Never Remove the Rings
This week's parsha discusses the Mishkan – the portable House of God - which traveled with the wandering Israelites in the wilderness and in the Land of Canaan until the Temple was built by King Solomon in Jerusalem, 480 years after the Exodus from Egypt.
The first vessel discussed is the central vessel of the Sanctuary, the Holy Ark, which contained the Tablets of the Covenant. This Ark was unusual in several respects. Let us look at one Rashi-comment and then examine further aspects of this unique vessel. The Torah's discussion of the Ark is different from other Tabernacle vessels, in several ways. First, it was described first, because of its central importance. Second, it is the only one commanded in the plural "And they shall make an Ark ..." (Exodus 25:10). Third, it has the longest description of all the vessels. And most important - it was from there that God's voice was heard, from between the Cherubim which were on the cover of the Ark. It also had poles by which it was carried. While the Table and the two altars (inner and outer) also had poles, only the Ark had poles that were never to be removed from their rings.
"In the rings of the Ark must the poles be. They must not be removed from them."
They must not be removed from them - RASHI: Forever.
How does Rashi know this? Maybe they may be removed when the Ark is not being transported, like the Table and the two altars.
Why does he make this comment?
WHAT IS BOTHERING RASHI?
An Answer: The poles, ostensibly, were for transporting the Ark. Thus, when they would travel, they would certainly put the poles in the rings to enable them to carry it. Why, then, Rashi wonders, the need for the extra words "They should not be removed"?
An Answer: Simply. The extra words tell us they may not be removed ever, even when it was stationary. This is a separate mitzvah – never to remove these poles from their rings.
But we would ask: Why not? What is special here?
An Answer: This separate command is given us for the Ark only, probably so that no mistake will ever be made regarding transporting it - the Ark must always be borne by people, not by a wagon or an animal. If the poles were ever absent, by mistake, they might move it without them.
Let us look a bit closer at the Ark, the poles and the Cherubim and their symbolism.
THE SYMBOLISM OF THE ARK
The Ark's cover of pure gold had shaped from it two Cherubim, childlike images. This, itself, is quite strange. The Ark contained the Ten Commandments and one of the commandments is not to have any graven images. And right on top of these Commandments we are told to have two large graven images of the Cherubim!
I would say that this teaches us that there is nothing good or bad but God's command makes it so. If Hashem decides that Cherubim – graven images, though they be - are in (the Holy of Holies) then they are in, but only there. The post modern, relativist position is that there is no right or wrong, except what man and his particular culture agree upon. The Torah view is that there is no right or wrong, except what God decides on. This symbolism may be the message here.
Let us point out another law regarding the Ark, its cover and its transporting rules. The Rambam in his Code (Vessels of the Sanctuary Ch. 2, 11-12):
When the Ark is transported from place to place, it is not to be transported on an animal or wagons; rather, it is a mitzvah to carry it on the shoulders. And because King David had it carried on wagons, a tragedy was brought on Uza. But it must be carried on the shoulder, as it says (Bamidbar 7:9) "on the shoulder it must be carried."
When it is carried on the shoulders (by two men) they walk facing each other with their backs facing outward.
We must note that the Cherubim, which were situated on top of the Ark, were also facing each other (see 25:20).
Now the picture becomes clearer. Humans - Israelites - are to bear the Ark from below, while angelic figures cover it from above. Below is man's task – to bear the mitzvos (as symbolized by the Ark). Above the Ark is the connection to the One above, the angels. We, who bear the Ark, are to take our lead from the Heavenly symbols above - we are to face each other as they do. Just as the Spiritual figures face each other in a gesture of cooperation – so are we Israelites to keep Hashem's covenant by facing each other in cooperation.
This may be the meaning of the phrase, "He Who makes peace in His heavens, may He make with us and all of Israel."
We see why the Ark was so central to the Mishkan and so symbolic. We see also why this was where God chose to speak to His people – from between the two Cherubim.