LECTURE 166: THE HISTORY OF THE USE OF THE ARK (II)
After examining the various occasions that the ark is mentioned in the Torah, in this shiur we shall consider the references to the ark in the books of the Prophets. We will begin with the mention of the ark in the book of Yehoshua, where the ark is mentioned at two important events as an independent vessel – at the crossing of the Jordan River and at the conquest of Jericho.
It is interesting to note that at these two foundational events, the ark enjoys independent standing at the head of the camp. In a certain sense, this is a continuation of what the Torah describes in its account of Israel's departure from Mount Sinai:
And they departed from the mountain of the Lord three days' journey, and the ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them in the three days' journey to search out a resting place for them. And the cloud of the Lord was upon them by day, when they went out of the camp. (Bamidbar 10:33-34)
The ROle of the ark in the conquest of the land and the crossing of the Jordan
As we saw in one of the previous shiurim, during the time that the people of Israel wandered through the wilderness, the ark went forth before them three days' journey to seek out a resting place for them (Bamidbar 10:33) and to scatter their enemies. This form of travel began at Israel's journey from Mount Sinai and continued through all their wanderings in the wilderness, until they arrived in Arvot Mo'av on the Jordan across from Jericho before they crossed into the Land of Israel. It is not stated explicitly how the ark moved forth after the Jordan was crossed.
The first change was that the ark was now in the range of vision of the people of Israel, and it served as a sign for the people of Israel to move forth from where they were and as their guide in actual practice.
A detailed description of Israel's journey with the ark is brought at the beginning of the book of Yehoshua. Owing to the importance of this report, I will bring it here almost in its entirety:
And Yehoshua rose early in the morning; and they removed from Shittim, and came to the Jordan, he and all the children of Israel, and spent the night there before they passed over. And it came to pass after three days, that the officers went through the camp, and they commanded the people, saying, “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God and the priests the Levites bearing it, then you shall remove from your place and go after it, yet there shall be a space between you and it, about two thousand cubits by measure: come not near to it. That you may know the way by which you must go: for you have not passed this way heretofore.” And Yehoshua said to the people, “Sanctify yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.” And Yehoshua spoke to the priests, saying, “Take up the ark of the covenant and pass over before the people.” And they took up the ark of the covenant and went before the people. And the Lord said to Yehoshua, “This day will I begin to magnify you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that as I was with Moshe, so I will be with you. And you shall command the priests that bear the ark of the covenant, saying, ‘When you are come to the brink of the water of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.’” And Yehoshua said to the children of Israel, “Come here, and hear the words of the Lord your God.” And Yehoshua said, “Hereby you shall know that the living God is among you and that He will without fail drive out from before you the Cana'ani, and the Chitti, and the Chivvi, and the Perizi, and the Girgashi, and the Emori, and the Yevusi. Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth passes over before you into the Jordan. Now therefore take twelve men out of the tribes of Israel, out of every tribe a man. And it shall come to pass, as soon as the soles of the feet of the priests that bear the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, that the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off, those waters that come down from above; and they shall stand in a heap.” And it came to pass, when the people removed from their tents to pass over the Jordan, and the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people; and as they who bore the ark were come to the Jordan. And the feet of the priests that bore the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (for the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest), that the waters which came down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far from the city Adam, that is beside Zaretan; and those that came down toward the sea of the Arava, the salt sea, failed, and were cut off: and the people passed over opposite Jericho. And the priests that bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, and all Israel passed over on dry ground, until all the people were passed clean over the Jordan…
Then Yehoshua called the twelve men, whom he had prepared of the children of Israel out of every tribe a man. And Yehoshua said to them, “Pass over before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take up every man of you a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel. That this may be a sign among you, that when your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, ‘What mean you by these stones?’ Then you shall answer them, ‘That the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord, when it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off;’ and these stones shall be for a memorial to the children of Israel forever.” And the children of Israel did as Yehoshua commanded, and took up twelve stones out of the midst of the Jordan, as the Lord spoke to Yehoshua, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel, and carried them over with them to the place where they lodged, and laid them down there. And Yehoshua set up twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests who bore the ark of the covenant stood, and they are there to this day. For the priests who bore the ark stood in the midst of the Jordan until every thing was finished that the Lord commanded Yehoshua to speak to the people, according to all that Moshe commanded Yehoshua; and the people hastened and passed over. And it came to pass, when all the people were clean passed over, that the ark of the Lord passed over, and the priests, before the people. (Yehoshua 3-4)
