What Rests Alongside the Ark and Inside it?

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy

 

Mikdash

Rav Yitzchak Levi

 

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Dedicated in memory of 
Joseph Y. Nadler, z”l, Yosef ben Yechezkel Tzvi
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Lecture 154: What rests inside the ark and alongside it?

 

 

            In this shiur, we will discuss what precisely rested inside the ark of the Testimony and what rested alongside it by considering the sources in the Torah and in Chazal that deal with this issue and expanding upon each one of them.

 

Sources In the Torah

           

The Testimony

 

            In the command regarding the construction of the ark, God commands Moshe:

 

And you shall put into the ark the Testimony which I shall give you. (Shemot 25:16)

 

            Scripture repeats this in the command regarding the construction of the kaporet:

 

And in the ark you shall put the Testimony that I shall give you.[1] (ibid. v. 21)

 

Similarly, we find in Moshe's account of what he did with the second tablets:

 

And I turned and came down from the mountain, and put the tablets in the ark which I had made; and there they were, as the Lord commanded me. (Devarim 10:5)

 

The Book of the TOrah

 

            We read at the end of Devarim:

 

And it came to pass, when Moshe had made an end of writing the words of this Torah in a book until they were finished, that Moshe commanded the Levites, who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord, saying, “Take this book of the Torah, and put it in the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there for a witness against you.[2] For I know your rebellion, and your stiff neck; behold, while I am yet alive with you this day, you have been rebellious against the Lord, and how much more after my death?” (Devarim 31:24-27)

 

The Jar containing the manna

 

And Moshe said, “This is the thing which the Lord commands: Fill an omer of it to be kept for your generations, that they may see the bread with which I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out from the land of Egypt.” And Moshe said to Aharon, “Take a jar, and put an omer full of manna in it, and lay it up before the Lord to be kept for your generations.” As the Lord commanded Moshe, so Aharon laid it up before the Testimony, to be kept. (Shemot 16:32-34)

 

Aharon's staff

 

And the Lord said to Moshe, “Put Aharon's rod back before the Testimony, to be kept for a token against rebels; that there may be an end of their murmuring against Me, that they die not.” And Moshe did so; as the Lord commanded, so he did. (Bamidbar 17:25-26)

 

SOURCES IN CHAZAL

 

            Chazal add another three items: God's name of four letters and all the subsidiary names, the anointing oil, and the chest sent by the Pelishtim.

 

God's name of four letters and all its subsidiaries

 

            The gemara states:

 

What is the meaning of the verse: "Which is called by the Name, even the name of the Lord of Hosts that sits upon the keruvim"? For R. Yochanan said in the name of R. Shimon bar Yochai: This teaches us that the Name [of four letters] and all the subsidiary names [of God] were deposited in the ark. (Bava Batra 14b)

 

The chest sent by 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 jewels of gold which you return him for a guilt offering in a chest by the side thereof, and send it away that it may go." (ibid. 14a)

 

The Jar of anointing oil

 

Surely it has been taught: When the ark was hidden, there was hidden with it the jar containing the manna, and that containing the anointing oil, the staff of Aaron with its almonds and blossoms, and the chest which the Pelishtim had sent as a gift to the God of Israel. (Yoma 52b)

 

            The gemara notes that all these items were hidden away together, but does not say where they were hidden. The Tosefta in Sota (13:1) mentions all of the items mentioned here and adds: "These were all in the Holy of Holies, and when the ark was hidden, these things were hidden away with them.”

 

In summary, the Torah specifies the following objects:

 

·           The Testimony/tablets – inside the ark.

·           The book of the Torah – on the side of the ark.

·           The jar of manner – before the Testimony, to be kept.

·           The staff of Aaron – before the Testimony, to be kept.

 

In addition to the items mentioned in the Torah, Chazal add the following:

 

·           God's name of four letters and all its subsidiary names - in the ark.

·           The chest sent by the Pelishtim - alongside the ark.

·           The jar of anointing oil - in the Holy of Holies.

 

Let us now consider each of these items: its location, its significance, and its relation to the ark or the Holy of Holies.

 

The Testimony/the Tablets

 

            The resting of the Testimony in the ark is explained in various ways:[3]

 

            1. According to one view, the "Testimony" refers to the tablets, which accords with what is stated explicitly in the verses cited above (Devarim 10:5). This is the view of Rashi (Shemot 40:20), the Ramban, and the Rashbam (ibid. v. 16), who says: "The tablets which are testimony and the covenant between the Holy One, blessed be He, and Israel."

 

            2. Another view is that "Testimony" refers to the Torah. Rashi explains: "The Testimony – the Torah which serves as testimony between Me and you, that I commanded you the commandments that are written in it" (Shemot 21:16).

 

            3) A third view is that "Testimony" refers to the song of Ha'azinu (in addition to the two previous explanations). This is the view of the Abravanel.

