I have always
been fascinated by the wooden ark that Moshe mentions in this weeks’ parsha as being the place where he
deposited the tablets of stone upon which the aseret hadvarim – the Ten Commandments were
inscribed. The commentators to the Bible differ in their understanding of this
wooden ark. Some present it as being the ark that went out to war to lead the
Israelites in battle against their enemies. Others see the wooden ark as being
the inner middle ark of the three “boxes” that composed the Holy Ark that
resided in the Holy of Holies. The outside “box” was gold, the inside “box” was
gold and the middle “box” that separated between them was made of wood. It was this wooden “box” that Moshe used as a
temporary storage place for the great tablets of Sinai.
In any event, no matter which opinion we will follow in this discussion, it is obvious that this wooden ark had great significance and importance in Jewish life. It led the Jewish army into battle and victory and/or it bound together the two “boxes” of gold that housed the tablets of stone in the Holy of Holies. So what is so special about a wooden box? I appreciate the value and grandeur that the golden “boxes” must have brought to the Temple and the tablets of stone that they contained. After all, the Torah and the Temple represent the royalty of Judaism and royalty requires gold to enhance it. But why the wooden ark? What does that represent and teach us?
I think that the
wooden ark represents the power of Torah in Jewish life. The Torah is compared
to the tree of life – eitz
chayim. Wood is a symbol of life
not of an inert metal. Trees are one of the great natural wonders of God’s
world. Without their presence, life as we know it on this planet could not
exist. The Torah itself compares human life to trees – ki haadam eitz hasedah – humans are as the trees of the
field. The Torah cannot be housed only in gold. It is the symbol of life and
therefore must be nurtured and protected by living things.
Even in war,
with all of its technology and weapons, it is the living human being’s bravery,
courage and ability that ultimately decide the fray. Therefore, Moshe’s choice
of a wooden ark to house the tablets of stone is a most appropriate one. For in
our time, when we are deprived of the Temple and of the golden Holy Ark, the
Torah resides within the living organism of the Jewish people and of individual
Jews. We are, so to speak, Moshe’s
It is our living vitality that creates the commitment to Torah that ensures its continuity and eternity. The Torah does not reside within golden museums. Rather, it resides within the living Jew who cherishes its teachings and values and practices its ritual lifestyle. How important and necessary therefore is this lesson of Moshe’s wooden ark. It speaks to the heart of Jewish life and practice.Shabat Shalom.
Rabbi Berel Wein