The Mishkan and Beis HaMikdash had different chambers and utensils, all laden with deep meaning and symbolism. Quite arguably, the centerpiece and focal point of the entire sanctuary was the Ark, the gold-covered wooden chest containing the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments, which was the physical embodiment of God’s immanent closeness, as represented by the cherubim, the angelic children sculpted on top in a warm embrace.
By its very nature, the Mishkan and everything in it was built to be portable; assembled, and disassembled as it was so many times. Some of the larger items weren’t built to be dismantled and were too large to be boxed, unlike, say, knives or cups. Those items, such as the Menora, had built-in rings that enabled the insertion and alignment of moving rods, large handles that enabled and facilitated portability by the carrying crew. Ordinarily, these rods were auxiliary gear whose sole purpose was for use when on the go; otherwise, they were removed and stored away, entirely redundant otherwise. This was standard and uniform policy, with one notable exception – the Ark.
Just like every other large instrument and utensil, the Ark was built with rings for its moving rods. But entirely unlike every other instrument and utensil, its moving rods were inserted into the rings just one time and were never to be removed:
וְיָצַקְתָּ לּוֹ אַרְבַּע טַבְּעֹת זָהָב וְנָתַתָּה עַל אַרְבַּע פַּעֲמֹתָיו וּשְׁתֵּי טַבָּעֹת עַל־צַלְעוֹ הָאֶחָת וּשְׁתֵּי טַבָּעֹת עַל־צַלְעוֹ הַשֵּׁנִית׃ וְעָשִׂיתָ בַדֵּי עֲצֵי שִׁטִּים וְצִפִּיתָ אֹתָם זָהָב׃ וְהֵבֵאתָ אֶת־הַבַּדִּים בַּטַּבָּעֹת עַל צַלְעֹת הָאָרֹן לָשֵׂאת אֶת־הָאָרֹן בָּהֶם׃ בְּטַבְּעֹת הָאָרֹן יִהְיוּ הַבַּדִּים לֹא יָסֻרוּ מִמֶּנּוּ׃ – Cast four gold rings for it, to be attached to its four feet, two rings on one of its sidewalls and two on the other. Make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold; then insert the poles into the rings on the sidewalls of the Ark for carrying the Ark. The poles shall remain in the rings of the Ark: they shall not be removed from it. (25:12-15)
The Ark used the exact same prefabricated rods that went on and off everything else; only these remained permanently attached. But what is the point of designing the Ark with moving rods that don’t come out? Why not simply design an Ark with elegantly built-in handles?
R’ Shamshon Raphael Hirsch suggests that these poles highlight a powerful symbolism. They weren’t just ordinary handles, which perhaps truly could have been a permanent design feature. Instead, the Ark – which contains and represents the Torah and all it entails – is deliberately designed with permanent moving rods, meaning the Ark is built to be permanently portable. It requires no preparation to arrive or depart; it is designed to be taken wherever we need and wherever we go at a moment’s notice.
The Midrash suggests that while it looked like the Ark was carried, it actually carried its carriers; the Midrash also suggests that the Ark smoothed out a path for the weary Jewish People, flattening hills and smoothing obstacles along the way.
We have carried the Torah through crusades, exiles, expulsions, and pogroms. Through good times and the bad, the Torah has been the living memory we lovingly look to for wisdom and guidance. So perhaps in some sense, the Torah has carried us too, helping us soothe some of those bumps and scratches we’ve accumulated along the way, providing us with comfort, security, and warmth in the times we need it most.
It goes where we go; built to move with us.