 

            We will begin with an analysis of the first approach.[4]

 

The Number of Tablets

 

            The verses state explicitly that we are dealing with two tablets of stone. Regarding the first tablets:

 

And he gave to Moshe, when he had made an end of speaking to him upon Mount Sinai, two tablets of the Testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God. (Shemot 31:18)

 

            And regarding the second tablets:

 

And the Lord said to Moshe, “Hew for yourself two tablets of stone like the first.” (ibid. 34:1)

 

Tablets of stone

 

            The aforementioned verses state explicitly that the tablets were made of stone, both in the case of the first tablets and in the case of the second tablets.

 

Who hewed the tablets?

 

            Regarding the first tablets, this is not stated explicitly. The assumption is that it was God who hewed them. When God says in his command to Moshe, "Hew for yourself two tablets of stone like the first," the question arises whether the words "like the first" refer to the stones or to the hewing.

 

            The Ibn Ezra in his short commentary (ad loc.) states:

 

Hew for yourself two tablets of stone like the first – in kind and in measure.

 

            In other words, the second tablets were of the same kind (stone) and of the same number as the first tablets. According to this, there is no proof regarding who hewed the first tablets.

 

            The Radak in his commentary to I Melakhim 1 (6:7) relates to the building of the First Temple. He writes that the stones were not hewn with an iron tool, but rather with a worm called shamir:

 

And with it Shelomo split all the stones of the Temple. And who brought it to Shelomo? An eagle brought it to him from the Garden of Paradise… This is one of the instances where the Holy One, blessed be He, gave power to that which is soft over that which is hard. And with it Moshe carved the stones of the efod of the Mishkan. And with it he carved the first tablets and the second tablets. According to tradition, they had this from the days of Moshe our master, and one is not to question it.

 

According to the Radak, Moshe hewed also the first tablets, and not only the second tablets.

 

Who wrote upon the Tablets?

 

            It is explicitly stated that it was God who wrote upon the first tablets:

 

And Moshe turned and went down from the mountain, and the two tablets of the Testimony were in his hand, tablets written on both their sides; on the one side and on the other were they written. And the tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved upon the tablets. (Shemot 32:15-16)

 

This is also explicitly stated in the book of Devarim (4:13; 5:19).

 

            Chazal (Avot 5:6) list ten things that were created on Friday afternoon between sunset and nightfall, including the ketav, the writing and the tablets.       

 

            The ketav – The Bartenura explains that this refers to the form of the letters written on the tablets. According to the Rambam, it refers to the text of the Torah.

 

            The writing – This is explicit in the Torah:

 

And the writing was the writing of God, engraved upon the tablets. (Shemot 32:16)

 

The Bartenura writes that the reference is to the fact that the writing could be read from all four sides, whereas according to the Rambam the reference here is to the form of the letters written on the tablets.

 

            The tablets – The reference here is to the first tablets, which were the work of God (Shemot 32:16). Avot de-Rabbi Natan explains (chap. 2): "This teaches that the tablets were written and set aside from the six days of creation."

 

            The divine nature of the text, the writing, and the tablets themselves was so great that according to Chazal, they were created with a special act of creation on the Friday of creation between sunset and nightfall.

 

            Regarding the second tablets, we read:

 

And the Lord said to Moshe, “Hew for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and I will write upon these tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you did break.” (Shemot 34:1)

 

And he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tablets the words of the covenant, the ten words. (Shemot 34:28)

 

At first glance, it would seem that these two verses contradict each other! The Ibn Ezra explains (ad loc.):

 

God wrote, for so it is written: "And I will write upon these tablets" (Shemot 34:1). So too, it is explicit in the book of Devarim. (Short commentary, s.v. vayikhtov)

 

The Ibn Ezra refers here to the following verse in Devarim:

 

“And I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets which you did break, and you shall put them in the ark…” And He wrote on the tablets, according to the first writing, the ten words, which the Lord spoke to you in the mountain out of the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly. (Devarim 10:2-4)

 

            Similarly, the Ramban writes:

 

But he related that the second tablets were entirely like the first tablets with respect to the writing of God and the days that [Moshe] stood there before God… "And He wrote upon the tablets" means God. It does not refer to Moshe, for so it says: "And I will write upon these tablets" (above, v. 1). And so too in the book of Devarim… Since it says "according to the first writing," we know that they were written with the finger of God. And "And I will write" means with the finger…

 

            This is also the position of the Rashbam and the Chizkuni in their explanation of the verse as well.

 

            It turns out that according to the plain sense of the verse, and according to most Rishonim, the second tablets were also written by God.

 

            The Seforno (ad loc.) explains differently:

 

Even though before the [golden] calf I said I would give you the tablets of stone, and the Torah, and the commandments which I have written (Shemot 24:12), now that they have sinned – hew for yourself the tablets and I will write. I will also not give you the Torah and the commandments which I have written, but you yourself must write it.

