LECTURE 171: THE SPIRITUAL MEANING OF THE ABSENCE OF THE ARK FROM THE TEMPLE AT THE END OF THE FIRST TEMPLE PERIOD AND WHY THE ARK WAS NOT RETURNED TO THE TEMPLE DURING THE SECOND TEMPLE PERIOD

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy

The Absence of the Ark from theTemple from the Days of Menashe and until the Destruction

 

            After the ark was hidden away in the days of Menashe and Yoshiyahu, as was discussed in the previous shiur, the Temple continued to stand without the ark, the kaporet,and the keruvim. From the days of Yoshiyahu and until the end of the First Temple period, the primary chamber of the Temple – the Holy of Holies – stood empty, as the ark, the kaporet, and the keruvim had been hidden away.[1] What is the spiritual meaning of a Temple without an ark? I wish here to explore the relationship between the walls of the house – the Temple – and its contents – the resting of the Shekhina inside.

 

A simple calculation indicates that 54 years passed from the death of Menashe until the destruction of the Temple. During this entire period, the sacrificial service continued in the Temple without the Shekhina resting within its walls.

 

            This seems to be precisely the way the situation was understood by Chazal in the following midrash:

 

When Yirmiyahu left Jerusalem, an angel descended from heaven and set his feet on the walls of Jerusalem and breached them. He called out and said: Let the enemies come and enter the house in which our Lord is no longer present, and let them loot it, and destroy it, and enter the vineyard that the guard has left and abandoned, and cut its vines. Do not praise yourselves and say that you conquered it, as it was a conquered city that you conquered, a dead nation that you killed, a burnt house that you burnt. (Pesikta Rabba 26)

 

            My argument is that this was the state of the house of God from the days of Menashe until the destruction of the Temple. Midrash Eikha Rabba offers a similar description:

 

At that time the accuser jumped before the Throne of Glory and said: Master of the Universe, shall this wicked one boast and say: I destroyed God's house and burnt His Temple? If so, let a fire descend from above and burn it immediately. What is the meaning of the verse: "From above He has sent fire into my bones" (Eikha 1:13)? R. Yehoshua said: This is what the prophet chided and said: "Take the millstones, and grind flour" (Yeshayahu 47:2). Surely everyone grinds grain, and yet you say grind flour! Rather, Jerusalem said to the daughter of Babylon: Were it not that they waged war against me from above, you could not fight against me. Were it not that they cast fire upon me from above, you could not do so. Rather, you killed a dead lion; you ground ground flour; you lit a burning fire. Therefore, it says: "From above He has sent fire into my bones, and it prevails against them." (1:41)

 

            Both of these midrashim include the idea that Israel's enemies should not praise themselves that they conquered Jerusalem and that the wicked one should not boast the he burnt and destroyed the Temple. But in addition to this point, we have here a description of a building that is void of its inner contents; all that is left are its external walls. Thus, the destruction came not from the enemies, but from the inside, from the people of Israel themselves.

 

            R. Chayyim of Volozhin, author of Nefesh ha-Chayyim, notes:

 

Chazal said: "And I shall dwell among them" (Shemot 25:8) – it does not say "in it," but rather "among them"… The righteous, through their favorable actions, constitute the real Temple of God. In this way, we should understand the verse: "And let them make Me a sanctuary… according to all that I show you… so shall you make it" (ibid. vv. 8-9). And Chazal have expounded (Sanhedrin 46): So shall you make it, for future generations.

According to our approach, it may also be suggested that this means: Do not think that my ultimate goal is the building of an external Temple. Rather, you should know that my entire intention with respect to the Mishkan and all the vessels is solely to allude to you that you should see it and fashion yourselves in the same way, that you with your favorable actions should be like the pattern of the Mishkan and its vessels, all of them holy, worthy, and ready for the resting of His Shekhina among you. This is: "And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them"… My ultimate goal is that you should fashion yourselves in the same way… Therefore, when the innermost aspects of the sanctuary inside them sinned, the external sanctuary did not help and its foundations were destroyed. (Note in sha'ar 1, chap. 4)

 

            Like the aforementioned midrash, R. Chayyim of Volozhin also distinguishes between the innermost aspects of the Temple and its external aspects. The underlying assumption is that when the innermost aspects of the Temple are in order, then the house – the framework of walls – stands, and the opposite is true when the innermost aspects are not in order. It is possible for there to be a situation in which there are only walls, without the resting of the Shekhina, for a certain period of time, after which the Temple is destroyed. On the deeper level, then, Israel is God's Temple, and the resting of the Shekhina is among them, in the plainest sense.

