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And you shall pour for it four rings of gold and place them on its four corners, two rings on its one side and two rings on its second side. You shall make staves of shittim wood and cover them with gold and insert the staves into the rings in the side of the Aron with which to carry the Aron. The staves shall remain in the rings they shall never be removed. (Shemos 25:11-15)
Rashi explains that the aron had four rings into which two staves were permanently inserted. Indeed this is the way the aron is depicted in many of the sefarim that illustrate the appurtenances of the tabernacle. Rashi conveys that his interpretation of the posuk is not simple. A literal translation of the posuk indicates that there were eight rings not four. Rashi however, suggests that we interpret the second half of the posuk as a clarification of the first half, thus resulting in a total of four rings not eight. Tosafos (Yoma 72a) take issue with this understanding by noting that according to this interpretation the aron only had two permanent staves that were never removed. This is difficult because the posuk (Bamidbar 4:6) clearly states that the staves of the aron were inserted only as they traveled. Therefore, Tosafos reluctantly suggest that there were eight rings and two sets of staves. Tosafos leave the matter inconclusive my noting other technical difficulties with his interpretation.
In the sefer Shiras Dovid, Rav Ahron Dovid Goldberg suggests that Tosafos technical difficulties may be resolved with the following idea. Rav Yitzchak Zeev Soloveitchik notes that the aron was carried in two different circumstances. The first circumstance was when the ark was taken from place to place in the desert. Here the aron was carried together with all the other appurtenances of the Tabernacle by the tribe of Levi. This service came to an end with the building of the Beis Hamikdash. The second circumstance was when the ark was taken to war as a source of protection and inspiration for the Jewish people. Indeed we see that this occurred in the time of Ali the kohen.
Rav Goldberg explains that there were eight rings and two sets of staves as Tosafos suggest. The tribe of Levi in the desert used the first set of staves when they transported the aron together with the rest of the Tabernacle. These staves were inserted through the first set of rings and were only present when the ark was transported. When the ark came to rest they were removed just as the staves of the other appurtenances were removed. When the Beis Hamikdash was build these staves became obsolete, as did the role of the tribe of Levi in transporting the Tabernacle. The second set of staves was the permanent ones that were inserted through the second set of four rings. These staves were permanent and were only used to transport the aron during times of war.
We may ask, although it is true that there were two different circumstances in which the aron was carried, why is this significant enough to warrant the need for two different sets of staves?
We are aware that there are two sets of tablets that were placed in the aron. Namely, the first set of tablets that were shattered by Moshe in the aftermath of the sin of the golden calf and the second set. Chazal teach us that the total weight of the tablets, aron and keruvim was too great to have been carried by four human beings as was required in any conventional way. They therefore conclude that the aron was carried in a miraculous fashion. Indeed, chazal teach us that the ark carried those who carried it. Let us further note that with regard to the first set of tablets although they simply serve as a reminder of the sin of the golden calf, they also represent a source of inspiration. They remind us of how Moshe prayed on behalf of the Jewish people and how Hashem responded by teaching the thirteen attributes of mercy. Lastly, let us note that the second complete set of tablets represents our accomplishment of receiving the Torah, which was the purpose of redemption and creation.
We may suggest that the two sets of staves corresponded to the two sets of tablets contained within the ark. The first set of removable staves, which were only used by the tribe of Levi in the desert, corresponds to the second set of tablets. As the Jewish people traveled through the desert they carried the ark with only these staves. This act conveyed that the tribe of Levi was only carrying the second set of tablets. Although it was true that the ark also contained the first set of shattered tablets, yet, the tribe of Levi did not carry them. The shattered tablets carried themselves. When the Jewish people traveled to Eretz Yisroel they did not wish to focus on the shattered tablets. This would only remind them of their tragic sin and spiritual shortcomings. Instead they focused on the second set of tablets, which provided them with hope and inspiration for a new Torah life in Eretz Yisroel.
The other set of permanent staves corresponds to the shattered tablets. When the Jewish people went to war they carried only the shattered tables. Although it was true that the second set of tablets were in the ark, yet in truth they were not being carried. They carried themselves. War is a time of danger and calls for repentance and introspection. Indeed, there was a special kohen gadol who was appointed to oversee the spiritual needs of soldiers. At this time it was appropriate to reflect on the lessons of repentance derived from the shattered tablets. Here the Jewish people were carrying the shattered tablets with the permanent staves.
Based on our thesis it emerges that the staves that were permanently attached to the aron were those of the shattered tablets, which serve as a source of inspiration for repentance. It is only concerning these staves that the posuk says, they shall never be removed. The Torah is telling us that although at times in our history the second set of tablets which symbolize spiritual completeness are out of reach yet the ability to repent and make use of the lessons of the shattered tablets are never out of reach. The staves shall remain in the rings they shall never be removed.
© Efraim Levine 5761/2001