In this week’s Parashah, Parashat Terumah, Hashem instructs Bnei Yisrael to make one of the most, if not the most, famous object in Judaism, the Aron. The Aron was made out of acacia wood and was covered inside and out with gold, as Hashem told Moshe to tell Betzalel, the master craftsman: “VeTzipitah Oto Zahav Tahor MiBayit UMiChutz Tetzapenu,” “You shall cover it with pure gold, from within and from without you shall cover it” (Shemot 25:11). Rashi (ibid. s.v. MiBayit UMiChutz) explains that Betzalel made three Aronot that comprised the actual Aron. He first made a golden box on the outside, then, inside that one, he made an acacia-wood box, and then he made an even smaller golden box inside the wooden box. The cover of the Aron had two Keruvim on it--two golden figures with children’s faces and wings stretched upwards. The Gemara (Sukkah 5b) explains that the word Keruvim comes from “Ke,” meaning “like,” and “Keruv,” which means “youth,” and so the Keruvim had the likeness of children’s faces. It was in between these Keruvim that Hashem spoke to Moshe, as the Torah states “VeDibarti Itecha MeiAl HaKaporet MiBein Sh’nei HaKeruvim,” “And I shall speak with you from atop the cover from between the two Keruvim” (Shemot 25:22). Two striking questions arise from these descriptions. Firstly, why have a box inside another box inside another box? Why not just make the entire Aron out of gold? Secondly, why have Keruvim at all, and why do they have children’s faces on them?
In answer to the first question, the Da’at Zekeinim explains that if the Aron was made of entirely gold, it would have been too heavy for the Jews to carry, and so it was made of wood to ease the burden. This shows that Hashem wants to make things easier for the Jewish people, even if, superficially, something might appear to be very difficult, much as the Aron appeared to be made out of solid gold. The Gemara (Yoma 72b) interprets that the reason for the intricate design was to symbolize an important lesson. The Aron was consistent inside and out; both the outer layer and the inner layer were covered with gold. A Jew also needs to be consistent. For example, one cannot only talk about the importance of being nice to others; one needs to actually follow through. He shouldn’t only do Chessed when he knows he will receive praise or reward, but also when no one else but him knows about it. As such, a person should be “Tocho KeBaro”--the same inside and out.
In regard to the second question, the fact that the Keruvim have children’s faces can also teach us a valuable lesson. Rav Shmuel Rozovsky (Chiddushei Rabi Shmuel) writes that one can have the best Rebbe in the world, but in order to learn Torah and do Mitzvot properly, one needs to be like a child. Every time one learns he needs to be as enthusiastic as a child and ask as many questions as possible. One should not just go through the motions of learning or doing a Mitzvah; he should enter with enthusiasm as if it is his first time he ever learned or performed a Mitzvah in his life! One should never be cynical and complain because not only does that ruin the whole experience for him, others around who see him being cynical also start complaining and the spark is gone. In everything in life, we are reminded by the Keruvim to always want to do everything and dream big, just like a child.
The Aron itself is further clouded in an air of mystique and miracles. For example, the Gemara (Megillah 10b) describes that the Aron took up no physical space. The Aron was 2.5 Amot long and was placed right in the middle of the Kodesh HaKedashim. The Kodesh HaKedashim was 10 Amot from one end of the Aron to the wall and 10 Amot from the other end of the Aron to the wall. That adds up to 22.5 Amot in length (2.5+10+10). However, the Mishkan was only 20 Amot long, and so it wasn’t physically possible for there to have been room for the Aron. We therefore see that the Aron took up no space!
Another miracle associated with the Aron occurred during the battle of Yericho (Yehoshu’a 6:1-26). The Jews carried the Aron around the walls of Yericho once a day for seven days. On the last day, they circled the walls seven times, and Hashem made the walls crumble. The Aron’s miraculous powers are further described in Sefer Shmuel (I 5:1-6:20). When the Aron was stolen by the Pelishtim, they transferred it to various cities, where the inhabitants were subsequently plagued with hemorrhoids. Finally, the Aron was returned to Am Yisrael. Once the Aron arrived in Eretz Yisrael, it was taken to Beit Shemesh, where the people foolishly peered inside the Aron, causing 50,000 men to be killed. Similarly, during the time of King David (Shmuel II 6:2-7) Uzzah was leading the Aron to Yerushalayim and he caught the Aron to steady it, as it appeared to be falling, and he died for touching it.
The location of the Aron today is unknown, but there are many theories as to where it is. One theory is that after the destruction of Bayit Rishon, the Babylonians took it, but the Aron is not included in the list of what the Babylonians took, so that theory cannot be substantiated. Some suggest that Yoshiyahu HaMelech hid it before the Babylonians invaded, and therefore its location is still unknown. The Gemara (Horayot 12a) says that Yoshiyahu dug a hole under Har HaBayit and placed it there, while the Rambam (Hilchot Beit HaBechirah 4:1) writes that Yoshiyahu hid it in a cave near the Dead Sea. Another theory is that Shishak, an Egyptian Pharaoh who invaded Judea during Bayit Rishon and took many treasures of the Jews (Melachim Alef 14:25-28), took the Aron (this is the story that is used in the movie Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.) One last theory is that the Knights Templar recovered it during the Crusades and brought it to Western Europe, where it has been hidden ever since.
Although we do not know where it is, the Aron was and is a great symbol for the Jewish people. The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that the Aron symbolizes each one of us. The Aron was kept in the most secluded and holy place, the Kodesh HaKedashim. Just as the Aron was removed from things less holy, so too we need to remove ourselves from unholy things. Although it was secluded, the Aron was still portable and had poles so that at any given moment it could be taken to a new place. A Jew needs to be ready to venture out and help another person in need at any given moment, even if it disrupts learning Torah. God willing, during the era of Bayit Shelishi, the location of the Aron will be discovered and the Aron will once again be in its home, the Kodesh HaKedashim.