 

            The external reality of the Temple and its walls has no independent existence. Rather it reflects the internal reality. There was an intermediate stage in anticipation of the destruction of the Temple, in which the walls stood, but they were void of inner content. This is a situation that cannot continue for an extended period of time. This is the situation of pre-destruction, and this was the situation in the days of Menashe, when the decree was issued, although it was only actualized in the days of Tzidkiyahu.

 

            There is no explicit discussion of the meaning of this time period. Was the purpose of this time to give the people of Israel an opportunity to repent, or was this a period of preparation for a reality in which there is no Temple?

 

            Whichever way we understand this, the destruction related to the contents, the inner aspects, and not to the external destruction of the walls, which was merely the end of the entire process. Yoshiyahumade the last attempt to repair Israel's sins, but in the end he failed, especially because of the sins of Menashe, and the destruction of the Temple was thus unavoidable.

 

Why was the ark not returned to the temple during the second Temple Period?

 

            The Second Temple, from the time of its erection in the days of Zerubavel ben She'altiel and Yehoshua ben Yehotzadak and until its destruction at the hands of Titus in 70 CE, was a Temple without an ark. Even during those times when the Temple was exceedingly magnificent, its innermost and holiest chamber was absolutely empty, so that when the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, he would leave the pan and the shovel on the even ha-shetiya itself. Why was the ark not returned to the Temple during this entire period?

 

            This question becomes stronger in light of the prophecies of Chaggai and Zekharya in the generation of the building of the Second Temple: "The glory of this latter house shall be greater than that of the former, says the Lord of hosts" (Chaggai 2:9). How is possible for the glory of the Second Temple to be greater than that of the first if it lacks the ark?

 

            Moreover, the gemara in Zevachim states:

 

R. Yochanan said: Three prophets went up with them from the exile: one testified to them about [the dimensions of] the altar; another testified to them about the site of the altar; and the third testified to them that they could sacrifice even though there was no Temple. (Zevachim 62a)

 

Would it not have been possible for one of the prophets to testify to them about the location of the ark?

 

            It seems, therefore, that it was not by chance that the ark was not returned. Rather, the ark was intentionally left hidden away. There are a number of possible reasons for this assumption:

 

1) Any change in the status quo requires a prophetic command, and no such command was issued.

 

2) It is reasonable to assume that the spiritual situation of that generation did not allow for the return of the ark.

 

3) The gemara does not directly address the issue of the return of the ark, but rather it deals with the question of why the Shekhina did not return to the Temple. Can the absence of the Shekhina be identified with the absence of the ark? The gemara in Yoma states:

 

In five things the First Temple differed from the Second: in the ark, the kaporet, the keruvim, the fire, the Shekhina, the holy spirit [of prophecy], and the Urim and Tummim. (Yoma 21b)

 

The gemara counts the Shekhina separately from the ark, the kaporet, and the keruvim. (Rashi, ad loc., does not explain what is meant by the Shekhina. The holy spirit did not rest on prophets since the second year of Darius's rule.)

 

            The gemara (Yoma 9b) presents possible reasons for the absence of the Shekhina.[2] According to Reish Lakish, the reason is that the people did not all “go up as a wall.” The resting of the Shekhina depends upon the majority of the people of people living in their land. (This is also the opinion of R. Yehuda Halevi in his Kuzari, II, 24). The Maharsha understands that the removal of “the resting of the Shekhina” refers to the removal of prophecy, whereas the Malbim speaks of full repentance and the fact that returning to the land of Israel constitutes full repentance. Rabbeinu Bachye argues that the Shekhina did not rest in the Second Temple as frequently as it did in the First Temple.

 

            R. Kook understands the words of Reish Lakish as referring not only to quantity, but also to quality. According to him, what he means is that the power of the nation of Israel became the power of individuals – personal service of God, personal fulfillment of mitzvot, and personal morality – and this type of power does not enable the return of the Shekhina.

