Yad Binyamin | יד בנימין – קהילה תורנית במרכז הארץ

ח׳ באדר ה׳תש״ע (February 22, 2010)

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The Length and Width of the Ark

The Gemara (Menachot 98a) teaches: “All the vessels of the Temple their lengths [were oriented] to the length of the Temple, except for the Ark, whose length was to the width of the Temple; thus it was placed, and thus its poles were placed.” In other words, the poles of the Ark were placed on the short (width) side of the Ark, and the full length of the Ark was between them, and so it was placed with its length to the width of the Holy of Holies.

The Gemara explains that this was necessary because four people carried the Ark, two in front and two in back, and if the poles were placed on the length of the Ark, there would not be enough room for the two people to stand in the width. However, why was it necessary to stand between the two poles; couldn’t the Levites have stood on the outer side of the poles?

Perhaps we can explain this based on the Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 5:8), which adds regarding carrying the Ark that all the Levites would walk facing forward, “but the children of Kehat would walk backwards with their face to the Ark, so as not to turn their back to the Ark.” In other words, the two Levites who walked at the front of the Ark would not walk forwards, but backwards, to show it respect and not to turn their backs to the Ark. This manner of walking is ruled by the Rambam (Hil. Klei Hamikdash 2:13).

Based on this, it is possible to explain that the Levites who carried the Ark had to face it directly, and not to stand on its side. This alludes to the centrality of Torah; we face it directly and don’t just carry it “on the side.”

Beyond the technical need to carry the Ark and place it to its width, perhaps we can also give it a moral meaning. In the Ark were placed the two Tablets, one next to another. On the first Tablet, which contained the first five commandments, were the mitzvot between man and G‑d. On the other Tablet, which contained the other five commandments, were the mitzvot between man and his fellow. If the Ark were to be oriented to its length, it would be necessary to place one Tablet before the other, as if these mizvot were more important than these, Heaven forbid. However, when the Ark is oriented to its width – the two Tablets are placed one next to another equally, both are carried one next to another, and a person encounters both of them before him equally.

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