<I>Terumah</I>: The Lost Ark?

A hidden Ark awaits the Third Temple.

Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Hirsch

Judaism לבן ריק
לבן ריק
Seventeen years ago, I returned home from work to the greeting of my kids: "You missed him. Indiana Jones was here, visiting his family." It turned out that the real-life archaeologist Professor Vendyl Jones, who for decades has been digging in the Judean desert looking for lost artifacts of the Temple (such as incense), had come to the Mevasseret Zion absorption center to visit his daughter and grandkids.

The professor, of course, had served as the model for Hollywood's Steven Spielberg in crafting his fictional archaeologist, Indiana Jones, who went out searching for the Lost Ark of the Temple. The "Hollywood" angle was even more interesting than the movie, in that the real-life Jones' daughter was now Jewish, very religious and married to the son of a famous Jewish Hollywood actor who became a ba'al teshuvah, a practicing Chasid, who continued to work in television.

While it seems that at least the fictional professor, and Spielberg, believe that the Ark isn't lost at all, one has to ask: Is the Ark, the Aron, really lost? And if not, then where is it? And even if the Jews didn't have the Aron of Moses, which Solomon installed in the first Temple, then why didn't they build a new one when they came back from Babylon with Ezra? Certainly, they didn't have the Luchot, the tablets that Moshe Rabbeinu received from the Almighty at Sinai, but why should that have been any impediment, given that the Jews did rebuild all the other Temple utensils, including the Choshen Hamishpat, the High Priest's breastplate.

The Choshen was analogous to an Ark empty of Luchot, because it was empty of Urim V'tumim (Shmot 28:30), according to Raavad (Hilchot Beit HaB'chirah, chap. 4, 1); as opposed to Rambam, who says they made a non-functioning Urim V'Tumim. The Urim V'Tumim sat inside the Choshen from Moshe and Aharon's days until the destruction of the First Temple. If an empty Choshen could be used after that, then why not an empty Aron?

This question is asked by the Rashash on the Mishna Yuma 53b. The Rashash provides an answer, and thereby answers Rashi's question on Shmot 25:21, a verse whose second half seems to merely be a repeat of verse 16. Rashi answers that the repetition tells the order of building - first, the Aron-box, then the insertion of the Luchot, then Kaporet-covering. But the Rashash utilizes a principle stressed throughout the
The Second Temple, with no visible Aron, was still a valid Temple because the Aron was in its proper spot.
Talmud in Seder Kodashim: whenever an idea is mentioned twice in the Torah, it tells us it is m'akeiv, it must be done exactly so or else it is invalid. And so, the Torah's repetition of the insertion of the Tablets in the Aron is to tell us that without Tablets, it's no Ark, it is invalid as an Ark. And so, it would have been futile to construct such an Aron, empty of Luchot, in the Second Temple.

Moreover, adds the Aznayim LaTorah, the purpose of the Ark and Tablets was so that the Lord would "meet with you there, and talk to you from above the Kaporet covering, from between the two Cherubim that are on the Ark of the Tablets." (verse 16) But ever since the destruction of the First Temple, there was no such Divine Shechinah (Presence) or prophecy in Israel, making construction of such an Ark, again, futile.

Of course, the Gemara in Yuma (52b; 53b-54a) describes a machloket Tanaim, a difference of opinion of the rabbis, whether the Ark was lost in exile to Babylonia, or whether it was hidden by King Yoshiahu (Divrei Hayamim 35:3) in the passageways and tunnels under the Temple Mount. The Rambam (ibid., "Hilchot Beit HaB'chirah") holds the latter opinion, that of Rabbi Yehudah Ben-Lakish.
The Lubavicher Rebbe comments on the Rambam's uncharacteristic quoting of the story and verses of Yoshiahu's hiding of the Ark in the tunnels under the Temple Mount. The Rebbe explains that a Temple with no Aron was void, not a valid Temple. But the Second Temple, with no visible Aron, was still a valid Temple because the Aron was in its proper spot. The Rebbe says that there were two proper places for an Aron: above, on "the stone in the Holy of Holies, at its western end" (Rambam, ibid.); and a place below, possibly underneath the Lishkat Eitzim (Chamber of Wood; see Yuma 54a and Shekalim 6:2) in the northeast corner of the Ezrat Nashim, not far from the present Sha'ar Rachamim. An Aron in the Temple Mount tunnels is, therefore, a perfectly functional Aron as far as the legitimacy of the Temple above it is concerned.

In our days, of course, we have "lo ishim v'lo asham, lo Parochet v'lo Kaporet" (Yom Kippur Musaf service), none of the vessels of the Mikdash, the Temple. But we do have the spot, and we both legally and halachically (according to many) can approach it. MK Yosi Beilin may have called the Temple "a myth," but thereby he joined the ranks of Yasser Arafat and the other Temple deniers. It's a sad fact that in Germany Holocaust denial is a crime, but in Medinat Yisrael, Temple denial doesn't disqualify you from the Knesset.

The story we read on this Shabbat, of the Sanctuary, is a lead-in to our seasons of redemption, on Purim and Pesach. Only someone with a heart of stone can ignore the call of that "stone of the Holy of Holies, at its western end." Our history should be taught to every Israeli grade-schooler, so that he knows his heritage, and his future, so that the flame that fueled our ancestors' return to this Place (HaMakom, as in Bereishit 22:4 and Devarim 16:6) burn strong in every Jewish heart in this country.

Our Arab enemies (not "peace partners" in any sense) recognize what lies in the Place "that is not part of measurable space." (Baba Batra 99a, speaking of the place of the Ark on the Temple Mount). It is high time that the Jewish people claimed what is theirs alone.