 

            According to R. Yochanan, the Shekhina did not rest in the Second Temple because the Second Temple was built under the auspices of the Persian government, as it is written: "God shall enlarge Yefet, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem" (Bereishit 9:26). The Temple must represent the people of Israel by themselves in their relationship with God, and not in partnership or association with any other nation. The Rambam explains this idea in his Commentary to the Mishna (Middot 1:3), where he states that fear of and subjugation to a foreign power totally contradict the essence of the Temple, which expresses the exclusive and absolute kingdom of God. It is even possible to argue that in a situation in which Israel is subject to some other nation, the concern about the ark being taken into captivity is still fully valid.

 

The author of Sefer Ha-Ikkarim, R. Yosef Albo, draws a connection between prophecy and the resting of the Shekhina in general and the ark. He writes:

 

My opinion is that this is the reason why prophecy existed among the people of Israel in the land of Palestine and not among other nations in other lands. The Shekhina rested upon the ark and the tables of stone, and from these it was reflected like a ray of sunlight, and the prophetic spirit then rested upon a person who had in him a certain preparation analogous to the contents of the ark – that is, a person who really had the ideas of the Torah, which are written upon the tables of the covenant. We find this illustrated in the prophecy of Shemuel. He lay in his chamber and the prophetic voice came to him from above the kaporet which was upon the ark that was then in Shilo. Shmuel himself did not know who called him, for he did not think that he was worthy of the prophetic gift, that he should hear a voice in the waking spirit in a prophetic vision. Therefore, he rose from his bed and went to Eli, until Eli understood, as we read: "And Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the child."

An inspiration of this kind, which comes in this way without the mediation of a prophet, requires preparation of the recipient – that is, the recipient must be himself prepared to a certain extent. Divine inspiration of this nature comes only when the recipient has a certain degree of preparation, and upon this is dependent the degree of inspiration which comes to him. The prophetic inspiration, however, comes also to a person who is not worthy of prophecy, as it came to all Israel at the time of the Sinaitic revelation; or it comes to one who is not prepared for it, as it came to Aharon and Miriam through the mediation of Moshe… It is worth noting that when the prophetic spirit comes through the mediation of a prophet upon a person who is not worthy of or who is not prepared, the recipient is able to pass it to another only when the nation has in its midst the ark and the tables. Moreover, after the ark disappeared, the unprepared could not attain prophetic inspiration even through a prophet. This is why Baruch, the son of Neriya, did not receive the prophetic gift through Yirmiyahu, because he was not prepared for it, and the ark had been hidden. Prophetic inspiration did come to Chaggai, Zecharya, and Malachi, because they saw Yirmiyahu and Yechezkel and were more prepared for it than Baruch. But it did not reach others through them, because the ark was not there and the inspiration they received was not sufficient to pass from them to others, since there was no ark. The proof of this is that there was no prophecy during the Second Temple, although there were at that time pious men and men of good works more worthy of prophetic inspiration than the men of the First Temple. The reason was because they did not have the ark. (Sefer ha-Ikkarim, III, end of chap. 11)

 

            The author of the Ikkarim makes prophecy dependent upon the existence of the ark and the tablets and the resting of the Shekhina upon them. Of course, human preparation is also necessary, but without the ark and the tablets, prophecy is impossible. Therefore, even though there were people in the Second Temple period who were more worthy of prophecy than the people in the First Temple period, since there was no ark in the later period, there was also no prophecy. Chaggai, Zekharya and Malachi achieved prophecy because they had seen Yirmiyahu and Yechezkel, but in the absence of the ark, they were unable to pass it to others.

 

            This idea of R. Yosef Albo is absolutely novel. Although it does say in several places that God reveals Himself from between the two keruvim that rested upon the ark, and we also read about Shemuel, as he notes, that God revealed Himself to him for the first time from there, nowhere do we find it stated explicitly that the resting of the Shekhina or prophecy is conditioned upon the presence of the ark.

