The Portable Ark

Rabbi Matthew Liebenberg

Claremont Wynberg Shul

The staves shall remain in the rings of the Ark; they may not be removed from it. (Exodus 25:15)

בְּטַבְּעֹת הָאָרֹן יִהְיוּ הַבַּדִּים לֹא יָסֻרוּ מִמֶּנּוּ. (שמות כה:טו)

Why does the Torah, in the case of the Ark, forbid the removal of its staves when at rest, which was not so with the other sacred items? If the purpose of the staves was to facilitate transportation, then why was it so important that they remain attached to the Ark, even when it was at rest?

Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch provides a most compelling explanation: “The staves of the Ark symbolise the destiny and the mission of carrying the Ark and its contents [the Tablets of the Ten Commandments and the Torah] beyond the precincts of its present standing place, if this become necessary. The command that the poles must never be removed from the Ark establishes from the outset and for all time to come the truth that this Torah and its mission are not confined to the soil on which the Sanctuary and the Temple once stood. The constant presence of the staves testifies that G-d’s Torah is not bound to or dependent on any particular place - testimony that is boldly underscored by the contrast between the Ark and the other furnishings of the Sanctuary, especially the Table and the Menorah, which did not have permanently attached staves. The following idea immediately presents itself: Israel’s Table and Israel’s Menorah - the fullness of its material life and the flowering of its spiritual life - are bound to the soil of the Holy Land; Israel’s Torah is not.”

The first principle we can derive from Rabbi Hirsch is that the Torah is by nature portable. It does not have to reside in one particular location to be studied or to be relevant. My Rosh Yeshiva, of blessed memory, often used to point out that some of the greatest Torah works were prepared in the Diaspora.

The second principle is that we always have to be ready to ‘move’ the Torah, for sometimes there will not even be enough time to ‘insert the staves’. Jews should never rest on their laurels. They should never assume that one particular location will be the final resting place of the Torah, at least in the Diaspora. Even if the Torah has set down firm roots in one place, circumstances may suddenly change and a new home may have to be found.

A third principle is that one must carry the Torah with him whether he is at rest (at home) or on a journey. It is not unheard of for a Jew to have one standard of observance at home and another, usually lower, while travelling. There cannot be two standards. This is hinted to in a

verse in Bamidbar1 “As they encamp, so shall they journey…”. Rabbi Yisrael Eliyahu Yehoshua Trunk explains that the intention of this command is to exhort the Children of Israel to behave the same way when journeying as when they are encamped. A Jew must be a Jew at home and in the street and his behaviour should always be impeccable and a sanctification of G-d’s Holy Name.

We have travelled a long and far road with our Torah and often it has been the only comfort we enjoyed in the darkest days of our wanderings. We pray that she will soon find her ultimate resting place in the Land of Israel when all of the exiles are gathered in.

1. Numbers 2:17

©2019 by The Office of The Chief Rabbi