The Torah in Parashat Teruma commands that the two transport poles of the aron must permanently remain along the sides of the aron (“lo yasuru mimenu” – 25:15). The poles, as the Torah describes, were inserted through rings which were affixed to the four corners of the aron, and they were never to be removed from these rings.
Several commentators raised the question of how to reconcile this command with the Torah’s description in Sefer Bamidbar (4:14) of the procedure that was followed when preparing the Mishkan for travel. God instructs that when the time came to disembark, the Leviyim would cover the ark and then put the transport poles in place (“ve-samu badav” – Bamidbar 4:6). The clear implication of this command is that the transport poles were not normally attached to the sides of the aron, and they were put there only when the time came to travel – in direct contradistinction to the Torah’s explicit command here in Parashat Teruma.
Tosafot, in Masekhet Yoma (72a), answer this question by posing the bold theory that there were actually four transport poles, not two. According to Tosafot’s reading of the verses here in Parashat Teruma, there were eight rings affixed to the aron – four on each corner toward the top of the aron, and four along the corners near the bottom. Two poles were permanently stationed in four of the rings, and two other poles were placed in the other four rings when it was time to travel, and these poles were used to carry the aron.
While this theory easily answers the question of why the Torah speaks of the Leviyim placing the transport poles at the time of travel, it gives rise to the question as to what purpose the extra set of poles served. According to Tosafot, how might we understand the significance of the poles that were permanently stationed alongside the ark?
An insightful answer to this question was offered by Rav Zev Wolf Tannenbaum, in his Rechovot Ha-nahar. Rav Tannenbaum suggested that the extra set of poles symbolized the fact that just as Benei Yisrael – represented by the Leviyim – carried the aron, so were they carried by the aron. The Gemara (Sota 35) famously comments that the ark “carried its carriers,” symbolically expressing the fact that although we physically transported the ark, in truth, we are the ones who are elevated and “carried” by the aron, by the ideals that it represents. We carry the Torah with us, and as a result we ourselves are lifted and brought to the heights that we seek to achieve. These two simultaneous processes are symbolized by the two sets of poles. The lower poles were used by the Leviyim to carry the aron, while the upper poles expressed the notion that the ark carries us, as though we sit atop the ark as it travels and supports and elevates us. The poles used by the Leviyim needed to be in place only when the time came to travel, because as a practical matter, it was only then that the Leviyim carried the ark. The other poles, however, needed to be in place at all times, symbolizing the fact that we are always “carried” by the aron. We constantly receive the spiritual elevation provided by the Torah, and thus the poles were constantly affixed to the sides of the ark.
The lesson that emerges from this analysis, perhaps, is that we are affected and influenced by the Torah we study and practice at all times, even when we do not feel it. We often fail to recognize how Torah affects us, how the concepts we learn and acts that we perform impact and help shape our personalities. The permanent poles alongside the aron perhaps remind us that we are always being “lifted” by the Torah, even when we do not see this happening. If we do our part to “carry” the Torah with us and make it part of our lives, then we can rest assured that we, too, are being elevated and positively influenced by it, even if the effects of this influence are not yet discernible.