 

            Both the Maharal and the Minchat Chinukh relate to the question of why a new ark was not made for the Second Temple.      The Maharal writes in his Gur Aryeh:

 

In my opinion, an important idea may be learned – that the testimony is indispensible for the ark. For had it not been written, I might have said that if there is no testimony, there is [still] an ark, for regarding the choshen it is also written: "You shall put in the choshen of judgment the urim and the tumim" (Shemot 28:30), and nevertheless, in the Second Temple, even if there is no urim, there is a choshen (Rashi, ad loc.). Here too, then, even though there are no tablets, an ark should be made in honor of the Shekhina. For this reason, it says further: "And you shall put the testimony into the ark" (Shemot 25:16). Scripture repeats it to make it indispensible, so that there should be no ark, if there is no testimony. And in the Second Temple, where there was no testimony, therefore they did not make an ark. (Teruma, s.v. lo yadati)

 

            The Minchat Chinukh states:

 

The main reason for making the ark was so that the tablets should rest inside it… In the First Temple, after the ark was hidden away together with the tablets in the days of King Yoshiya, they did not build another ark. And in the Second Temple period, there was no ark, for what need was there for an ark? Since the tablets were hidden away, there was no mitzva to fashion an ark, and an ark is not indispensible… But after the tablets were hidden away and would not be seen again until the arrival of the Redeemer, may he come speedily in our days, they never made another ark apart from that which Moshe fashioned in the wilderness. And when the Redeemer arrives speedily in our days, the tablets and the ark will be revealed. If so, it is not necessary to write the laws governing the ark. (Commandment 95)

 

            Similarly, the Ramban writes in his strictures to the Rambam's Sefer Ha-Mitzvot:

 

The fashioning of the ark and the kaporet to place the testimony inside should be counted as a separate mitzva, for if we could imagine, God forbid, that it should become lost or broken, there is a mitzva to fashion it according to its initial dimension to place inside it the tablets of the testimony. (Positive commandment 93)

 

            According to this view, the whole purpose of the ark was to contain the tablets of testimony. Therefore, there is no reason to prepare an ark if there are no tablets. This answer accords with the opinion of R. Eliezer and R. Shimon bar Yochai that the ark was taken to Babylonia. According to the opinion of R. Yehuda ben Lakish and the Sages that the ark was hidden away in the Temple, and especially according to the mishna in Shekalim stating that the place where the ark had been hidden away was well-known, the question may be raised: Why was the ark not taken out on the instructions of Chaggai, Zekharya, and Malachi?

 

            Even though there is no explicit source for this, it stands to reason that the prophets understood that the ark should not be returned through a human initiative, but that such a step requires Divine revelation. According to the gemara (Zevachim 62a), these prophets testified about the altar and its location and about the fact that sacrifices may be offered even in the absence of the Temple. Why did they not relate at all to the ark? Surely it was Chaggai and Zekharya who encouraged the people to go ahead and build the Temple, promising them how great the Second Temple would be and about the renewed selection of Jerusalem and the resting of the Shekhina in it. Why then did they not take action to complete the building and ensure a full resting of the Shekhina by renewing the ark? It seems that the fact that they did not do this attests that they understood that the restoration of the ark itself depends on the resting of the Shekhina from above, rather than on human action.

 

            The opposite way of understanding the position of the prophets who prophesied at the beginning of the Second Temple period follows perhaps from the prophecy of Yirmiyahu, according to which the entire city of Jerusalem would eventually turn into God's throne and there will no longer be any need for an ark:

 

And it shall come to pass, when you multiply and increase in the land, in those days, says the Lord,, they shall say no more, “The ark of the covenant of the Lord,” nor shall it come to mind, nor shall they remember it, nor shall they miss it, nor shall that be done anymore. At that time, they shall call Jerusalem the throne of the Lord; and all the nations shall be gathered to it, to the name of the Lord, to Jerusalem; nor shall they walk any more after the stubbornness of their evil heart. (Yirmiyahu 3:16-17)[3]

 

It is possible that the prophets at the time of the return to Zion understood that this prophecy would be fulfilled during the Second Temple period (something which accords with the grand visions of Chaggai and Zekharya to the members of their generation), and therefore there was no longer any need for the ark.

 

The meaning of a Temple without an ark

 

            The question may be raised: Surely the ark is a most important and essential vessel in the Temple. What is the nature of the Temple when its innermost chamber is absolutely empty?

 

            At the very beginning of this series of shiurim about the Mikdash, we showed that the Temple has two primary functions: The first is to serve as the site of the resting of the Shekhina, which represents, as it were, God's house; and the second is to serve as the place where man comes to God to worship Him in His own house.

