The Aron and the Luchos

וְנָתַתָּ אֶל הָאָרֹן אֵת הָעֵדֻת אֲשֶׁר אֶתֵּן אֵלֶיךָ

You shall place in the Ark the Testimony that I shall give you (25:16)

A Repeated Mitzvah?

The Parsha of Terumah inaugurates a series of parshiyos discussing the construction of the Mishkan and its keilim (vessels). The first of the keilim presented by the Torah is the Aron, the holy ark which resided in the kodesh hakodashim. As our pasuk specifies, Moshe was commanded to place the luchos, which it refers to as “the eidus” (testimony), inside the Aron.

It is most interesting to note that just a few pesukim later,[1] the Torah seemingly repeats the exact same command to place the luchos inside the Aron, for it states:

וְאֶל הָאָרֹן תִּתֵּן אֶת הָעֵדֻת אֲשֶׁר אֶתֵּן אֵלֶיךָ

And into the Ark you shall place the Testimony that I shall give you.

What is behind this repetition?

The Meshech Chochmah provides two resolutions to this question, each one invoking a different tool of parshanut.

First Approach: When the Torah Commands Twice

Firstly, the Meshech Chochmah draws our attention to a most intriguing phenomenon. With the destruction of the first Beis Hamikdash, its keilim were plundered or destroyed. Hence, when the second Beis Hamikdash was built, all of its keilim were likewise manufactured anew – with one exception. The Gemara[2] relates that there was no Aron inside the kodesh hakodashim of the second Beis Hamikdash.

Why did they not make a new Aron in the same way they made all the other keilim?

The answer to this question brings us back to the fact that the Aron was used to house the luchos. Here, we ask:

  • What is the relationship between the Aron and the luchos? Is housing the luchos one of a number of functions which the Aron serves, or is it its sole function?

The practical outcome of this question will relate to a situation where there are no luchos. This was, in fact, the situation as pertained to the second Beis Hamikdash. As we know, the original Aron, together with its luchos, was hidden beneath the site of the Beis Hamikdash.[3] Hence, when the time came to rebuild the Beis Hamikdash, there were no luchos to place inside the Aron.

There is a special principle which pertains to the realm of kodshimkorabanos and related matter – known as “שנה בה הכתוב לעכב”. This means that when the Torah repeats a command, it serves to indicate that this aspect is critical to the matter being discussed, and its absence will invalidate the mitzvah.[4] Accordingly, in our case, the repetition of the command – in pasuk 21 – to place the luchos inside the Aron indicates that the luchos are critical to the Aron! The resulting implications are that if there are no luchos available, there is no point in making an Aron, and hence, no Aron was made for the second Beis Hamikdash.

Second Approach: What Was in the Aron?

In his second explanation, the Meshech Chochmah refers us to a pasuk at the end of Sefer Devarim[5] where Hashem tells Moshe, “לָקֹחַ אֵת סֵפֶר הַתּוֹרָה הַזֶּה וְשַׂמְתֶּם אֹתוֹ מִצַּד אֲרוֹן בְּרִית ה' – Take this Sefer Torah and place it next to the Ark of the covenant of Hashem.” In this regard, the Gemara[6] records a dispute among Tannaim as to where exactly the sefer Torah was placed.

  • According to R’ Meir, it was actually placed inside the Aron together with the luchos.
  • According to R’ Yehudah, it was placed outside the Aron, on a shelf which protruded from it.[7]

Maamar Musgar: Parenthetical Comments in the Torah

The Meshech Chochmah suggests that the placing the sefer Torah together with the Aron, which is something that was commanded to Moshe many years later, is already alluded to in our Parsha – in pasuk 21! When the pasuk repeats the idea that the “eidus” in will be placed together with the Aron, it is referring, not to the luchos, but to the sefer Torah. Although the same term – “eidus” – is used in both pesukim, on this second occasion the Torah proceeds to further define the eidus to which it refers.

After commanding in pasuk 21, " וְאֶל הָאָרֹן תִּתֵּן אֶת הָעֵדֻת אֲשֶׁר אֶתֵּן אֵלֶיךָ", pasuk 22 states:

וְנוֹעַדְתִּי לְךָ שָׁם וְדִבַּרְתִּי אִתְּךָ מֵעַל הַכַּפֹּרֶת מִבֵּין שְׁנֵי הַכְּרֻבִים אֲשֶׁר עַל אֲרֹן הָעֵדֻת אֵת כָּל אֲשֶׁר אֲצַוֶּה אוֹתְךָ אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל

(I will meet with you there and I shall speak with you from atop the kapores, from between the two keruvim that are on the ark of the testimony), all that I shall command you to Bnei Yisrael.

We have placed most of pasuk 22 in parentheses because the Meshech Chochmah suggests that it is indeed a maamar musgar – a parenthetical comment – detailing an additional aspect of the Aron which related to Moshe Rabbeinu specifically, namely, that of communing with Hashem. Looked at in this way, the final phrase of pasuk 22, “all that I shall command you to Bnei Yisrael,” which follows the maamar musgar, is actually a continuation of pasuk 21.[8] Thus, while in the earlier pasuk Hashem told Moshe to place the “eidus” consisting of the luchos in the Aron, here, He is telling Moshe to also place the “eidus” which comprises “all that I shall command you,” i.e. the sefer Torah which contains all the mitzvos!

Further Observations: Support for R’ Yehudah’s View

Indeed, once we understand that the command in pasuk 21 refers to the sefer Torah, it may help resolve a simple pshat question in the pasuk itself. The full pasuk reads:

וְנָתַתָּ אֶת הַכַּפֹּרֶת עַל הָאָרֹן מִלְמָעְלָה וְאֶל הָאָרֹן תִּתֵּן אֶת הָעֵדֻת אֲשֶׁר אֶתֵּן אֵלֶיךָ

You shall place the cover on the Ark from above, and into the ark you shall place the testimony that I shall give you

A simple reading of the pasuk presents us with a difficulty, for it first tells Moshe to place the kapores on the Aron and only then states that he shall place the eidus inside! Obviously, these two things cannot happen in that order!

However, says Meshech Chochmah, according to R’ Yehudah’s view, we can understand the phrases of the pasuk in sequence. As mentioned above, R’ Yehudah maintains that the sefer Torah was not placed inside the Aron, but next to it. Accordingly, the Torah first states that Moshe shall place the kapores on the Aron (with the “eidus” mentioned in pasuk pasuk 16 – i.e. the luchos – already inside), and then states that he shall place the second “eidus” – the sefer Torah next to it.[9]

[1] Pasuk 21.

[2] Yoma 21b.

[3] See Yoma 53b.

[4] See Menachos 19b.

[5] 31:26.

[6] Bava Basra 15a.

[7] [As the simple reading of that pasuk indicates. See Bava Basra there for an explanation of how R’ Meir understands that pasuk.]

[8] As if to say, “And into the Ark you shall place the testimony that I shall give you (And I shall meet with you… ) all that I shall command you to Bnei Yisrael.”

[9] And indeed, the term used by the Torah in both pesukim for where to place the eidus is “ואל הארון”. This term can in fact mean either “in the Aron” – as with the luchos in pasuk 16, as well as “towards the Aron” – as with the sefer Torah in pasuk 21.