FESTIVAL OF FREEDOM: ESSAYS ON PESAH AND THE HAGGADAH
by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik
SPECIAL VBM 20%
Lecture 130: The ark in the Mishkan – a
The ark in the mikdash – a place to
store the tablets
Rav Yitzchak Levi
As a continuation of the previous shiurim in which we dealt with
the ark in the Mishkan, in this shiur, I wish to summarize an
eye-opening article by Prof. David Henshke.
Prof. Henshke suggests that there is a clear and sharp distinction between the
purpose of the Mishkan and the purpose of the Mikdash. Within this
framework, he relates directly to the issue that we dealt with in the previous
two shiurim - namely, the relationship between the ark described in
Shemot in the context of the description of the Mishkan and the ark
mentioned in Devarim that was to be used to store the tablets.
Henshke's article is a comprehensive study that addresses other issues as
well. Since a substantial portion of the article relates to the ark, we will
first summarize what he says and then relate to various aspects of his position.
We have chosen to address his article in this shiur because it contains a
fundamental statement regarding the relationship between the Mishkan and
the Mikdash, relating to the relationship between the ark with the
kaporet and keruvim, which served as God's seat in the Mishkan,
and the ark of wood, which was designed to house the tablets that was found in
the house of God.
a place of meeting
Various sources indicate that the Mishkan was not a "residence"
for the Shekhina, but rather a place where God met with Moshe and the
people of Israel.
1. The Torah explains in various places that the Ohel Mo'ed was a
place of meeting. Regarding the burnt-offering altar and the bringing of the
daily offering, the verse states:
shall be a continual burnt-offering throughout your generations at the door of
the Ohel Mo'ed before the Lord, where I will meet you, to speak
there to you. (Shemot 29:42)
the ark and the kaporet, it is stated:
I will meet
with you, and I will speak with you from above the kaporet, from
between the two keruvim which are upon the ark of the Testimony, of all
things which I will give you in commandment to the children of Israel. (Shemot
the incense altar, the verse states:
shall put it before the parokhet that is by the ark of the Testimony,
before the kaporet that is over the Testimony, where I will meet with
you. (Shemot 30:6)
the ingredients of the incense, it is stated:
shall beat some of it very small, and put of it before the Testimony in the
Ohel Mo'ed, where I will meet with you; it shall be to you
most holy. (Shemot 30:36)
the test involving the staffs following the rebellion of Korach, the verse
shall lay them up in the Ohel Mo'ed before the Testimony, where I will
meet with you. (Bemidbar 17:19)
It is clear from all these verses that the Mishkan served as a
place of meeting.
2. In several places, we are told that the cloud rested on the
Mishkan, rather than in it (Shemot 40:35; Bemidbar 9:18,
3) The purpose of the Mishkan was that God's Shekhina
should rest in Israel, rather than in the Mishkan (Shemot
25:8, 29, 45-46).
From God's perspective, God met with Moshe and Israel, and gave them the
Torah and mitzvot. From Israel's side, Israel prepared a Mishkan
so that God may dwell in their camp, and in that way they gave expression to
God's presence among them. In practice, God's dwelling expressed itself in His
meeting with the people of Israel, as in actuality He did not reside in the
residence which had been prepared for Him.
The Mikdash – an eternal place of
When the people of Israel will settle in their land, God will have a
house and a place in which to dwell. The proofs for this assertion include the
Already in the Song
of the Sea, the Torah states:
bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of Your inheritance, in the place,
O Lord, which You have made for You to dwell in, in the sanctuary, O Lord, which
Your hands have established. (Shemot 15:17)
Similarly, with respect to the bikkurim, the Torah refers to the
Mikdash as God's house:
of the first-fruits of your land you shall bring to the house of the Lord your
God. (Shemot 34:26)
2. Throughout the book of Devarim, nowhere does it say that God
dwells in a house. Rather, mention is made of "the place that God shall choose."
God chooses to set/cause His name to rest there. The Shekhina rests in a
particular place, not in a house.
3. When the people of Israel arrive in Jerusalem, the verse states:
My resting place forever; here will I dwell, for I have desired it. (Tehillim
surely built You a house to dwell in, a settled place for You to abide in for
ever. (I Melakhim 8:13)
What we have here is not only a transition from a portable Mishkan
to a fixed Mikdash; rather, a house for God is now being established, a
place for Him to abide in, instead of a tent of meeting and site of service.
