Friday, August 11, 2006

the aron and the luchos: one unit

When the parsha recounts the story of the second luchos, there seems to be undo repetitive emphasis placed on the aron:
"...Make two tablets of stone...and an aron of wood" (10:1)
"I wrote on the tablets... and placed them in the aron" (10:2)
"I made an aron of acacia wood and hewed two tablets..." (10:3)
"I came down from the mountain and placed the tablets in the aron..." (10:5)
"At that time G-d seperated the tribe of Levi to carry the aron of the covenant..." (10:8)
If someone is at a Sotheby's auction and buys a multi-million dollar Rembrandt, that person doesn't start asking the auctioneer about the $100 frame the painting is displayed in. So why is such great attention given not just to the luchos, but to the "picture frame" that housed them? It seems while a frame is not integral to the picture it displays, the aron was an inseperable componet of the luchos themselves. This idea is underscored by Rashi's interpretation of which aron the pasuk is speaking about. Rashi writes that this was not the aron of the Mishkan made by Betzalel, but a second aron. When the Mishkan was later constructed, one aron was used to hold the broken luchos, and the aron of the Mishkan held the complete luchos. Ramban asks, if there were indeed two aronos, where was this second one placed? There was room in the Mishkan only to hold one of them! It seems that the Ramban assumes that the aron is defined by its place and function in the Mishkan, but according to Rashi, the aron can exist independent of the Mishkan and as an essential component of the luchos themselves. R' Solovetichik brought proof to this same idea from the Rambam in Hil. Bais haBechira: the Rambam discusses the construction and placement of the klei hamikdash like the menorah, mezbaich, shulchan, etc. all in the context of building the Mikdash, but Rambam omits any discussion of the aron - the aron is not part of the mishkan, but is part of the cheftza of the luchos (Igros haGRI"D p.181). The Minchas Chinuch (mitzvah 379) asks: why do the Rambam and Chinuch count as a mitzvah l'doros that only kohanim (according to Ramban even Leviim) carry the aron, but omit the responsibility of the kohanim to carry the other klei hamikdash (as the Torah relates in Parshas baMidbar)? The Meshech Chochma points to the pasuk in our parsha which identifies the kohanim as designated to carry the aron as the source l'doros, but offers no rationale. R' Soloveitchik explained that the other kelim were sanctified based on their utility in the mishkan; once the mishkan was disassembled, their status as klei kodesh was negated. Only the aron by virtue of its intrinsic connection to the luchos retained its status even when the Mishkan was disassembled and required kohanim for transport. The gemara (Yoma 72b) derives halachos of how a talmid chacham should act from the construction of the aron - just as the physical aron held the luchos, a talmid chacham holds within him the Torah learned. Just as the luchos could not be given without the accompanying aron, a person cannot absorb Torah without first transforming him/herself into a proper "kli kibbul" to receive that Torah. The gemara (Shabbos 32b) writes that amei ha'aretz, the uneducated, are punished for calling the aron kodesh by the name "arna", meaning just a box (see Rashi, maharasha). Maharal explains that to the amei ha'aretz the aron is just the frame holding the Rembrandt. However, a talmid chacham recognizes that the aron is the "seichel Eloki", the container which is also called aron kodesh, because the kli to receive Torah is essential to the Torah itself.

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