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What Rests Alongside the Ark and Inside it? (V)

Rav Yitzchak Levy

What Rests Alongside the Ark and Inside it? The Jar of Anointing Oil and the Chest of the Pelishtim



            As opposed to the book of the Torah, the jar of manna, and Aharon's staff, there is no indication in the Torah that the jar of anointing oil was placed in the ark or in the Holy of Holies. This appears for the first time in the words of Chazal. The gemara (Yoma 52b) notes that the jar of anointing oil was hidden away at the same time that the jar of manna, the staff of Aharon, and the chest of the Pelishtim were hidden away. The Tosefta in Sota adds that all these items were located in the Holy of Holies.


The gemara in Horiyot derives this as follows:


It was taught: At the time when the ark was hidden away, there were also hidden the anointing oil, the jar of manna… And who hid them? It was Yoshiyahu, king of Yehuda, who hid them… And R. Elazar stated: The inference is arrived at by an analogy between the expressions, "There" and "there," "To he kept" and "to he kept," and "generations" and "generations." (Horayot 12a)


Rashi (ad loc.) explains:


The inference is arrived at by an analogy between "generations" and "generations" – As it is written regarding the jar of manna: "And lay it up before the Lord, to be kept for your generations" (Shemot 16:33); and it is written regarding the anointing oil: "This shall be a holy anointing oil to Me throughout your generations" (Shemot 30:31). Just as the jar of manna was hidden away, so the jar of anointing oil was hidden away.


            Since there is not even an allusion to the hiding away of these items in these verses, we must assume that the anointing oil was of such very great significance that it was fit to be kept in the Holy of Holies for future generations. Let us attempt to understand the essence of the anointing oil, and perhaps thereby we will be able to understand its uniqueness and why a jar of anointing oil was placed in the Holy of Holies.


            The command regarding the anointing oil is recorded in the Torah as follows:


And the Lord spoke to Moshe, saying, “Take you also to you the best spices, of pure myrrh five hundred shekels, and of sweet cinnamon half so much, two hundred and fifty shekels, cassia five hundred shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary, and of olive oil a hin; and you shall make it an oil of holy ointment, an ointment compounded after the art of the perfumer; it shall be a holy anointing oil. And you shall anoint the Ohel Mo'ed with it, and the ark of the Testimony, and the table and all its vessels, and the candlestick and its vessels, and the altar of incense, and the altar of burnt offering with all its vessels, and the laver and its pedestal. And you shall sanctify them, that they may be most holy; whatever touches them shall be holy. And you shall anoint Aharon and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may minister to Me in the priest's office. And you shall speak to the children of Israel, saying: This shall be a holy anointing oil to Me throughout your generations. Upon man's flesh shall it not be poured, neither shall you make any other like it, after the composition of it; it is holy, and holy shall it be for you. Whoever compounds any like it, or whoever puts any of it upon a stranger, shall even be cut off from his people. (Shemot 30:22-33)


            Several elements distinguish the anointing oil.


            Regarding the command, the midrash states:


"This shall be a holy anointing oil to Me" – This is one of the four things that the Holy One, blessed be He, showed Moshe with His finger because he had difficulty with them. He showed him how to make the anointing oil, as it is stated: "This shall be a holy anointing oil to Me." (Shemot Rabba 15:28)




"This shall be a holy anointing oil to Me throughout your generations" – R. Levi said: Wherever it says "to Me," it will never be removed, neither in this world nor in the world to come. (Vayikra Rabba 2:2)


            The midrash relates to the anointing oil as something eternal that will be preserved for an infinite period of time, even in the world to come, similar to other things mentioned in Chazal in connection with which the phrase "to Me" is used.