 

            The Second Temple served primarily as the site of the sacrificial service. The standing of the Temple followed primarily from the standing of the people of Israel who came to the Temple to serve in God's house. The Shela and the Maharal note this point when they come to explain the difference between the two Temples. In this context, they demonstrate how the reasons that brought for the destruction of each of the Temples are connected to the essences of the two Temples.

 

            The Shela writes:

 

The Second Temple was destroyed on account of the sin of baseless hatred, and owing to our many sins, we still have not cleansed ourselves of this sin. For this reason, the son of Yishai has not yet come. What follows from this is that the First Temple was destroyed because of sins between man and God, i.e., because of idolatry, this being the opposite of: "And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul." And the Second Temple was destroyed because of sins between man and his fellow, i.e., baseless hatred, which is the opposite of: "And you shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Hilkhot Ta'anit 57a)

 

            The First Temple was destroyed because of sins between man and God, including idolatry, which is the opposite of loving God; the Second Temple was destroyed because of sins between man and his fellow, such as baseless hatred, which is the opposite of loving one's fellow man. The First Temple is connected to the resting of the Shekhina – the direct connection between the people of Israel and God. Therefore, the sins that brought to its destruction are sins that cause a disruption of this connection and the cessation of the resting of the Shekhina. The Second Temple is connected to loving your neighbor, and therefore it was baseless hatred and social separation that brought about its destruction and Israel's being exiled among the nations of the world.

 

            The Maharal adopts a similar approach. According to his formulation, the three sins that led to the destruction of the First Temple fall into the category of impurity. Since the essence of the First Temple was the resting of the Shekhina, it was impurity that led to the Shekhina's departure. In the Second Temple, on the other hand, there was no resting of the Shekhina, and its essence was the people of Israel – Israel's unification through the Temple. For this reason, the Second Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred, which divided Israel.

 

You might ask: Why was the First Temple destroyed because of these three transgressions, whereas the Second Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred? You cannot say that this was by chance. And furthermore, these three transgressions, i.e., idolatry, illicit sexual relations, and murder, have a common denominator, in that the three are governed by the rule that one must submit to being killed rather than transgress them. Why were these three connected to the destruction? The simple explanation is that the Shekhina rested among them in the First Temple, this being the significance of the First Temple. Therefore, its destruction came when it was no longer fitting that the Shekhina should rest among them, i.e., when they defiled the Temple, as God does not rest among them when they are impure, unless the sin was unintentional… Therefore, the Temple was destroyed because of these three sins. But the Shekhina did not rest in the Second Temple as it had rested in the First Temple, and therefore the Second Temple was not destroyed because of these three sins. But the significance of the Second Temple was because of the people of Israel themselves. It is clear that the people of Israel became united through the Temple, as they had one priest and one altar and bamot were prohibited, and there was no division in Israel. This is explained in this and in the next chapter. Therefore, they were one nation through the Temple, and for this reason, the Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred, when they and their hearts were divided, and they were no longer deserving of the Temple which expresses the unity of Israel. This is the simple explanation. (Netzach Yisrael, chap. 4)

 

            The common denominator between all these explanations is the assumption that the reasons for and consequence of the destruction of each Temple are connected to the essence of that Temple. The essence of the First Temple was the resting of the Shekhina, and for that reason, it was destroyed on account of idolatry, which cancelled the love of God and the resting of the Shekhina. Owing to its destruction, prophecy came to an end, as it too is a means for the resting of the Shekhina. The essence of the Second Temple was the people of Israel, and for that reason it was destroyed on account of baseless hatred, and in the wake of its destruction came exile and division.

 

            According to this understanding, since the Second Temple served primarily as the site of Israel's service of God, the essence of the Temple was the people of Israel, and therefore it was destroyed because of the sin of baseless hatred, which cancelled the very essence of the Temple.

 

(Translated by David Strauss)

 



[1] It should be remembered that hidden away along with the ark were other items that had rested together with it in the Holy of Holies, as stated in the gemara in Horayot 12a: "At the time when the holy ark was hidden away, there were also hidden the anointing oil, the jar of manna, Aharon's rod with its almonds and blossoms, and the coffer which the Philistines had sent to Israel as a gift."

[2] We dealt with this issue at length in the shiur dealing with the question why the Shekhina did not rest in the Second Temple.

[3] This might also explain the fact that the ark is not mentioned in the chapters dealing with the Temple in the book of Yechezkel.