A simple analysis of the verses with respect to the location and role of the ark teaches us several points:
1. The name of the ark and its significance
The ark, which is mentioned 16 times in this section, is called by different names that give expression to its essence:
· The ark of the covenant of the Lord your God (3:3)
· The ark of the covenant (3:6, 8, 14; 4:9)
· The ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth (3:11)
· The ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth (3:13)
· The ark of the covenant of the Lord (3:17; 4:7)
· The ark of the Lord your God (4:8)
· The ark of the testimony (4:16)
Two important designations are added to the ark: On the one hand, the ark is referred to as "the ark of the covenant," bringing to mind the fundamental covenant between God and Israel, accompanying them now as they enter the land. In addition, the ark is called "the ark of the testimony." It would seem that in this context, "the ark of the testimony" refers to the tablets deposited in the ark, and the verse emphasizes the strong connection between the testimony and Yehoshua, as is stated at the beginning of the book:
“Only be strong and very courageous, and observe to do according to all the Torah, which Moshe my servant commanded you; turn not from it to the right hand nor to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. This book of the Torah shall not depart out of your mouth, but you shall meditate therein day and night; for then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall have good success.” (Yehoshua 1:7-8)
The tablets testify not only to the covenant with God, but also to its substance, including the fundamental commandments that were inscribed on the tablets.
Another possibility is that the term "ark of the testimony" means testimony to the covenant entered into between God and Israel, and not specifically to the tablets deposited inside the ark.
In this context, it is interesting to note that the term "ark of the covenant" is not found anywhere in the book of Shemot. There, the ark is called simply "the ark" or "the ark of the testimony." It is only in the book of Bamidbar, once the ark begins its journeys, that it is referred to as "the ark of the covenant":
And they departed from the mountain of the Lord three days' journey: and the ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them in the three days' journey, to search out a resting place for them. (Bamidbar 10:33)
The explanation for this may lie in the primary role played by the ark in each period. When the ark was first placed in the Mishkan following the giving of the Torah, the matter of the testimony that was given at Sinai was of paramount importance, whereas during the journey through the wilderness, greater emphasis was placed on the keeping of the covenant. According to this understanding, it may be suggested that the meaning of the covenant that God makes with man is a "connection for life." Thus, the covenant in the days of Noach (Bereishit 9:13) and the covenant with the Patriarchs (Bereishit 15:18 and 17:21), and so too the covenant with the people of Israel following the sin of the golden calf (Shemot 34:10), the latter signifying the connection that accompanied the people of Israel not only when they stood at the foot of Mount Sinai, but during their wanderings, while experiencing the difficulties of life, when it was necessary to join together the spiritual and the material. With the strength of the covenant that God made with us and our forefathers, we are able to stand up to reality, and it is the ark that represents and symbolizes this covenant.
2. The location of the ark while in transit
According to the verses in the book of Yehoshua cited above, the ark went before the camp of Israel. Rashi (ad loc.) explains:
This journey was different than the other journeys. For as long as Moshe was alive, the pillar of the cloud went forward first and showed them the way, and the ark went forward after the two standards. Now the ark went forward first. (Yehoshua 3:13, s.v. ve-halakhtem acharav)
So too the Ralbag:
The officers commanded the people on the order of Yehoshua that they should go after the ark of the covenant of the Lord carried by the priests the Levites. This command was necessary, because during the days of Moshe they camped and journeyed at the word of God based on the movement of the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire at night, leading the way. But now their going forward was not to be in this manner. Rather they were to be led by the priests the Levites who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord at the word of the prophet. And in order that everyone should see it, it was fitting that they should distance themselves from it. For this reason, they commanded them that they should distance themselves two thousand cubits from it. (Yehoshua 3:3-4)
In other words, following Israel's entry into the land, there was a change in the manner in which they traveled; the ark now went forward before the rest of the camp. What is the significance of the fact that the ark was now located in that place?