            Along these same lines, the Midrash ha-Gadol says:


"This shall be to Me" – Wherever it says "to Me," it will be preserved for all generations. Never was other anointing oil made, besides the oil that Moshe made and Yoshiyahu hid away with the ark and the jar of manna. (Midrash ha-Gadol, Shemot 30:31)


            Similarly, it is brought in the midrash:


"Is Efrayim a dear son to Me" (Yirmiya 31:19) – Wherever it says "to Me," it will never be removed, neither in this world nor in the world to come. Regarding the priests it is written: "And they will serve as priests to Me" (Shemot 40); regarding the Levites it is written: "And the Levites will be to Me" (Bamidbar 8); Regarding Israel it says: "For the children of Israel are to Me" (Vayikra 25); regarding teruma it is written: "And they shall take to Me" (Shemot 25); regarding the firstborns it is written: "For every firstborn is to Me" (Bamidbar 3); regarding the Sanhedrin it is written: "Gather to Me seven men of the elders of Israel" (ibid. 11); regarding Eretz Yisrael: "For the whole earth is to Me" (Shemot 19); regarding Jerusalem: "The city that I chose to Me" (I Melakhim 11); regarding the kingdom of the house of David: "For I saw among his sons a king to Me" (I Shmuel 16); regarding the Temple: "And they make a sanctuary to Me" (Shemot 25); regarding the altar: "An altar of earth you shall make to Me" (Shemot 20); regarding its sacrifices: "You shall keep to offer to me" (Bamidbar 28); regarding the anointing oil: "This shall be a holy anointing oil to Me throughout your generations." Surely, then, wherever it says "to Me," it will never be removed, neither in this world nor in the world to come. (Vayikra Rabba [Vilna], 2)


            Why did not they not prepare new anointing oil during the period of the Second Temple? R. Yerucham Perla (in his commentary to the Sefer ha-Mitzvot of Rabbeinu Sa'adya Gaon, pt. 3, punishment 11) proposes that the hiding away of the oil was an emergency ruling not to prepare new oil. This may point to the unique character of the anointing oil prepared by Moshe, the likes of which could not be prepared again after the original oil was hidden away, even during the period of the Second Temple.


            The Mekhilta states:


And this is one of the three things that Eliyahu will in the future present to Israel: a jar of manna, a jar of purifying water, and a jar of anointing oil. And some say: Also Aharon's staff, almonds and blossoms, as it is stated (Bamidbar 17:25): "Put Aharon's rod back." (Shemot 16:33)


            In other words, the jar of anointing oil will be preserved even in the future. This will involve a certain novelty, inasmuch as the jar of anointing oil was one of the things that were hidden away in the days of Yoshiyahu and it was only the original anointing oil prepared by Moshe that was ever used.


            The Maharal relates to this point:


"Preserved in its entirety" – For if not, why do I need "for your generations"? Let it write: "This shall be a holy anointing oil." Since it says, "For your generations," this implies that it will be preserved in its entirety. And since he had a difficulty: From where do we know that it will be preserved in its entirety? Perhaps part of it will be preserved, but not all of it. He therefore said that [the word] "zeh" ("this") has the numerical value of twelve. That is to say, why does it say "zeh," when it could have said: "It will be a holy anointing oil"? Rather, for this reason it says "zeh" – to teach that in accordance with the numerical value of "zeh," i.e., 12 logs, it will be preserved in its entirety.

Since we have already said that it is our intention to truly explain every statement made by Rashi in his commentary, we must explain that which he said "it will be preserved in its entirety," and why the anointing oil will be preserved more than all other things. They did not say this only about the anointing oil (Horiyot 11b); also concerning the candlestick they said in Midrash Tanchuma (Beha'alotekha, 5): "When the princes offered sacrifices for the dedication of the altar (Bamidbar 7:1-83) and the tribe of Levi did not offer anything, they said: Why have we been pushed away from the dedication of the altar? The Holy One, blessed be He, said: You are being kept for something greater than this, as it is stated (Bamidbar 8:2): 'When you light the lamps.' When the Temple stands, there are sacrifices, but when the Temple is not standing, there are no sacrifices. But the lamps – forever 'they shall give light to the body of the candlestick.'" The Ramban, of blessed memory, asked about this Midrash:  Surely the candlestick is also canceled when the Temple is not standing. And therefore he gave a forced explanation of this in Parashat Beha'alotekha. But I ask why did he not have difficulty with what they said (Horiyot 11b) about the anointing oil that it will be preserved in its entirety, and with what they said in tractate Yoma in chapter Ba lo (72a) about "Standing shittim trees" (Shemot 26:15) that they will be preserved forever and ever.

