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Drawing Out the Poles During the First Temple (I)

Rav Yitzchak Levy
08.02.2016

 

 

 

Introduction

 

            In the past few shiurim, we have addressed the various understandings of the prohibition to remove the poles from the ark, as well as the practical and spiritual significance of the area between the poles. To complete this discussion, I wish to relate to the drawing out of the poles of the ark in the days of Shlomo.

 

            The First Temple constituted a very significant change in comparison to the Mishkan. This was reflected both in the fixing of a permanent site for God's sanctuary and in the changes in the structure itself (the addition of the ulam, the size of the sanctuary, the materials that were used, the addition of vessels and the addition of the keruvim in the Holy of Holies). Beyond the particular significance of each change in itself, the general trend is a transition from transience to permanence, which was reflected in the essence, the nature, and the revelation of the resting of God's Shekhina on Mount Moriya in the house of God in Jerusalem.

 

            In this context, I wish to relate in the coming two shiurim to the issue of the drawing out of the poles of the ark during the First Temple period. I will try to explain the phenomenon itself as well as its spiritual meaning.

 

The Drawing out of the poles

 

            The verses in the book of Melakhim describe how the ark of the covenant of the Lord was brought into the Holy of Holies in anticipation of the dedication of the house of God:

And the priests brought in the ark of the covenant of the Lord to its place, into the sanctuary of the house, to the most holy place, under the wings of the keruvim. For the keruvim spread out their wings over the place of the ark, and the keruvim covered the ark and its poles above. And they drew out the poles, so that the ends of the poles were seen from the holy place, before the Sanctuary, though they were not seen outside; and there they are to this day. There was nothing in the ark save the two tablets of stone, which Moshe put there at Chorev, when the Lord made a covenant with the children of Israel, when they came out of the land of Egypt. (I Melakhim 8:6-9)[1]

 

            The priests bring the ark to the Holy of Holies, where the keruvim fashioned by Shlomo are found as part of the structure of the Holy of Holies from wall to wall at a height of ten cubits. Shlomo's keruvim spread their wings over the place of the ark and cover the ark and its poles from above.

 

            Scripture creates a close relationship between the keruvim erected by Shlomo in the Holy of Holies and the ark and the keruvim now located below them. According to the plain sense of the verses, the Holy of Holies contains the ark, its poles, and the keruvim under the wings of the keruvim that were added by Shlomo.

 

            It is interesting to note that Scripture emphasizes the fact that the keruvim of Shlomo overspread the ark and its poles from above. The ark and the poles constitute a single entity, and explicit mention is made of the poles together with the ark (this also serves as an introduction to the next verse).

 

            Our primary interest lies in the next verse: It opens by noting that the poles of the ark were drawn out, the practical and spiritual significance of which must still be clarified. This is followed by a complex statement: On the one hand, "So that the ends of the poles were seen from the holy place, before the Sanctuary," while on the other hand, "they were not seen outside." Finally, it is noted that "there they are to this day."

 

            It is reasonable to assume that this drawing out is what caused the ends of the poles to be seen in the direction of the Sanctuary, towards the Holy of Holies. In addition, as opposed to the Holy of Holies in the Mishkan, the length of which was ten cubits, the Holy of Holies in the Mikdash was twenty cubits – double in size. When it says that the poles were drawn out, does this mean that they were enlarged to the dimensions of the Holy of Holies - that is, twenty cubits? Or did they remained their original size, as did the ark? We will now examine the words of the various commentators, and with their help try to understand the meaning of the drawing out of the poles on both the practical and conceptual level.

 

            We find in Baraita de-Melekhet ha-Mishkan:

 

From where do you say that as soon as they brought the ark in, they drew out the poles and they reached the parokhet and touched the door? As it is stated: "And they drew out the poles, so that the ends of the poles were seen from the holy place, before the Sanctuary." Therefore, the doors to the Holy of Holies were never locked. "Though they were not seen outside" – it cannot be said that they were not seen, for it already says that they were seen. And it cannot be said that they were seen, for it already says that they were not seen. How so? They jutted out against the parokhet and were seen in the Heikhal as the two breasts of a woman. And from were do we know that they drew them out from the inside? For it says: "They were not seen outside." We learn that they drew them out from the inside. And from where do we know that just as the poles were extended, so too the wings of the keruvim were extended so that they covered the ark and the poles from above? For it says: "And the keruvim covered the ark and its poles above." (chapter 7)

 

            The Baraita does not relate to the length of the poles. The assumption is that the drawing out of the poles brought them to the parokhet, and so the doors to the Holy of Holies were never locked so that they could be seen. The Baraita also states that the poles jutted out against the parokhet and appeared from the Heikhal like the two breasts of a woman.