Rashi (ibid., s.v. rachok yihyeh) explains that it was necessary to keep a distance because of the dignity of the ark. Another possibility is that distance had to be kept because of the ark's sanctity and the danger involved in remaining in close proximity to it.
Following our approach, it may be suggested that the reason that the ark now went before the camp stems from the gradual transition from clearly miraculous governance to earthly governance. The purpose of this change was to clarify that the conquest will come only through the power of God. Following the ark meant, as it were, following the Shekhina, and it was only by following the Shekhina that the land was conquered. Now that there was no longer a pillar of cloud, it was the ark that led the camp of Israel as they entered the land. It symbolized that the living God was among them, and that the land was conquered by the Lord of all the earth.
The Abravanel offers another interpretation of this form of travel:
On the first journey when they travelled from Mount Sinai, the ark went out [first]. This was because God wanted that the ark of His covenant should go out before them on that first journey when it left God's mountain, as if their king went out before, God leading the way. He did the same for them on their last journey, when they entered the Land of Israel, for when they crossed the Jordan, it was commanded that God's ark should go before them, like one who accompanies his friend when he leaves the city and when he enters it in order to show him honor. (chapter 10)
The Abravanel draws a connection between Israel's first journey from the foot of Mount Sinai and their first journey when entering the land, noting that in both cases the ark went before the people of Israel. Interestingly, the Abravanel gives different explanations for the two journeys: When Israel journeyed from Mount Sinai, the ark went out before the camp like a king who goes out before his people after his coronation, whereas when Israel embarked upon their last journey in the wilderness, the ark went out before the camp like a person who accompanies his friend when he leaves or enters the city in order to show him honor.
It might be suggested that also at the later journey, when Israel entered into the land, the ark went before the people like a king who sets out before his people heading for conquest. As it were, God accompanies the people of Israel as they leave the wilderness and enter the land. This is a different reason for the location of the ark.
Another point that characterizes the manner in which Israel went forward as they entered the land is the distance that was maintained between the ark and Israel. The verses state that a distance of 2,000 cubits had to be maintained between the ark and the people of Israel. This is as opposed to Israel's journey when they left Mount Sinai, when the ark went before them three days' journey and was not seen by them. Here we are dealing with a distance at which the ark could be seen by the people of Israel and it could lead them.
Beyond this argument, on the plain level of Scripture, there is no explanation for this distance. Midrash Tanchuma, however, explains this point in another way:
On what Scriptural verse did the Sages base [the matter of 2,000 cubits for techum Shabbat]? As it is stated: "And you shall measure from outside the city on the east side two thousand cubits" (Bamidbar 38:5). And similarly you find with Yehoshua that when he went to destroy Jericho, Yehoshua said to Israel: You will be there and observe Shabbat [there]. If you distance yourselves from the ark, do not distance yourselves more than two thousand cubits in any direction. Why? So that you be permitted to come and pray before the ark on Shabbat. And similarly it says: "Yet there shall be a space between you and it, about two thousand cubits by measure" (Yehoshua 3:4). (Tanchuma, Bamidbar 9)
The Revelation of the Angel of the Lord in Jericho
The gemara in Eiruvin discusses a matter relevant to our discussion:
For R. Abba bar Pappa said: Yehoshua was punished for no other sin than that of preventing Israel for one night from the duty of procreation, as it is stated: "And it came to pass, when Yehoshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked" (Yehoshua 5:13). And this is followed by: "And he said, ‘Nay, but I am captain of the host of the Lord, I am now come’" (ibid. v. 14). He said to him: Last evening you omitted to offer up the daily evening sacrifice and now you are neglecting the study of the Torah. [The other asked:] On account of which offense did you come? He said: “I am now come.” Immediately, "Yehoshua went that night into the midst of the vale [emek]" (ibid. 8:13). And as R. Yochanan said: This teaches that he entered into the profundities [omek] of the Halakhah. And we have a tradition that so long as the ark and the Shekhina are not settled in their appointed place, marital relations are forbidden. (Eiruvin 63b)
The gemara's assumption is that the revelation of the angel indicates punishment. What emerges is that the people of Israel lay in siege of the city of Jericho for no need, as they did not wage war at night, and this led to neglect of the daily evening offering and to neglect of Torah study. It is also clarified that the angel came because of the neglect of Torah study, and that Yehoshua repaired this sin at the battle of Ay by spending the night in the profundities of Halakha. Since the siege continued into the night, the ark which had gone out to war with them was not returned to the Mishkan in Gilgal, but rather stayed with them in the siege of Jericho. This situation caused the people of Israel to neglect the mitzva of procreation. This is all in light of the gemara's assertion that as long as the ark and the Shekhina are not settled in their appointed place, marital relations are forbidden. For this reason, Yehoshua was punished and did not have any children.