Know that just as God ordered the universe so that the world has the order that God gave it, and this order will be preserved forever and ever, so He ordered the Mishkan in this manner and in this image, it being a Divine image. This is clear. In Midrash Rabba on Parashat Teruma (34:2), we find that the construction of the Mishkan is likened to the creation of heaven and earth, as is explained there, and therefore they are alike. And just as the order of the universe dictated at the time of the construction of the Mishkan that there be a Mishkan, so it dictates that it remain in ruins until the time of favor returns to Israel. But the items mentioned above – the anointing oil, owing to its elevated status as it is used to consecrate other things, and the candlestick, which lights up the Mishkan, and the boards that are the body and essence of the Mishkan are not subject to destruction. If destruction reached them, it is because destruction reached the Mishkan in its entirety, and it is not fitting that they should remain, because the Mishkan bears these vessels, and destruction reached the bearer, and since destruction reached the bearer, the vessels should not remain. But in themselves, they are not subject to destruction. And the image that was found at the time of the fashioning of these vessels and brought them into existence is the same now. The destruction relates exclusively to the bearer, for when the bearer is cancelled, whatever needs the bearer is also canceled. But in themselves they exist, for their existence is not by accident, but rather part of the order of the universe established by God… Now all the things that we mentioned, such as the anointing oil and the candlestick, owing to their elevated status, their existence was not canceled, and as they were, they are still now, but that which bore them was destroyed, as it was not at such a high level… And because of the elevated status of the oil, many miracles were performed with it. (Gur Aryeh, Shemot 30:20)


            The Maharal attempts to explain why the anointing oil was preserved more than anything else. He relates also to the candlestick and the boards, which Chazal say will also be preserved forever. He asserts that just as God established that the order of the universe will be as He ordered it, this is also true of the Mishkan, including the anointing oil and the rest of the things which will remain forever. He notes in one sentence what is unique about the anointing oil – that it is used to consecrate other things. It does not stand on its own, but rather it consecrates other things, and therefore owing to its unique status various miracles were associated with it.


The Chest of the Pelishtim


At the side of the ark was placed the chest in which the Pelishtim sent a present to the God of Israel, as it says: "And put the golden devices which you are restoring to Him for a guilt offering in a chest by the side of it, and send it away that it may go" (I Shmuel 6:8). (Bava Batra 14a)


            After the ark was captured by the Pelishtim at the battle of Even Ha-Ezer (I Shmuel 4), the Pelishtim eventually understood that the ark was causing them great damage during the seven months that it was in their hands. After consulting with their priests and magicians, they said:


“If you send away the ark of the God of Israel, send it not empty; but make sure to return him a guilt offering. Then you shall be healed, and you will learn why His hand is not removed from you.” Then they said, “What shall be the guilt offering which we shall return to Him?” They answered, “Five golden swellings, and five golden mice, according to the number of the lords of the Pelishtim; for one plague was on you all, and on your lords. And you shall make images of your swellings, and images of your mice that ravage the land, and you shall give honor to the God of Israel; perhaps He will lighten His hand from off you and from off your gods and from off your land.” (I Shmuel 6:3-5)


            A guilt-offering is an offering brought for misuse of consecrated items, and in this context, it was a gift that was sent to atone for the insult to the glory of God. Rashi (ad loc.) explains that the purpose of the guilt-offering was to serve as "a sign that you recognize that you are guilty of misusing consecrated items:"


"Images of your swellings, and images of your mice" were small statues in the form of the plague that struck them. To repair your desecration of the ark, show honor to it; and the golden devices, that is, the images of the swellings and of the mice, which you are restoring to Him for a guilt-offering, put in a chest by the side of it.