 

            The gemara also relates to the issue raised by Baraita de-Melekhet ha-Mishkan and arrives at a similar conclusion:

 

R. Yehuda contrasted the following passages: It is written: "So that the ends of the poles were seen," and it is written: "They were not seen outside." How so? They could be seen, but not actually seen.

Thus also was it taught: "So that the ends of the poles were seen.” I might have thought that they did not move from their place. Therefore, the verse teaches: “And they drew out the poles.” I might have thought that they tore through the parokhet and issued forth. Therefore, the verse teaches: “They were not seen outside.” How so? They jutted out and pushed against the parokhet, and they appeared like the two breasts of a woman. As it is stated: “My beloved is unto me as a bag of myrrh that lies between my breasts." (Yoma 54a)

 

            Chazal's comparison of the poles protruding against the parokhet with the two breasts of a woman raises an  obvious question. Would there not have been a more modest way to describe the protrusion of the poles? Why use such a description to describe a site as holy as the interface between the Holy and the Holy of Holies?

 

            The following explanation may be proposed: A woman's breasts are used to nurse her infant. There may be an allusion here to the Holy of Holies' influence over the Holy; the Holy of Holies seeks, as it were, to influence and penetrate the Holy, and to a certain degree to bestow from the Holy of Holies upon the Holy.

 

            Furthermore, the image of a woman's breasts teaches that the Holy is nurtured by the Holy of Holies. The Holy of Holies is the source of Divine bounty and the resting of the Shekhina, and from there they spread towards the Holy.

 

            This point brings to mind the fact that the shetiya stone is the site from which the world was created. Some midrashim describe the site as the “navel” of the world, another image which intimates that the site draws its existence from the source of all life and bestows that life unto the entire world.

 

            Chazal turn our attention to the fact that the Holy of Holies is the site of the most intimate love between God and the people of Israel, the place where the keruvim are wrapped around each other like a male and female (Yoma 54a).[2]

 

            In all of these expositions, the Holy of Holies in general, and the space between the two keruvim in particular, are a site of mutual love and intimacy between God and the people of Israel. It is for this reason that Chazal make use of the image of a woman's breasts to describe the protrusion of the poles of the ark against the parokhet.[3]

 

            The Netziv suggests another understanding of the protrusion of the poles of the ark against the parokhet:

 

Now in the execution, it first says (Shemot 40:20): "And he set the poles on the ark," and afterwards: "And he brought the ark into the Mishkan." And we have already explained (ibid. 25:12) that the poles were set in such a way that they were like the two breasts of a woman. Now it would seem that he should first have brought in the ark and afterwards draw the poles out. Moreover, there is no mention in the command that the poles should be drawn out so that they should be like the two breasts of a woman. And while from the verses above (ibid.) it is clear that when the ark is at rest, the poles rest differently than when it is being carried, there is no hint there how they should rest differently. Perhaps just the opposite - the poles should be drawn out behind the ark so that the High Priest would be able to stand there with a lot of room at the time of the Yom Kippur service.

 

Note, however, should first be taken of what it says in Vayikra Rabba (1:15) that Moshe would enter the innermost chamber at any time. Now at first glance this is difficult. Granted that Moshe was not forbidden to enter there, as it was taught in Torat Kohanim, Parashat Acharei (Vayikra 16:2): "’Speak to Aharon your brother' – Aharon is governed by 'you shall not enter,' but Moshe is not governed by 'you shall not enter.'" Nevertheless, it says on the day that the Mishkan was erected: "And Moshe was not able to enter the Ohel Mo'ed, because the cloud rested on it" (Shemot 40:35). How, then, did he enter the Holy of Holies? Surely the cloud and the Shekhina were there all the days of Moshe! Rather the glory of God and the cloud only extended for the ten cubits of the Holy of Holies, but the parokhet was pushed beyond the ten cubits by way of the poles that protruded like the two breasts of a woman. And in the place of this protrusion there was no glory of God and Moshe our master would stand there. It turns out that the parokhet was not the barrier with respect to the Shekhina, but rather the boundary was ten cubits. But Aharon was forbidden to enter "within the parokhet," even in the area of the protrusion. The verse is precise when it says: "And the parokhet shall divide for you."

If so, that area of protrusion was of intermediate sanctity, more severe than the sanctity of the Heikhal but less severe than the sanctity of the ten cubits of the Holy of Holies. For this reason, Moshe could stand there. And this is what it says: "And the Holy of Holies." This is the "amma traksin" mentioned in Yoma (51b), which had the law of inside and of outside, as Rashi writes there in the name of the Yerushalmi. It is from here that Moshe knew to draw the poles outward.

