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In this week’s Torah portion of Teruma we discuss the preparations and blueprints needed to build the Mishkan and the vessels inside. The Aron, the Holy Ark, was placed in the most Holy of Holy part of the Mishkan.
The Rabbeinu Chananel says that the Aron alludes to a righteous sage; his insides [intentions] must be like his outsides [actions], just as the Aron was plated gold on the inside and outside [with a layer of wood in the middle]. Similarly, just as the floor of the Aron was 2.5 amah by 1.5 amah (which is 4 amos squared minus a quarter: 2.5×1.5=3.75), so too a righteous person should limit himself regarding the four foundations of his body and add to his righteousness and good deeds. And just as the height of the entire box enclosure of the Aron was a square of 12 amos [1.5x (1.5+2.5+1.5+2.5) =12] because the long walls were 7.5 amos [1.5x (2.5+2.5) =7.5] and the wide walls were 4.5 amos [1.5x(1.5+1.5)=4.5], so too the righteous person should fulfill the 12 conditions spelled out in Tehillim perek 15. A level above a righteous person is a prophet and the covering on the Aron is a hint to the prophets being a level higher than the righteous. Just as the covering was completely gold so too a prophet was completely righteous, as it is written: “All the sayings of my lips are with righteousness” (Mishlei 8:8). The Keruvim on top of the covering were a hint to the angels which are a level above the prophets, and they spread out their wings upward as a hint to the Holy Presence which is a level above the angels, for the angels are the Throne of Honor to accept the Honorable Holy Presence. And this is what is written: “[turned] toward the ark cover shall be the faces of the Keruvim” (Shemos 25:20). The Keruvim [Angels] would look downward towards the covering of the Aron and they were not permitted to look up, for Hashem is above everything as it says: “which is called a name, the name of the Lord of Hosts who dwell upon the Keruvim [being] upon it” (Shmuel Beis 6:2). (Click here for Hebrew text.)
It seems that all the components of the Aron HaKodesh were designed to be a lesson and reminder for tzadikim on how to act and what they represent. There is also a reminder for all of us about the levels of spirituality and holiness: tzadik-prophet-angel-Hashem.
However, what seems perplexing is that the Aron was always kept in the Kodesh HaKodashim, Holy of Holies, and was rarely seen by anyone throughout history; so how could it have been a reasonable reminder for the righteous on how they should represent themselves and act? What is the point of making such a thing for this purpose? Why is it any better to make it with these exact dimensions to teach these hints than for the tzadik to develop his righteousness through learning mussar sefarim [books on character development], taking classes on how to be a better person, and putting into practice what he has learned and developed? The Mussar sefer, Mesillas Yesharim [Path of the Just], is a perfect example of how to master righteousness one level at a time. It is based on a Braisa of Pinchas ben Yair in Avoda Zara 20b. If a person does master each levels in the sefer he is guaranteed to become a great tzadik and will be a level immediately below prophesy. If this is true, what then does the Aron HaKodesh add, especially if it is not seen by too many tzadikim? Seeing is better than hearing about something only if you actually see it; but if you can’t see it, what impact would it have on a person? And if so, why did Hashem go out of His way to create something with specific dimensions and looks in order to be a reminder if it is not a practical reminder?
The answer must be that even if very few tzadikim saw the Aron Kodesh, simply by knowing it is there and what it represents, or learning about how it is made and why it was made in that fashion, adds to the understanding and feeling of needing to live up to that level of righteousness. Meaning, even though they might never have seen the Aron Kodesh and therefore don’t have an actual physical reminder of what they stand for, the very knowledge of its existence, and the mental picture it forms in their minds can have a great impact or adds more to the impact than just learning about how to be a righteous person. The picture in their minds adds more of an impetus to act in the proper way than merely learning about how to act in the proper manner.
So too, for us, the picture in our minds or even in textbooks of the Aron, with the curtain on top, and the keruvim looking down and not up, can bring us to a greater and clearer realization of levels of spirituality and holiness, if we ponder it. A whole new level of understanding and belief in Hashem could be reached which would not have been as clear to us if the Aron HaKodesh and its components would not have been made in the fashion that it is to represent.