The Role of the ark in the conquest of Jericho
During the encirclement of the city of Jericho, seven priests were commanded to bear seven shofarot of rams' horns before the ark, and the front guard passed before the ark of God. The order was as follows: The front guard went before the priests, who blew the shofarot, the ark of the covenant followed after them, and the rear guard went after the ark, the priests going on and blowing the shofarot. In this way they went around the city for six days, and on the seventh day they went around the city seven times.
It is clear that the ark played a significant part in the battle and in the encirclement of the city for seven days. Apparently, this was the first fulfillment of what is stated in the Torah:
And it came to pass, when the ark set forward, that Moshe said, “Rise up, Lord, and let Your enemies be scattered; and let those who hate You flee before You.” And when it rested, he said, “Return, Lord, to the ten thousand thousands of Israel.” (Bamidbar 10:35-36)
The ark, which gives expression to the presence of the Shekhina in the camp of Israel, is a significant component in the miraculous conquest of Jericho - "The Lord will fight for you and you will hold your peace."
In this context, the Malbim notes the place of the ark:
"Pass on" (Yehoshua 6:7) – Because the ark had always gone before the people, and now they were commanded that the people should go before the ark. Therefore, it says: "Pass on before the ark." Until now the front guard composed of the children of Reuven and the children of Gad went before [the rest of] Israel. But now the order was reversed, so that the most important was at the end. The ark went, and before it was the front guard, and before them the entire people. This is what it says: "And the front guard will pass before the ark of the Lord," and be between the people and the ark. Since it would have been possible for the people to stand in their place, and for the front guard to move behind them so that they follow the people, and afterwards the ark would go back behind the front guard, but this would not have been respectful to the ark. [Therefore,] He commanded that the ark and the front guard behind it should stand in their place, and that first the people should pass ahead, until they are in the front, and then afterwards the front guard should pass and stand between the people and the ark, so that the ark is at the end. The reason for this order was to show that the victory will come about by way of the ark, and it was necessary that the front guard should be near it, like the Kereti and the Peleti camp around the general. Also because there was such a stipulation: "And all of you shall go armed before the Lord to war."… For at first the stipulation that Moshe had made with them was that they should go first before God, because he thought that the war would be entirely by way of a miracle. Then they would not have gone before the people of Israel, but only before the ark, which fights and conquers. But afterwards he saw that the war would be closer to nature and in the manner of conquest, and so it was necessary that they go before the people of Israel, they being the warriors and conquerors. But at the battle of Jericho, where the conquest was by miracle, there was a fulfillment of the verse: "And all of you shall go armed before the Lord." They did not go before the people of Israel, but only before the Lord.
Let us clarify what the Malbim says about the location of the ark. Until the stage of entry into the land, the children of Gad and the children of Reuven went before the children of Israel:
And the children of Reuven, and the children of Gad, and half the tribe of Menashe, passed over armed before the children of Israel, as Moshe spoke to them. (Yehoshua 4:12).
