Permanent Poles of the Aron

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by R. Gidon Rothstein

Parshat Terumah

Remember, there are “only” 613 Biblical mitzvot, according to the widely followed tradition recorded by R. Samlai in Makkot. I usually mention the fact when drawing attention to how many mitzvot the Torah chose to devote to a particular topic (the Exodus from Egypt, how we watch items for others, for two examples). Here, I note it because of the bare fact the Torah “spent” one of its 613 on the mitzvah of leaving the poles of the Aron in place.

A Lasting Prohibition

Rambam made it Prohibition 90 in his list, a warning against removing the badim, the poles by which the Aron was carried, from their rings/holes . Shemot 25;15 indeed says the poles should stay in the rings, lo yasuru mimenu, they shall not be removed from it. I could have imagined taking it to be descriptive rather than prescriptive, but Makkot 22a includes this among its lashes-liable prohibitions, takes the lo to mean “shall not,” rather than “will not.”

Removing either pole would fully violate the Torah, Minhat Hinukh 96 adds.

To make the list of 613, though, a mitzvah must be le-dorot, for all generations, such as the mitzvot of preparation for the Giving of the Torah (be ready in three days, keep the livestock and cattle away from the mountain), not part of the 613 because they were only relevant in that one instance. (The examples are from Sefer Ha-Hinukh 96, who will also tell us why the Aron differs).

The centuries our nation has limped along without the Aron might suggest to some this mitzvah should not be considered le-dorot, for all generations. Replies the Sefer Ha-Hinukh, if the mitzvah has no inherent time limitation, the interruption of exile or any other factor does not make it a non-dorot mitzvah. Whenever we do have an Aron, the badim must not be removed.

A Punishable Prohibition

Minhat Hinukh questions why Rambam does not discuss the possibility of lashes, as he does for most prohibitions. He is sure there would be such lashes, argues Rambam left it out only because it is so unlikely in our times [I am not fully sure what he means, since Rambam proved the fact of its being a prohibition from where the Gemara listed it among those that receive lashes. Second, he seems to mean it is unlikely because we have not had the Aron for a long time; by that logic, we would expect Rambam not to mention lashes in any of the mitzvot related to the Temple, also lost for millennia].

The Honor of Speedy Portability

Sefer Ha-Hinukh was sure the badim facilitate transport, whether to bring the Aron to a battle site or for any other reason. [I think it not obvious, because the Aron wasn’t supposed to be moved once deposited in the Mikdash.]

Perhaps the reason he understood for the mitzvah already played into his logic. He says the Aron is the seat of the Torah (I think because it contains the luchot, the Tablets with the words Hashem addressed to all of us when giving the Torah), and the Torah is (his words) ikareinu u-kevodeinu, the main part of what makes us a nation and what gives us honor.

We in turn honor the Aron however we can, including ensuring its safety. Should we have to move it suddenly, we might not insert the poles carefully, or fail to check them properly, and the Aron will fall and be dishonored. Their permanent placement gives time to check they are well-fixed, able to bear the load, and no untoward events will occur.

[Before I get to his second reason—the one I would have thought primary—let’s consider this one, especially because he put it first. He only views the poles in their role in carrying the Aron, but Menahot 98b pictures the badim poking into the curtain separating the two rooms of the Mshkan/Mikdash like a woman’s breasts. Whatever the point of the image, it makes the badim more a part of the Aron, not just a tool for its transport.

For Sefer Ha-Hinukh in this reasonthe badim are all and only about carrying. But why would the Torah assume the Aron will need to be moved quickly, raising the fear of overhasty setup? Of all the kinds of honor the Torah could mandate for the Aron, what led to singling out this one? He does not say.]

Or It is Part of the Design

His second reason asserts the form of each the vessels of the Mikdash alludes to weighty matters, to impact a person positively by leading him/her to think of them, and God wanted to benefit us by not letting it ever lose its “form.”

[This has the advantage of not hinging the obligation on something apparently ancillary. However, he does not explain the imagery of the badim and what it  was supposed to inspire; more, were this the reason, we would need to explain why the Torah did not make similar mitzvot for the other furniture of the Mikdash. [Although that may be related to the question of why there is no mitzvah to build an Aron, which is not our topic.]

Too Easy To Ignore

There’s not a lot of detail to the mitzvah, perhaps because even when we had an Aron, it would stay in the Kodesh Kodashim, the Holy of Holies, leaving little opportunity to violate it. Nor is it easy to imagine why someone would remove the poles, if the Torah said not to.

We are left with a mitzvah I think is intended to make a point more than to prevent an actual violation. Whether the point is preparation for portability or about the look of the Aron as a furnishing, making a specific prohibition about the badim tells us of its symbolism.

None of which is specified by the Torah, reminding us mitzvot are there to teach, but sometimes Hashem left the further elaboration of those lessons to our teachers to lay out for us.

About Gidon Rothstein

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