Aron Habrit; The Ark of the Covenant

Insights into “Word Concepts” in Torah. 
The Torah Portion of Terumah Exodus 25:1–27:19

Moshe Kempinski

Judaism Shiloh
צילום: PR

 We read the following in the weekly Parsha (Torah portion);

"They shall make an Aron-Ark of acacia wood ( Atzei Shittim), two and a half cubits its length, a cubit and a half its width, and a cubit and a half its height.. And you shall overlay it with pure gold; from inside and from outside you shall overlay it, and you shall make upon it a golden crown all around."(Exodus 25:10-11)

The people were being commanded to place the most precious item in the world into this vessel they were to create. The very words of G-d carved into stone were to be placed into an Aron-Ark  made of acacia wood lined with gold.

More than any other item it was this Aron Habrit; The Ark of the Covenant that was to become the most exalted and holy of all the artifacts of the temple.

Why do we not see a "Menorah of The Covenant" or the "Tablets of the Covenant" that could perhaps symbolize or act as  the eternal symbol of G-d's presence? Yet instead we see a closed box... an Aron. Why would that be so?

Hashem's words are clear "“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; (Exodus 20:4).


The danger of taking the physical and deifying it and that of taking the mortal and declaring it to be a god,  is to be guarded against.

The Aron Habrit; The Ark of the Covenant was to be a critical tool in that endeavor.

And the Lord said to Moses: Speak to your brother Aaron, that he should not come at all times into the Holy within the dividing curtain, in front of the cover that is upon the ark, so that he should not die, for I appear over the ark cover in a cloud.(Leviuticus 16:2)

So the Aron Habrit; The Ark of the Covenant was not only a closed box, but it was also covered by a cloud.

What then does this cloud represent?

On the one hand the cloud represented Hashem's guidance and presence.

"And whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the children of Israel went onward, throughout all their journeys.But if the cloud was not taken up, then they journeyed not till the day that it was taken up. “ (Exodus 40:36-38)

On the other hand, it also served as a barrier or an obstacle.

“Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of Hashem filled the tabernacle And Moshe was not able to enter into the tent of meeting, because the cloud abode thereon, and the glory of Hashem filled the tabernacle.”(Exodus ;34-35).


The cloud would teach the people to be “led forward in  love”. At the same time they would learn how “to stand back out of awe and fear.”

To truly hear Hashem one must confront the mystery defined by the closed box called the Aron Habrit; The Ark of the Covenant that was covered by a cloud.

To truly comprehend the encounter with the Divine involves an understanding that it is necessarily a meeting with the unknown and with mystery. Idolatry is rooted in exactly the opposite desire. Idolatry is rooted in a passion of making the unknown real, tangible, and easily accessible .

 Yet that cannot be possible with an infinite Creator.

There is another lessoned to be gleaned from the Aron Habrit; The Ark of the Covenant.

The precious tablets inscribed by the finger of G-d were to be placed in an Ark made of Atzei Shittim (Acacia Wood)  that was  then only lined with gold.

Perplexing is the fact that this type of tree called Atzei Shittim whispers of another more difficult chapter in the history of this newly formed people.

“Israel settled in Shittim, and the people began to commit harlotry with the daughters of Moav . They invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and prostrated themselves to their gods.” (Numbers 25:1-2)

One is left wondering why the wood from these specific trees were used to create the Aron Habrit ?.

Our sages teach that G-d always “prepares the remedy before the illness”. The use of the Atzei Shittim was in fact the cure for the moral failures of the people in Shittim.

We have a way of losing our way when we begin to feel unworthy and impure.   The Aron Habrit and the tabernacle were going to be constant reminders of G-d resting within their midst. The ark built of those same trees would reinforce the understanding that moral turpitude was not a function of trees, or springs of water but a matter of choice.The use of the same wood would be a tikkun ( a spiritual repairing) of the sins related to these trees.

The message of the Aron Habrit  was then clear on two levels.

To comprehend the concept of encountering Hashem is to accept that in essence it will always remain a mystery, a closed box.  This is as it should be as we are dealing with an Entity beyond human comprehension.

Yet the second lesson revealed by the use of the Atzei Shittim ( Acacia woods) is that the act of moving closer even to the Infinite should not be blocked by feelings of inadequacy .

The way is always clear , though the path remains infinite.


 LeRefuat Yehudit Bat Golda Yocheved and Yehudit bat Chaya Esther