At the first stage of the entry into the land, the ark went before the people:
And they commanded the people, saying, “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the priests the Levites bearing it, then you shall remove from your place, and go after it, yet there shall be a space between you and it, about two thousand cubits by measure; come not near to it; that you may know the way by which you must go: for you have not passed this way heretofore.” (ibid. 3:3-4)
The ark went before the camp and led the people of Israel as they entered the land; it was found two thousand cubits ahead of the people.
Now, for the conquest of Jericho, the order was reversed, so that the most important element would be at the end. Therefore, the front guard was before the ark, and before them went the entire people. The front guard was thus between the people and the ark. The order was changed to emphasize that it is the ark that will bring about the victory, and the front guard must be near it.
Moshe had initially stipulated with the tribes of Gad and Reuven that they were to go armed before the Lord because he had thought that the war would be entirely miraculous. In that case, they would not have gone before the people of Israel, but before the ark, which is the warrior and conqueror. But then he saw that the war would be fought by way of nature and conquest, and so it was necessary that they go before the people of Israel, who are the warriors and conquerors.
However, at the battle of Jericho, which was won by way of a miracle, the front guard went before God, but not before the people of Israel. It turns out that the location of the ark and the relationship of the front guard to it was a direct result of the miraculous nature of the war, and of the fact that the victory was achieved by way of the ark.
The Abravanel also relates to the location of the ark at the conquest of Jericho:
"Pass on and compass the city, and let the front guard pass on before the ark." Without a doubt, God only commanded that the men of war should compass the city, but Yehoshua set apart from them the front guard, namely, the children of Reuven and the children of Gad and half the tribe of Menashe, that they should pass on before the priests. And this was so that if anyone should come out of the city to strike them, the front guard would rescue them. And after them went the priests with the shofarot, and behind them was the ark, and behind it was the rear guard, namely, the rest of the men of war encompassing [the city], as they too were after the ark, in order to guard the backs of those encompassing the city. Thus the front guard, went ahead of them, and the men of war were behind, and the ark was in the middle. Targum Yonatan renders "rear guard" as the tribe of Dan, which gathered up all the camps. (Yehoshua 6:7)
The Abravanel also addresses the order and location of the front guard which was there to contend with the enemy; they were followed by the priests, the ark and the rear guard to protect them from behind. Thus, the front guard went first, the men of war were at the end, and the ark was in the middle.
As for the significance of the presence of the ark, the Abravanel adds:
Now God chose this because Jericho was the first city to which they came after crossing the Jordan, and He wanted that just as the kings and the peoples all heard of the miracle that was performed for [Israel] in the Jordan River, so they should hear of the miracle that will be performed for them in the land in that first city, so that they should know and recognize that God fights for Israel, not with sword or spear, but from His place of dwelling, and that they should understand that through the Torah and the ark of the covenant in their midst they will conquer all the nations, and then dread and fear shall fall upon them, until the people of God pass. (ibid. 6:5)
The ark participates in the battle so that the kings and peoples should know and recognize that God fights on Israel's behalf not with a sword or a spear, but from his dwelling place on high, and that they should understand that it is through the Torah and the ark that Israel will defeat all the nations.
The Assembly of all of Israel convened by Yehoshua in SheKhem
Yehoshua assembled the entire nation in Shekhem, as it is stated:
And Yehoshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shekhem, and called for the elders of Israel, and for their heads, and for their judges, and for their officers, and they presented themselves before God, (Yehoshua 24:1)
The Radak explains (ad loc.):
"And they presented themselves before God." It would appear that they brought the ark of the Lord there in order to make a covenant before the ark, as it is stated: "And Yehoshua wrote [these words] in the book of the Torah of God" (ibid. v. 26). It seems that the ark containing the book of the Torah was there, and Yehoshua assembled them in Shekhem, and not in Shilo where the ark was. But he made the covenant in Shekhem at God's command, because it was there that Avraham first stayed when he entered the land, as it is written: "And Avram passed through the land to the place of Shekhem" (Bereishit 12:6). And also because there a great miracle was performed for Yaakov our father, and they should remember it and cleave to God alone. And also because the first inheritance that Yaakov had in the land of Israel was in Shekhem, for he bought a piece of land from the children of Chamor, father of Shekhem. And it was there that Yehoshua said to them: "Put away the strange gods which are among you" (Yehoshua 24:23), just as Yaakov had said to his children in Shekhem: "Put away the strange gods that are among you" (Bereishit 35:2).