 

In other words, before the sin, you were worthy that I should hew the tablets and that I should write upon them and that I should give you also the Torah and the commandments that I wrote. But in the wake of the sin, the hewing and the writing were done by Moshe, and not by God. This, according to the Seforno, is the significance of the lowering in level of God's seal on the tablets in the wake of the sin.

 

            It turns out that the Rishonim disagree about a point that was already in dispute among Chazal. On the one hand, we find in Midrash ha-Gadol:

 

This may be likened to a king who went abroad and left his wife with the maidservants, and since she was with them, gossip spread about her. The king heard and wished to kill her. The bride's friend rose and tore up her ketuba, saying, “If the king says anything to you, I will tell him that you are not yet his wife.” The king investigated the matter and found nothing, only that the maidservants had spread lies about her. He was immediately reconciled. The friend said to him, “Quickly write her another ketuba, as the first one was torn up.” He said to him, “You tore it up. Go and bring your own paper and I will write it in my own hand.” So too, the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moshe, “Hew for yourself, and I will write,” as it is stated: "And I will write upon these tablets." (Devarim 10:1, s.v. ba-et ha-hi)

 

            On the other hand, in Midrash Shemot Rabba it says:

 

"Write for yourself" – The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moshe: I wrote the first tablets, as it is written: "Written with the finger of God." But the second ones, you write, and O that I would add my hand. This may be likened to a king who married his wife and wrote her a ketuba of his own. After some time passed, she sinned and he banished her from his house. Her friend came and reconciled the king with her. The king said to the friend: “I have been reconciled with her, but you write the ketuba, and O that I would add my hand.” This is what it says: "And He wrote upon the tablets." (Shemot Rabba 47:2)

 

            In both Chazal and in the Rishonim, then, we find divergent opinions on the matter based on different expositions of the verses. It is clear that the approaches disagree about the impact of the sin, or alternatively about the depth of God's forgiveness in the wake of the sin.

 

            It is clear that according to those who maintain that the second tablets were hewn and written by Moshe, there is a great difference between the first and second sets of the tablets with respect to their direct connection to God. If the second tablets were also written by God, then the hewing of the material was performed by Moshe, but the writing that expresses God's seal in a world of matter was divine. This attests to the depth of God's forgiveness in the aftermath of the sin.

 

            On the other hand, it is possible to propose a different approach - that Moshe's writing upon the tablets in the wake of the fall that resulted from the sin expresses man's full partnership in the writing of the Torah. In this way, man became a partner in the revelation of the Torah, with all the deep meaning of a Written Torah that expresses the Oral Torah in the sense of man's part in its revelation, study, and acceptance.

 

            An original solution to the apparent contradiction between the verses was proposed by the Meshekh Chokhma:

 

Therefore, the first tablets were "the work of God" (Shemot 32:16); the Holy One, blessed be He, Himself, made them (Rashi, ad loc.). So too the writing. This was not the case with the second tablets. Moshe hewed them. So too regarding the writing, Moshe wrote them in the manner that any person writes. But the engraving from this side and from the other side, in the manner that the first tablets were formed – which was a wondrous and miraculous phenomenon, as they said that the mem and the samekh in the tablets stood by way of a miracle (Shabbat 104a) – this was the work of God, in order to show that matter must be refined by man. It alludes that the writing as well is preparation on the part of man, and afterwards the engraving is with the help of the Holy One, blessed be He. Therefore, it is written: "And He wrote on the tablets, according to the first writing" (Devarim 10:4), that is, they were engraved on this side and on the other side, engraved on the tablets from this side and from the other side.

 

            The Meshekh Chokhma distinguishes between the writing on the second tablets, which was done by Moshe in the manner that all people write, and the engraving on the two sides, which was miraculous, as on the first tablets. With this God wished to show that man must refine his matter. Therefore, the verse in Devarim says that the writing on the tablets was in accordance with the first writing, and the divine engraving was therefore identical on both sets of the tablets.

 

(Translated by David Strauss)



[1] In a previous shiur, we discussed at length the meaning of this redundancy. According to one of the principle explanations, it reflects the relationship between the Testimony and both the ark and the kaporet.

[2] It should be noted that there is no direct description of the execution of this command.

[3] We dealt at length with this issue in one of our shiurim last year on the ark of Testimony.

[4] The Torah does not relate to the location of the broken tablets or to what was done with them after they were broken. Chazal relate to the matter in several places, however. The gemara in Bava Batra (14b) states: "From where does R. Meir learn that the broken tablets were deposited in the ark? From the same source as R. Huna, who said: What is the meaning of the verse: 'Which is called by the Name, even the name of the Lord of Hosts that sits upon the keruvim? [The repetition of the word 'name'] teaches that the tablets and the broken tablets were deposited in the ark."

In addition, the Yerushalmi in Shekalim (6:1) states: "It was taught: R. Yehuda ben Lakish said: Two arks journeyed with Israel in the wilderness, one in which the Torah rested and one in which the broken tablets rested."

In the past, we dealt at length with the broken tablets and with the two arks. We will not expand upon these issues in the framework of this shiur.