This house is established after God chooses a place, and it is therefore
precisely at this point that King Shlomo says:
the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain You; how much less this house
that I have built?” (I Melakhim 8:27)
After having presented this fundamental distinction, I wish now to deal
with several issues, regarding which this difference between the Mishkan
and the Mikdash finds expression.
dedication of the Mishkan in contrast to the dedication of the house of
Despite the parallels between the account of the resting of the
Shekhina in the Mishkan (Shemot 57:34-35) and the account of
the resting of the Shekhina in the house of God (I Melakhim
8:10-11), there are several important differences.
a. In Shemot, the cloud covers the Mishkan and rests
upon it and the glory of God fills the Mishkan, whereas in Melakhim,
it is the cloud itself that fills the house of God. This difference can be
understood as follows. In the Mishkan, the cloud waits above the tent for
the glory of God, which fills the Mishkan and meets with Israel, and when
that meeting is over, the glory of God rises from there in His cloud and returns
to heaven. In the Mikdash, on the other hand, the cloud does not wait
above the house, but rather it itself fills the house of God: "Then spoke
Shlomo, ‘The Lord said that He would dwell in the thick darkness’" (I
b. The parallel accounts of the dedication of the Mishkan (Vayikra
9:23-24) and the dedication of the First Temple (II Divrei Ha-Yamim
7:1-3) indicate an important difference. In the Mishkan, the glory of God
is seen by all the people, this being the purpose of the Mishkan – the
place where God reveals Himself to and meets with Israel. In the Mikdash,
on the other hand, the Shekhina came down to dwell in the house of God
and to find there eternal rest; the glory of God filled the house and the people
of Israel saw the descent of the glory of God into the house.
meaning of the difference between the two accounts of the ark
In continuation of
the distinction described above, we can explain the difference between the two
accounts of the ark – the one in Parashat Teruma and the other in
a. In the Mishkan, the Ohel Mo'ed that houses the tablets
of the Testimony, God meets with Moshe from between the keruvim, which
are on the kaporet that covers the ark. Here, the ark – that is, the
heart of the Mishkan - stands in the Holy of Holies, overlaid with pure
gold and covered with the kaporet and the keruvim.
From the time that God chose a place in which to dwell, the Shekhina
dwelt in that place permanently and for all time, as the prophet Yirmiyahu
days, says the Lord, they shall say no more, “The ark of the covenant of the
Lord,” nor shall it come to mind, nor shall they remember it; nor shall they
miss it, nor shall that be done any more. At that time, they shall call
Jerusalem the throne of the Lord… (Yirmiyahu 3:16-17)
The throne of the Lord is now all of Jerusalem, and there is no longer
any need for the ark.
time, the ark is merely a container for the tablets, and not the throne of God
or a place of meeting.
b. When there is a Mishkan, in a time of war, the ark leaves
the tent and leads the army of Israel into battle, for the Shekhina
does not rest in the Mishkan, but among Israel. Thus, when Israel leaves
the camp for war, the Shekhina and its throne go out with them.
This was not the case in the Temple in Jerusalem after the ark was
brought into the house of God. From that time on, the Shekhina dwelt
in its eternal place and there was no longer a need for the ark.
According to this
understanding, the role of the ark in the permanent Mikdash was merely
that mentioned in the book of Devarim - to be a place to store the
tablets - for in the permanent place of the Mikdash, God chose the
place itself. This has several important ramifications, as accordingly, there is
no difficulty in the fact that the ark was stored away in the days of Yoshiyahu
or that throughout the Second Temple period there was no ark. Similarly, it
explains why the Rambam does not mention the ark.
no obligation to make a pilgrimage to the Ohel Mo'ed in the wilderness –
there was no house of God and there was no "place chosen by God" (so says the
Ramban in his commentary to Devarim 12:8). The obligation to undertake a
pilgrimage only began with the building of the house of God in Jerusalem. This
was because in the wilderness, the revelation of the Shekhina was
continuously present, and there was nothing special about the three pilgrimage
festivals. But from the day that God dwelt in His place, all year long He was
hidden from view, and only three times a year did God open His house and receive
Israel as His guests to see and to be seen.
According to this, during the period of the Ohel Mo'ed in the
wilderness, the entire year enjoyed the status of the three pilgrimage festivals
with respect to Israel's closeness to the Shekhina.
According to the plain sense of the verses (Bamidbar 19: 13, 20),
the fact that a person remains in a state of ritual impurity defiles God's
sanctuary, even if there is no actual connection between the impure person and
the Mikdash. According to Halakha, a person is under no obligation to
purify himself unless he wishes to have a direct connection with the Mikdash
or consecrated things.
