Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Parshat Ekev

The Two Arks

When God instructed Moshe to make replacement Luchot, He told him to “make for yourself a wooden ark. I shall inscribe on the tablets the words that were upon the first tablets which you shattered and you shall place them into the ark. So I made an ark of acacia wood…I turned and came down from the mountain, and placed the tablets in the ark which I had made” (Devarim 10:1-5).

There are numerous problems with this account of the Ark’s construction:

  • Bezalel built the Ark of the Covenant, not Moshe
  • The Ark was made out three layers, the inner outer layer were made from gold while only the middle layer was made from acacia wood
  • The Ark was one of the final items of the Mishkan that was constructed. Moshe could not have placed the Luchot in it upon his descent from the mountain.

Some commentators explain away these problems.

  • Bezalel built the Ark unde Moshe’s instructions and guidenc. It is as if Moshe built it - in the same way that Shlomo ‘built’ the first Temple and Herod ‘built the Second’
  • Moshe’s account is brief and does not include the intricate materials and details in which the Ark was constructed
  • Moshe laced the Luchot into the Ark once it was constructed.

Nevertheless, some commentaries, such as Rashi, claim that this Ark refers to a temporary ark that was built to house the Luchot until the permanent Ark was ready. This Ark played a similar role to the temporary Ohel Mo’ed that existed outside of the camp before the Mishkan was built (see Shemot 23:7-9).

The existence of a second Ark solves a riddle abut one of the Ark’s purposes. “So it was, whenever the ark set out, Moshe would say, Arise, O Lord, may Your enemies be scattered and may those who hate You flee from You” (Bemidbar 10:35).

It seems that the Ark had a military purpose. Indeed we see the Ark being used in a number of battles, e.g. at the conquest of Yericho (see Yeoshua Ch.6) and at Givon (Shoftim 20:27) and yet we have a perplexing episode in a fateful just before Shmuel’s leadership.

Israel had been defeated in battle, and so decided they needed Divine help and called for the Ark to be brought: “When the Ark of the Lord's Covenant came into the camp, that all Israel shouted a great shout, and the earth stirred. And the Philistines heard the sound of the shout, and they said, "What is the sound of this great shout in the camp of the Hebrews?" And they knew that the Ark of the Lord had come into the camp. And the Philistines feared, for they said, "God has come into the camp." And they said, "Woe is unto us, for there was nothing like this yesterday and before yesterday” (I Shmuel 4:5-7).

If it was normal for the Ark to be used in battle, why wasn’t it used in the first place? Furthermore, from the Philistine cries, it seems that the Arkd hd not been used previously in battle.

We could suggest that the Ark regularly used in battle was the temporary Ark, while the Ark used in this battle was the main Ark of the Covenant.

Nevertheless, we could also suggest that while the Ark was once used in battle, at a later date it was no longer used for this purpose. This would be because of over reliance on the Ark in a similar way that the people claimed in Yirmiyahu’s day: “Do not rely on false words, saying: The Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord are they (Yirmiyahu 7:4). It is not the Ark or the Temple that brings victory, but only Israel’s loyalty to God”.

Last year's Sedra Short on Parshat Ekev entiled: "Shema 1 and Shema 2" appears at

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

The 2 Arks may also explain how some say the ark is in Axum Ethiopia and other who claim that no one would have dared remove the Ark from the Kodesh Kedoshim to take it elsewhere.
Perchance the temporary ark you darshaned about here is the Ark that ended up in Ethiopia.

Just speculation of course

8:39 PM  

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