The Torah in Parashat Teruma instructs that the aron, the most sacred article in the Mishkan, was to be made of acacia wood and plated with gold inside and out (25:10-11). The Da’at Zekeinim comments that seemingly, it would have been fitting for the aron to be made entirely from gold, given its special status of significance. However, God commanded to make it from wood, and only plated with gold, out of concern for the Leviyim who would be carrying the ark on their shoulders as Benei Yisrael journeyed through the wilderness. A metal structure would have been too heavy for them to carry, and so God instructed that the ark should be made from wood, instead.
The Da’at Zekeinim then questions this theory, however, noting the Gemara’s famous comment in Masekhet Sota (35a), “aron nosei et nos’av” – the aron did not need to be carried. The Gemara tells that the ark actually had the miraculous power to “carry” those who appeared to be carrying it, and did not need to be physically transported. While the precise meaning of this statement is not altogether clear, the Gemara here claims that the aron did not require the physical strength of those assigned to transport it, as it traveled in supernatural fashion. (Indeed, the context of the Gemara’s remark is the tragic story of Uza, who was killed for rushing to support the aron when it appeared to be falling, instead of trusting that the aron was capable of supporting itself.) As such, it seems difficult to posit that the ark was not made from metal in order not to overburden the Leviyim.
The Tolna Rebbe suggested a creative way of reconciling this theory with the notion of “aron nosei et nos’av.” Perhaps, he explained, God did not want the aron to seem too heavy to transport. Although the Leviyim did not actually have to carry the aron, as it carried itself, nevertheless, the very sight of a large metal chest which would have to be lifted and transported might have intimidated the Leviyim and discouraged them. The concern was not the practical issue of carrying a metal ark, but rather the deleterious emotional impact that such a sight would have upon the Leviyim.
The Tolna Rebbe applied the message of this concept to the area of education, and to religious life generally. Presenting a challenge that seems daunting and overbearing, even if in truth it isn’t, could have a negative effect upon a child or student, and even upon ourselves. We need to strike a delicate balance between embracing challenge, on the one hand, and on the other, avoiding commitments that are intimidating and thus discourage us from trying. If the burden appears too heavy bear, then even if it isn’t, the specter of lifting it causes despair and perhaps even resentment. God chose to forego on the standard of glory befitting the ark, the symbol of His presence among Benei Yisrael, in order to avoid discouraging the Leviyim. We, too, must try to avoid discouraging our children, our students and ourselves by making the burden of Torah appear too heavy to bear.