This may be understood as follows. During the period of the wilderness,
someone who remained in a ritually impure state defiled the Mishkan even
without entering into it. During this period, God dwelt in Israel and a
relationship of encounter and meeting existed at all times between Israel and
God, who revealed Himself to them and dwelt among them. But from the day that
God began to dwell in His house, the ritual impurity of Israel related to God's
Shekhina, which was hidden in its residence, and as long as a ritually
impure person did not enter into God's house, he was not obligated to purify
In the Ohel Mo'ed that served as a meeting place and as a direct
continuation of the assembly at Mount Sinai, God revealed Himself to Israel and
met with Moshe from between the keruvim, and Israel served God at the
altar, just as at Mount Sinai God revealed Himself to Israel at the top of the
mountain and Israel offered sacrifices at the foot of the mountain. Therefore,
the Torah repeatedly emphasizes that the altar and the sacrifices were at the
door to the Ohel Mo'ed (e.g., Shemot 29:44, 40:29; Vayikra
1:3, 5). The door to the Ohel Mo'ed and the Ohel Mo'ed constituted
a single domain.
In the house of God, the altar and the Holy of Holies were separate
entities. The sacrificial service was no longer performed in connection with the
meeting with God's Shekhina that revealed itself between the keruvim.
Rather, God sat concealed in His house, and a separate domain was at
Israel's disposal in which to perform their service, opposite the house of God.
According to this understanding, the building of the Mikdash
included all the vessels needed for the service performed inside, which was for
the sake of God, whereas the outer altar did not serve God, but rather Israel,
and the service performed there was for the sake of Israel - to achieve
atonement for them. The altar was not a vessel of the house of God, but rather a
vessel of the people of Israel, who worshipped in front of the house of God.
This is the reason why according to the Ra'avad (in his stricture to
Rambam's Sefer Ha-mitzvot, positive commandment 20) there are essentially
two commandments: a positive commandment to build a house for God, which
includes all the vessels, and a positive commandment to build an altar for
This is also the reason why in the house of God, the Ulam
separated between the courtyard, in which stood the altar, and the Heikhal
(I Melakhim 6:3). According to this, the Ulam is not part of the
parts of the Mishkan and the Mikdash
In the house of God, the division between the various parts of the
Mikdash was sharper than in the Mishkan. Between the Holy and the
Devir – the Holy of Holies – there was a wall made of stone, a cubit deep.
In the Mishkan, in contrast, the Holy and the Holy of Holies was
separated only by the parokhet.
reason for this is that in the permanent Mikdash, God's
Shekhina dwelt in its residence in the Devir, the inner and concealed
chamber. There was thus a clear division of domains between the Holy – the outer
chamber – and the Devir.
general argument is that all the parts of the Mishkan constituted a
single unit, from the Holy of Holies to the outer altar. The entire structure
constituted a meeting place between the Shekhina, on the one hand, and
Moshe and all of Israel, on the other, and the Shekhina could also reveal
itself outside (as, for example, in Vayikra 9-10). In contrast, in the
house of God, the Shekhina dwelt in the innermost chamber, and the
relationship between the inner and outer chambers was through partitions that
were much more substantial than in the Mishkan (the wall separating
between the Holy of Holies and the Holy and the Ulam, which
separated between the Heikhal and the courtyard, and the independent
status of the outer altar).
certainly understand that when God does not dwell in the place itself, but
merely comes there to meet with Moshe and all the people of Israel, the
distinction between the various parts of the structure is secondary, and there
is a clear connection between the various parts. But when God comes to live in
His house, certain bounds, limits and partitions must be put in place. Now, each
part of the structure stands on its own and is more sharply separated from the
other parts, because God is hidden away in an inner chamber, and everything
found outside of it serve as entrance halls and exterior chambers.
various Descriptions of the resting of the Shekhina and the role of the
God's Shekhina is described in different ways in the different
books of the Torah. In this section, I wish to demonstrate that the different
descriptions of the resting of the Shekhina relate to different periods,
and that corresponding to these different periods there were also different
stages regarding the ark.
According to the book of Shemot, the Shekhina
relates to the structure that is defined by its walls, whereas according to the
book of Devarim, the Shekhina relates to a place with
In this context, the Meshekh Chokhma has an interesting comment:
Mishkan, the sanctity depended on the building; sometimes it was fixed in
one place, while at other times it was fixed in another place. This was not the
case in the Mikdash, where the sanctity depended on the place, and
sacrifices could be brought even if there was no building. (Bamidbar 7:1)
In other words, in the Mishkan, whose place kept changing, the
sanctity was not connected to the place, but to the building, wherever it was
found. In the Mikdash, on the other hand, the sanctity was connected to
the place. The Mikdash did not endow the place with sanctity, but rather
it was erected there because of the inherent sanctity of the place.
It seems, therefore, that we can distinguish between three periods:
1. In the Mishkan in the wilderness – God did not dwell in
a particular place, but rather He met with Moshe in the Ohel Mo'ed, and
the resting of the Shekhina was a consequence of the location of the
Mishkan there. Therefore, there was only sanctity that was defined by
partitions of the Mishkan.