When the cart arrived in Beit-Shemesh, the Levites took down the ark of God and the chest that was with it, in which were the devices of gold. It turns out that the chest of the Pelishtim was set down in the Holy of Holies, and in it were the golden swellings and the golden mice.


What is the spiritual meaning of placing this chest in the most sanctified place alongside the ark?


The simplest and most direct answer to this question seems to be that the ark represents God's throne in this world. The ark goes out with the people of Israel to battle, and there it represents the presence of God who leads the camp of Israel on the field of battle. The Torah issues numerous warnings concerning Israel's military camp that follow from this fundamental fact. Thus, for example:


For the Lord your God walks in the midst of your camp, to deliver you and to give up your enemies before you; therefore shall your camp be holy, that He see no unclean thing in you and turn away from you. (Devarim 23:15)


            The ark's presence in the camp indicates God's walking in the midst of the camp.


            From the perspective of the nations against which Israel went out to war, the battle was first and foremost between gods. Therefore, when David went out to battle as the representative of the people of Israel against the Pelishtim who were represented by Golyat, Golyat "taunts the armies of the living God" (I Shmuel 17:26), and "the Pelishti cursed David by his gods" (ibid. v. 43). David answered Golyat as follows:


“You come to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have taunted. This day will the Lord deliver you into my hand, and I will smite you… that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel. And all this assembly shall know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear, for the battle is the Lord's, and He will give you into our hands.” (ibid. vv. 45-47)


            At the end of the story, it says:


And David took the head of the Pelishti and brought it to Jerusalem; and he put his armor in his tent. (ibid. v. 54)


            The Radak (ad loc.) explains:


And my father z"l wrote that Nov the city of priests is called Jerusalem, for there was [kept] the sword of the Pelishti, as is explicitly stated.


            In the continuation, the Radak explains that when it says that David put Golyat's armor in his tent, it means in his house. He continues:


This refers to the rest of [Golyat's] weapons, and not his sword, because the sword he put in the Ohel Mo'ed in Nov, as it says above, wrapped in a cloth. It was there as a reminder of this great miracle. Anyone who came to the Ohel Mo'ed in Nov to offer a sacrifice or to pray would see it and remember the miracle and give thanks to God and direct his heart toward Him and magnify his trust in Him.


            Indeed, when David fled to Nov, he asked Achimelekh the priest:

“And is there not here under your hand a spear or a sword? For I have neither brought my sword nor my weapons with me, because the king's business was urgent.” And the priest said, “The sword of Golyat the Pelishti, whom you did slay in the valley of Ela, behold it is here wrapped in a cloth behind the efod; if you will take that, take it, for there is no other save that here.” And David said, “There is none like that; give it to me.” (I Shmuel 21:9-11)


The Radak (ad loc.) explains:


Behind the efod – It was hanging behind the place where the efod and the chosen rested.


There is none like that – But surely Achimelekh knew that there was none like it. Why then did he say to him: If you will take that, take it? Because it was in the Ohel Mo'ed as a reminder of the miracle, as I have explained.[1] Achimelekh did not want it to be removed from there if another one was available. But since there was no other sword there, he could not withhold it from David, because he took it from the Pelishti and he put it there inside the Ohel Mo'ed, and it was in his power to take it and return it as he pleased.


            In any event, it turns out that Golyat's sword was placed in the Mishkan for safekeeping. The basic explanation of this is that God is, as it were, a man of war, and to Him is victory attributed. The sword brings to mind the Divine victory, and seeing it recalls the great miracle that occurred there.


            The chest of the Pelishtim fulfilled a role similar to that of the Golyat's sword, and therefore its location in the Holy of Holies alongside the ark gave expression to Israel's Divine victory over the Pelishtim.


            God is a man of war, and victory is His, and therefore both Golyat's sword and the chest of the Pelishtim belong in the Holy of Holies alongside the ark.


(Translated by David Strauss)



[1] Who placed the sword there and when? The verses do not relate to this question. One possibility is that David handed the sword over to the Mishkan in Nov "to publicize the miracle that had been performed for Israel" (Ralbag). Another possibility is that Shmuel took it and deposited it there for safekeeping.

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