Yesterday, we noted the theory proposed by Tosefot in Masekhet Yoma (72a) that two sets of poles were constructed and placed alongside the aron (ark). Whereas the conventional understanding is that there was one pole on either side of the ark, with which the Leviyim transported it through the wilderness, Tosefot raise the possibility that there were in fact two poles on either side. Of course, this theory gives rise to the question of why two sets of poles were necessary.
A novel, clever suggestion to explain this position is offered by Rav Aryeh Zilber, in his work Az Yashir (Parashat Teruma), where he notes the controversy surrounding the location of the poles. Rashi (25:12) writes that the transport poles were affixed near the top of the ark, as stated explicitly by the Gemara in Masekhet Shabbat (92), which comments that the poles were situated one-third the way down the ark, a position which made transporting the ark the most comfortable. The Ramban, however, disagreed, arguing that it would be disrespectful for the majority of the ark to be underneath the Leviyim who carried it. According to the Ramban, the poles were affixed towards the bottom of the aron, such that the aron was elevated above the Leviyim during transport. A number of writers noted, however, that it would have been exceedingly difficult to carry the ark in this manner, as the weight of the entire aron would be essentially resting on the Leviyim’s shoulders.
Rav Zilber suggested that Tosefot’s comments in Masekhet Yoma allow for the possibility of accepting both views, and suggesting that there were two sets of poles: one near the top of the ark, and one along the bottom.
To explain why two sets of poles were needed, Rav Zilber draws our attention to the comments of the Tosafists elsewhere, in Da’at Zekeinim to Parashat Teruma (25:11), where they address the question of why God commanded constructing the ark from wood. Instead of making a wooden ark plated with gold, it would have, seemingly, been more appropriate for this sacred article to have been made entirely from gold. The Tosafists answer that a structure of this size made entirely from metal would have been too heavy carry. However, the Tosafists proceed to cite the Gemara’s famous comment in Masekhet Sota (35a) that the ark transported itself, supernaturally, and the Leviyim did not actually support its weight. This appears to undermine the Tosafists’ answer, as the aron could have been entirely gold, since the Leviyim in any event did not need to actually lift the ark. The Tosafists refute this challenge by claiming that this miracle was performed only on occasion, and not whenever the ark was transported. Although there were times when the ark traveled miraculously, at other times it needed to be physically carried by the Leviyim. Therefore, it could not have been made completely from gold.
If so, Rav Zilber suggests, then we can explain the need for two sets of poles alongside the ark. When the ark transported itself, in miraculous fashion, and the Leviyim only appeared to be carrying it, then they held the lower poles, such that the ark was displayed in a respectful, prominent manner above their shoulders, and in any event they were not actually carrying it. However, when the ark had to be actually supported by the Leviyim, they needed to carry it with the upper poles, even though this was less respectful, as most of the ark was situated underneath them.