2. In the Mishkan in Eretz Yisrael in Shilo – For
the first time, a place was chosen for the resting of the Shekhina, and
according to this, the resting of the Shekhina was the reason that the
Mishkan was erected there, this being sanctity of the place (and not
sanctity defined by partitions). But because the selection of Shilo was only
temporary and for its own time, God merely walked among the people of Israel (II
Shemuel 7:6), but He did not dwell there in a permanent manner.
3. In the Mikdash in Jerusalem – The selection of the place
was for all times, and therefore it says, "I have surely built You a house to
dwell in, a place for You to abide in forever" (I Melakhim 8:13), a verse
which parallels what it says in the Song of the Sea: "In the place, O Lord,
which You have made for You to abide in, in the sanctuary, O Lord, which Your
hands have established. The Lord shall reign for ever and ever" (Shemot
Corresponding to these three periods regarding the Mishkan, we can
point to three different periods with regard to ark as well:
1. In the first stage, the Ohel Mo'ed was the Mishkan of
the Testimony, the place where the tablets of the Testimony were found in the
ark. This place was intended for God's meeting with Moshe from between the
keruvim that were on the kaporet that covered the ark. Here, the ark
was the very heart of the Mishkan, resting in the Holy of Holies,
overlaid with pure gold, and covered with the kaporet that had the
keruvim. Without an ark, there was no Ohel Mo'ed – in a time of war,
the ark left the tent and God Himself went out before the hosts of Israel.
2. In the second stage in Shilo, God's meetings from between the
keruvim to give the Torah and mitzvot came to an end, and there was
no longer any room for the ark as God's throne and seat of His Shekhina.
The seat by its very essence was portable. For the first time, the Shekhina
rested in a place. The ark rested in the Holy of Holies, and its absence
from the Mishkan in Shilo would have removed its status as an Ohel
Mo'ed. Since the selection of Shilo was only temporary, the presence of
the ark determined the extent to which the place was the place chosen by God.
Fundamentally, then, during this period it was not necessary for the ark to go
out to war, and therefore its going out at the battle at Even-ha-Ezer against
the Pelishtim was an exception, and it involved a sin.
3. In Jerusalem during the third stage, there was no need for an ark as a
meeting place to teach Torah or as the throne of God, and since Jerusalem was
permanently chosen, there was no need for a sign for the continuation of the
selection. At that time, the book of Devarim's understanding of the ark
was fully realized. Therefore, Shlomo did not make a new ark, as he did with all
the other vessels. The ark was no longer one of the vessels of the Mikdash.
Nevertheless, the ark was brought into the Holy of Holies in order to
begin the period of the eternal selection of Jerusalem. The lengthening of the
poles cancelled the element of their mobility. Shlomo prepared a place to store
away the ark in the Holy of Holies (as is explained by the Rambam in Hilkhot
Beit Ha-bechira 4:1) with the addition of two new keruvim that stood
on the ground. It would seem from the plain sense of the verses that only the
two new keruvim were found in Shlomo's Holy of Holies.
During this stage, there was essentially no need for the kaporet
with the keruvim because God did not sit above the kaporet between
the keruvim. Rather, Jerusalem was the seat of God. Hence, according to
the plain meaning of the verses, the kaporet with the keruvim was
not brought into Shlomo's Devir, and only the keruvim that stood
on the ground were found there. According to the Rishonim who say that
the kaporet was in fact brought together with the ark into the Holy of
Holies, this was primarily in its role as cover for the ark, and not because it
served as the seat of the Shekhina.
This understanding also explains why at the erection of the Mishkan
the ark was the first vessel brought inside, whereas when the Mikdash
was built, the ark was the last vessel brought in. According to the approach
presented here, in the Mishkan, the ark was the foundation of the entire
Mishkan, whereas in the Mikdash, the house was complete even
without the ark. The ark was only brought inside so that the Shekhina
would rest in the place and the place would become sanctified forever, and then
there would be no further need for the ark.
During this period, we no longer hear about the ark or that it was taken
out to war. Now, it was used exclusively to store the tablets, and it could be
stored in any place that was fit to store them. There was no obligation that the
ark be found specifically in the Mikdash, and so it not surprising that
during the Second Temple period, the ark was not taken out from the place where
it had been stored away. This is also the reason that the Rambam notes only the
place where the ark was stored away, for the mitzva does not apply for
future generations; it was cancelled from the time that there was a place chosen
This is succinctly stated in Midrash Ha-gadol:
is for the tablets, and it is not one of the vessels of the Mikdash. (Shemot
(Translated by David