The Radak relates to two points:
1) A covenant should be made before the ark, because the ark expresses the presence of God among the people of Israel. And indeed we read at the end of the chapter:
So Yehoshua made a covenant with the people that day and set them a statute and an ordinance in Shekhem. And Yehoshua wrote these words in the book of the Torah of God, and took a great stone, and set it up there under the oak that was by the sanctuary of the Lord. (ibid. 25-26)
We have here the making of a covenant, a statute and an ordinance, the writing of the words of the Torah, and the sanctuary of the Lord. The Abravanel explains in his commentary (ad loc.) that the "sanctuary of the Lord" refers to Shekhem, where the ark was currently found, and therefore at least temporarily it was called a "sanctuary of the Lord." According to this, the ark should be removed from the Mishkan for the purpose of making a covenant.
2) The Radak attempts to explain why the covenant was made specifically in Shekhem and why it was worthwhile to bring the ark there. The essence of his argument is that the city had great significance for Avraham, it being his first stop in the land of Israel, and also for Yaakov, as the beginning of his inheritance was in Shekhem. It was in Shekhem that both Yaakov and Yehoshua removed the strange gods from among the people, these acts exemplifying the principle that the actions of the fathers are a sign for the children. In a certain sense, Yehoshua fully actualized what Avraham and Yaakov had started to do in Shekhem.
(Translated by David Strauss)
 It should be noted that it is possible that Scripture also alludes to the ark's presence at the assembly of the entire people convened by Yehoshua in Shechem at the end of the book.
 According to Rashi, who maintains that there were two arks, the ark fashioned by Betzalel went with the Mishkan in the middle of the camp and the ark made by Moshe containing the whole tablets and the broken tablets went before the camp.
 Rashi (Yehoshua 3:3), however, understands that during Israel's journeys in the wilderness, the ark travelled in the middle of the camp, behind two standards. We shall relate to his position later in the shiur.
 R. Avraham Remer discusses the significance of the covenant in his book Me-Avur Ha-Aretz, Sefer Yehoshua (Jerusalem, 5755), 34-36. The definition of the convenant as a "connection for life" is his.
 According to Rashi, it was only on the first journey in the wilderness from the foot of Mount Sinai that the ark went ahead three days' journey in front of the people of Israel, whereas for the later journeys, the ark returned to the heart of the camp and followed the two standards.
 It may be asked why there was no need for distancing when Israel journeyed in the wilderness and the ark was in the middle of the camp, but when they journeyed in the land of Israel, it was necessary to distance the people out of respect for the ark. It is possible that in the wilderness, where Israel's whole governance was miraculous, there was no need for distancing, but once they entered the land, their governance was earthly, and as such it became necessary to distance themselves from the ark as a show of respect.
 Another explanation for the location of ark in this journey is brought by the Maharsha: "Every day, the ark journeyed after two standards, and today it went forward first. As long as Israel was outside the Land of Israel, in impure land, the Shekhina dwelled only among the people of Israel, between the standards, as is explained. But when they entered the Holy Land, the Shekhina went first two thousand cubits before them, indicating that He is the God of that land…" (Maharsha, Sota 33b). It should be noted that the Maharsha does not relate to the contradiction in the Scriptural verses regarding the location of the ark. In the shiur mentioned in note 3, we related to this contradiction and cited several resolutions offered by the Rishonim.
 Earlier, the gemara brought the view of R. Levi, according to which Yehoshua had expressed his opinion before Moshe that Eldad and Meidad should be imprisoned. Thus, he was considered as having issued a halakhic ruling in the presence of his teacher, and for this he was punished and denied children.