Keranot, Parochet, and Aron

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by R. Gidon Rothstein

Parshat Terumah

I find I’ve studied HaKtav VeHaKabbalah at greater length than our other commentators in previous weeks. Terumah gives me a chance to recalibrate a bit.

Horns and Extensions

The Torah calls the corners of the altar keranot, 27;2, a word that really means horns. HaKetav VeHaKabbalah says the word was expanded from its original context to include any protruding and piercing matter from the top of an object, like the horns on an animal. Beyond that, the word is also applied to any positive extension of a concept or family, the reason Tanach speaks of keren David (he points to Tehillim 132;17, but see also Yirmiyahu 33;15 and Yechezkel 29;21, where the Jewish people has a keren, like Tehillim 89;18, another verse R. Mecklenburg cites).

Here, too, the one square amah, an amah in height, at each corner of the altar, were keranot, both in that they protruded and that they served to extend the positive impact of the mizbe’ach.

Symbolisms as Prelude to Separations

The details of the construction of the Mishkan inspired R. Samson Raphael Hirsch to write at length. Here, I am plucking one interesting idea from many, on 26;36 in the Bar-Ilan, but this excerpt is focused on the preceding verses, where Hashem tells us to place a parochet, a separation, between the Kodesh Kodoshim, the Holy of Holies, where the Aron (the Ark of the Covenant, for us Indy fans) was housed, and the Kodesh, where there was the Shulchan, the Table on which the showbread rested, and the Menorah (also the mizbe’ach ha-zahav, the internal altar generally used for incense, but R. Hirsch does not discuss it in this comment).

Before he can address the parochet, R. Hirsch assigns meanings to each of the three pieces of furniture: the Aron represents Torah (reasonably enough, perhaps universally accepted, since the Aron held the luchot, the Tablets from Sinai), the Shulchan signals material wealth/comfort (again reasonably enough, since the lechem hapanim, the showbread, is an example of Hashem blessing our bread in all its forms), and the Menorah reflects spiritual growth (I think because it provides light, and light shows us the way, metaphorically extended to the spiritual).

Providence and Its Source

The Aron had keruvim, a sculptured version of angels on the kaporet at its top, but the parochet also had images of keruvim woven into it. For R. Hirsch, these signal the Jewish people’s special Providence (an idea we saw in R. Mecklenburg last week), and aim to show/remind us how said Providence affects our material lives and spiritual growth no less than our Torah study, the same keruvim oversee all three.

(Remember what we saw of his last week, the stress on bringing our physical/material selves with us when we visit the Beit HaMikdash, applying what we absorbed at the Temple into our regular lives). If so, however, he wonders why the three pieces of furniture did not/ could not occupy the same space.

The answer lies in their roles. Torah is the source of the Providence that fuels the rest. The separation reminds us not to reject the Torah when life is going well, which we will only achieve because of our Torah. Were the Aron placed equally with the other pieces, Jews might think they and their own efforts bring them success, might then—God forbid—impute their own ideas to the Torah, their own claims about how the world works, the ways to achieve success, and will “switch and fix” the Torah.

[Successful people often are confident they produced their success on their own, he is saying, still true today. Since they “know” what works, they might fall into the trap of reading the Torah the way they “know” life must be.]

Keeping Torah Sacrosanct

The parochet seeks to help us avoid the error, reminds us Torah never changes, is as it was given at Sinai, is the only way the Jewish people will merit the physical and spiritual sustenance they seek and need, along with the joy that comes from having both. Should the outer furnishings, the Jews’ spiritual worldview and/or physical/financial commitments ever oppose the Torah, God forbid, the Aron will stay hidden behind the parochet and keruvim, awaiting change (he says a new generation, where we might hope the current generation will come to its senses), ready and interested in lighting its Menorah with only the fire of the Torah, partake of its Table/table only on the basis of God’s Word.

The role and job of the parochet, for R. Hirsch. [I avoid psychologizing commentary, but it seems relevant here that R. Hirsch lived in the early days of Reform Judaism, fought to stop its spread. It was a lonely task, too, as other Orthodox rabbis did not join his insistence on firm opposition. When R. Hirsch declared the need for Austritt, for Orthodox Jews to separate from the general Jewish community because of its descent to Reform, only a third of his own community, which he had built from almost nothing, went with him.]

Perhaps more relevant to our times: Reform openly admitted they were leaving the tradition, but R. Hirsch’s point rings true for any situation where Jews impose their own views on Torah where they do not fit, even if done in the belief they are reading it correctly. We need to be careful, R. Hirsch teaches us, not to let our certainties in both the physical/financial and/or the spiritual lead us to say what is not true. Ve-dai le-chakima bi-remiza, the wise grasp the point with a hint.

The Aron and the Luchot

Malbim wonders about the Aron’s construction. The Torah puts it first in the list of how to make parts of the MIskan, starting at 25;10, but Betzalel ends up building the structure before the furniture. What changed? [Rashi thought Betzalel argued that there had to be a place to contain the furnishings before constructing those items themselves; Malbim does not address his view.]

The sin of the Golden Calf, says Malbim. The commandment to build the Mishkan came during Moshe’s first forty days on the Mount [he follows Ramban, that Hashem always planned a Mishkan; Rashi seems to think it was only instituted to help the Jews atone for the sin of the Golden Calf], when the Tablets needed a place to be housed.

After Moshe broke them, the need was less pressing, because in Devarim 10;1, Hashem had told him to make a stopgap Aron for the broken Tablets. Although Moshe does secure Hashem’s forgiveness, with new luchot and a return to building the Mishkan, this other Aron could hold both luchot in the meanwhile.

He justifies his claim with a statement of R. Elazar in Yoma 3b, the aron etz of Devarim is for when the Jews fail to fulfill God’s Will, and the aron atzei shittim of our parsha is for when we do. It tells Malbim our verse pre-dated the Calf, then was set aside for awhile while the Jewish people recovered from that sin, waited for Moshe to secure their atonement, by which time the order of construction changed, too, because an Aron was available, even if not the Aron.

Retaining the Kedushah

He then offers a side discussion, about where and whether the two sets of luchot would rest on each other, a matter of debate, in his reading, between the Tosefta and Yerushalmi on one side, Bavli on the other. I think the details would take us too far afield, other than his view of the underlying debate, whether the luchot Moshe had made could be placed on the (broken) Tablets Hashem had made Himself, as it were.

On the one hand, divine handiwork seems clearly more sanctified than human, a reason the Yerushalmi would think the broken Tablets were always kept separate from the second ones, or at least rested next to rather than under them. The Bavli, he thinks, adopted the view that as Moshe broke the luchot the writing on them returned to Heaven, leaving pieces of stone whose sanctity had evaporated or ebbed. Enough to be acceptably placed under the other Tablets.

Horns as extensions, the parochet protecting the Torah from possible untoward outside influences, and the Aron’s job in containing the right luchot. A few pieces of the Mishkan explained by our three commentators this week.

About Gidon Rothstein

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