Sefer ha-Mitzvot (principle 3) maintains that this prohibition was given only to the Levites in the wilderness, and not to later generations.

Beyond the question of whether this prohibition applied only in the wilderness or also in later generations, a question arises regarding who is governed by this prohibition – only the Levites, or also the priests (though they were given an allowance when the Mishkan is being disassembled), or perhaps all of Israel. The Gemara in Yoma 54a brings an analogy: "R. Nachman said: This may be likened to a bride, who as long as she is in her father's house, she is reserved in regard to her husband, but when she comes to her father-in-law's house, she is no more so reserved in regard to him." A distinction is being made here between the period of the wilderness, when seeing is forbidden, and the period of the first Temple, when it is permitted. This is not the forum to discuss the matter at further length.

[7] This issue demands lengthy examination. For example, regarding the assembly at Mount Sinai, it would be interesting to examine the relationship between seeing and hearing, as there we find a combination of these two dimensions: "And all the people saw the voices."

[8] Yoni Grossman, "Porsei Kenafayim Lema'ala Ish el Re'ehu," Alon Shevut 145 (Tamuz 5755), pp. 134-137.

[9] We have not related here to the incense altar. Although it is located in direct alignment with the ark and the kaporet, it is not mentioned at all in Parashat Teruma, but only at the end of Parashat Tetzaveh.