 

Now the word "ve-hivdila" ("and it shall divide") is accented on the last syllable, teaching that the parokhet should not be unrolled to serve as a division immediately after the ark is brought it, but only after the kaporet, which is written afterwards, is set upon it. If so, it should first have written: "And you shall put the kaporet", and only afterwards, "And it shall divide." Rather, it comes to teach that immediately after the ark is brought in, the parokhet should be ready "to divide for you between the Holy and the Holy of Holies." And this is only possible when the poles are drawn out. Thus, Moshe learned from this to draw out the poles before the ark was brought in, and immediately after the ark was brought in, the parokhet was fit "to divide for you," as stated. This is what is written at the time of the Mishkan's erection – first, "And he set the poles on the ark," drawing the poles out in proper manner; afterwards: "And he brought the ark into the Mishkan"; and afterwards: "And he set up the parokhet of the screen" – he unrolled it downwards. (Shemot 26:33)

 

            The Netziv infers that the space where the poles protruded served as an intermediate area between the sanctity of the Heikhal and the sanctity of the Holy of Holies. For this reason, Moshe was able to stand there. This area corresponded to the area of the amma traksin in the First Temple.

 

            It is clear that the poles were drawn out in the days of Shlomo at the dedication of the First Temple. Was the reason for drawing out the poles relevant only in the days of Shlomo, or was it relevant already in the time of the Mishkan? On the face of it, the Torah does not relate to the protrusion of the poles of the ark against the parokhet of the Mishkan.

 

            Three commentators relate to this issue and raise the possibility that the poles protruded already in the Mishkan:

 

I have heard the objection raised that at the time of setting out on a journey it says: "And they shall set its poles," which implies that they set the poles when they set out on a journey. But this is difficult, for surely it is written: "They shall not be taken from it"…. This "And they shall set its poles" means that they drew the poles outwards so that they should look like they were protruding against the parokhet. (Tosafot, Yoma 72a, s.v. ketiv)

 

Regarding Shlomo's Temple it is written: "And they drew out the poles"… Chazal have explained that they jutted out against the parokhet… The poles fashioned by Moshe were not longer than ten cubits, for the Mishkan was ten cubits, and in the camp he drew them outward to the parokhet so that they should jut out against the parokhet… for presumably it was that way in the Mishkan as well. (Malbim, Shemot 25:14)

 

… That which it says in Parashat Pekudei that Moshe set the poles, that is to say that he arranged that they should be like the two breasts of a woman, and that he drew out each pole on one side that it should jut out against the parokhet. (Ha'amek Davar, Shemot 37:5)

 

            To summarize:

 

            The protrusion itself of the ark's poles hints at the influence that the Holy of Holies wields over the Holy, regarding all the qualities found in it (Torah, kingship, resting of the Shekhina).

 

            We have explained the likening of the poles' protrusion to the two breasts of a woman in two ways: On the one hand, it symbolizes the drawing of sustenance from God and the provision of bounty and blessing from the source of all sanctity to the Heikhal. On the other hand, it symbolizes the love and intimacy between God and the people of Israel.

 

(Translated by David Strauss)

 


[1] See the parallel verses in II Divrei ha-Yamim 5:7-10.

[2] This point is also evident from the verse in II Divrei ha-Yamim (22:11), where the Holy of Holies is designated "the chamber of beds," an embodiment of Shir Ha-Shirim (a reversal of R. Akiva's exposition, according to which Shir Ha-Shirim is the “Holy of Holies”). It is not by chance that this is the place that gave rise to the homily regarding a bridegroom and his bride that if they are worthy, the Shekhina will rest between them (between the keruvim parallels between a bridegroom and his bride), whereas if they are unworthy, they will be consumed by fire (like the fire in Yoma 69a, which burned the impulse to practice idolatry and issued forth from the Holy of Holies).

[3] Many homilies deal with the meaning of the protrusion of the poles. I wish to cite as an example the words of the Admor of Izbica, the Beit Ya'akov, on Parashat Teruma, no. 45:

Each of the vessels of the Mikdash affects a particular action. The primary action of the ark is effected by the poles, for it was through the poles that love would enter the hearts of Israel. This love was clearly evident in the Mikdash, as it is stated: “Whenever Israel came up [to the Temple] for the festival, the parokhet would be removed for them and the keruvim, whose bodies were intertwined, were shown to them.  Then [the onlookers] would be thus addressed: Look!  You are beloved before God as the love between man and woman! And the poles looked like the two breasts of a woman.” That is: He very much wishes to bestow plenitude upon them, and through the poles the light of the tablets enters Israel. For through the poles they saw the love, for more than the calf wishes to suck, the cow wishes to suckle. For the tablets very much wish to penetrate Israel, only that Israel must first make an opening the size of the eye of a needle and then God will make an opening for them the size of the door of the Ulam. Now the poles were never entirely removed from the ark. This teaches what is written: “And you shall mediate upon it day and night” – that a person must always desire and crave Torah.

However we understand this, the protrusion of the poles symbolize the influence of the Holy of Holies upon the Holy. Whatever quality is found in the Holy of Holies (be it Torah, or kingship, or the love between Israel and the people of God) extends in the direction of the Holy.

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