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In previous years, I've written about the exactitude with which we are given instructions for the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), and about how each must be moved in his or her own heart for the gifts offered to Gd. (Links to previous musing on T'rumah at the bottom of this page.)
In reading this parasha yet again, I wondered what other themes I could possibly glean from it, seeing how these verses have a very specific nature.
I should have known better than to worry. On my journey, I discovered myriads of things to yet ponder, so I've fodder enough for many more musings on parashat T'rumah. As it is said, "hafakh ba v'hafakh ba", "turn it and turn it" (for everything is in it.)
Here's one of the places that caught my attention. In Ex. 25:10-22, we read of the instruction for making the ark of the covenant. [Spooky Indiana Jones music in the background.] We're told to make it of acacia wood, 2.5 cubits by 1.5 cubits, and 1.5 cubits tall (say 3.5 feet x 26 inches, and about 26 inches tall). The inside and outside are covered in pure gold (talk about ostentation-that's a lot of "spoils of Egypt" being melted down). Next we need a series of rings to attach to the feet and sides, and then two long wood poles, also covered in gold, to insert through the rings for carrying.
And here's the verse that got me thinking. "The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark: they shall not be removed from it." No mystery about what that means. The ark must be ready at all times to be moved. Semper paratus--always ready--just like the Marines.
So now the question arises as to why the ark must always be ready to be moved. There are obvious answers in the knowledge that the people were going to be on a journey (and perhaps Gd's prescient knowledge that this journey is going to last quite a bit longer than the people expect-which leads once again to some uncomfortable conclusions about a whimsical Gd putting the people through a song and dance when Gd already knows the outcome--but that's a musing for another time.)
Sure, it makes sense in many ways for the ark to always be ready to be transported. The people could be attacked at any time on their journey. A sudden weather condition might force them to move their camp. Gd might wake them up in the middle of the night and say "Hey, you folks over there! Yes, You! Move that ark thingie about three fingers to the right, and don't ask why because I'm your Gd, OK?" (here we go with that puppet-master Gd again.)
Now, let's think longer term. Gd and the people both know that we've been promised a land to call our own, a place to dwell. Once settled, what need might there be for the ark to always be ready for transport? Surely Gd would designate someplace to leave the ark, and the people would flock to it? (Holy shades of a great Temple, Batman!) would it still need its poles to be in place then?
Given the gift of our hindsight, we know that it is only with great reluctance that Gd permits the establishment of a monarchy, and the construction of a great Temple. (Put that in your pipe and smoke it, those from the "Gd never changes Gd's mind" camp.) The insistence on the constant portability of the ark can be looked upon as a statement regarding giving the ark a permanent home.
Since Gd did permit the eventual building of a home for the ark, might we not interpret the readiness of the ark for movement as a sign that the permanence of that place was not guaranteed - dependent, perhaps, on how well the people upheld their end of the covenant. Or, for the more dubious among you, that Gd might abrogate on the covenant at some point and we'd have to move the ark quickly in the face of a threat that Gd chose to ignore.
Fascinating and interesting questions, all. And there are so many more. However, I think they miss the point. Why must the Ark be portable at all times?
What's inside the ark? The tablets of the covenant (well, the second pair of them will be.) Tablets symbolic of the mitzvot, the commandments, that Gd is going to the Jewish people. To live these commandments, must not I carry them around with me wherever I go? If I leave them in a box, I might forget them. Someone else might steal them. They might wither away from inattention. The constant portability of the ark is the reminder to us that we must carry the commandments with us wherever we go. We may not remove the poles. We must carry them with us at home, at work, at play.
It is also a reminder that the mitzvot are a task. The poles represent not only portability, but work. Effort is needed to pick up and carry the ark, just as effort is needed to carry the mitzvot with us, in our hearts and minds and our deeds.
Notice, however, that there are two poles. One person alone cannot move the ark. It takes at least two, and more than likely, four or more, to pick up the poles and carry the ark. This reminds us that we don't carry the responsibility for the mitzvot all by ourselves--that we must work, as a community, each helping, in his or her own way, to carry the ark--to carry Gd's mitzvot to the people Israel, everywhere we go.
So much meaning derived from seven simple words in Ex. 25:15. "B'tab'ot ha-aron yih'yu ha-badim lo yasuru mimenu." "The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark: they shall not be removed from it."
The mitzvot. We must carry them with us. They are not just a thing, they are a task requiring effort. We share the load, the effort of these tasks with others. And we must be always ready to do them. Semper paratus.
© 2003 by Adrian A. Durlester
Some Previous Musings on the same parasha
T'rumah 5762-Virtual Reality or Real Virtuality?
T'rumah 5760-Doing It Gd's Way
T'rumah 5761-You Gotta Wanna
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