Blog - Torah Insights

Where is the Ark of the Covenant? - תרומה


Where is the Ark of the Covenant?

The location of the Ark of the covenant, the more than 3000-year-old Ark that contained the Ten Commandments, that was placed in the innermost chamber of first the tabernacle in the desert, and then the Temple in Jerusalem has been lost since the time of the destruction of the first Temple; its current location is shrouded in mystery. 

Maimonides quotes the Talmudic tradition that states that the Ark is currently hidden deep within the temple mount in an underground chamber that Solomon himself build to hide the Ark: 

When Solomon built the Temple, he was aware that it would ultimately be destroyed. [Therefore,] he constructed a chamber, in which the Ark could be entombed below [the Temple building] in deep, maze-like vaults. 

King Josiah commanded that [the Ark] be entombed in the chamber built by Solomon, as it is said (II Chronicles 35:3): "And he said to the Levites who would teach wisdom to all of Israel: 'Place the Holy Ark in the chamber built by Solomon, the son of David, King of Israel. You will no [longer] carry it on your shoulders. Now, serve the Lord, your God.' (Maimonides, beis Habechirah 4:1)

Solomon understood two important truths. Firstly, nothing created by man is permanent; thus the Temple was destined to be destroyed. Secondly, Solomon also realized that the purpose of setback, frustration, and destruction, is not for destruction per se, but rather to enable greater growth. Therefore, built into the design of the Temple, in anticipation of the destruction, was an underground chamber that would allow the structure of the Temple to give way but that would preserve the essence of the Temple underground, symbolizing the perseverance, and eventual rebuilding, of the Temple. 

The same is true regarding the figurative Temple in the heart of every Jew. We may see destruction when we look at ourselves or our fellow. On the surface, we may see pain, devastation, and failure. We must, however, remember that while the “structure of the temple” was destroyed, the essence of the Temple is intact. Just as the physical Ark of the covenant is preserved in the depths of the temple mountain, the figurative Ark is etched within the subconscious soul, in its most pristine and pure self. Our inner soul preserves the essence of our connection to G-d, and allows us to emerge from the crisis and create an even more wholesome reality.  

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos 21 Terumah 2

The Problem with Faith - משפטים


The Problem with Faith

"A thief, at the opening of the tunnel, calls to G-d", is the Talmud's colorful depiction of the problem with faith. The cynic would argue that the thief's faith in G-d is not authentic; after all, if the thief truly believed in G-d would he not refrain from stealing? Chassidic philosophy, however, explains that in truth, the thief's faith is genuine, yet faith alone is insufficient to affect authentic transformation of personality and behavior. 

That is why, immediately after the great revelation at Sinai, the Torah proceeds, in this week's portion, to introduce the "mishpatim", the logical civil laws of the Torah. The message the Torah conveys is that a revelation at Sinai is not enough to transform a person; but rather, in order to affect our character, we must seek to understand divine wisdom, and internalize the logic of Torah. 

But the story does not end there. 

After the detailed description of the logical laws of Torah, the narrative breaks the chronological order and returns to describe the events of the revelation at Sinai, indicating that rational exploration is, by definition, limited. Just as the eye can perceive only part of the spectrum of light, so can the mind grasp only a glimpse of the true reality. The human mind cannot grasp the infinity and essence of G-d. 

The pattern of the Torah's narrative, therefore, is revelation, logic, and revelation. The Torah begins by describing the foundation of our relationship with G-d, the revelation at Sinai, which, like faith, is beyond knowledge. The Torah then continues to describe the logical laws because we must proceed to explore our faith with logical analysis. We then go back to read about the revelation because the ultimate knowledge is the realization that the essence of G-d is beyond understanding.

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos 16 Mishpatim 1  

When the Kids Leave Home - יתרו


When the Kids Leave Home

Did Moses have a blind spot? How is it possible that Moses, the devoted shepherd to his people, who understood their needs and frustrations, and their uncompromising defender, would miss something so obvious? 

The Torah relates how Jethro, father-in-law of Moses, saw how Moses was the sole judge for all the people. Jethro protested and said that it was a terrible idea and suggested the appointment of other judges to alleviate the burden of judging the people: 

Moses' father-in-law said to him, "The thing you are doing is not good.

You will surely wear yourself out both you and these people who are with you for the matter is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone…

But you shall choose out of the entire nation men of substance, God fearers, men of truth, who hate monetary gain, and you shall appoint over them [Israel] leaders over thousands, leaders over hundreds, leaders over fifties, and leaders over tens.

And they shall judge the people at all times, and it shall be that any major matter they shall bring to you, and they themselves shall judge every minor matter, thereby making it easier for you, and they shall bear [the burden] with you. (Exodus 18:17-22)

Moses missed this seemingly obvious problem because the role of Moses was to teach, educate and uplift. Moses understood that if the people had the opportunity to hear the word of the Torah directly from Moses, they would be elevated to greater heights. Jethro, however, realized that although the people would be inspired and uplifted while in the presence of Moses, when they would depart from his company, they would return to their previous spiritual state and remain unaffected by Moses' perspective. Jethro suggested, and G-d agreed, that the people must be involved in studying and adjudicating the law because the purpose of the Torah is not to offer moments of inspiration but rather to influence our daily, mundane lives. 

A parent spends years seeking to teach values, character, and positive traits to their child. Yet, the test of those values is not when the child is in the parents home, but when the child leaves the presence of the parent and incorporates those valused into his or her own life. 

The same is true in our own lives. The Torah offers us many opportunities to be uplifted and transcend the distractions of daily life. Opportunities to metaphorically "stand before Moses". Yet, the ultimate test of the Torah is how it affects us when we return to the reality of daily life. For the testament that we have attained the essence of the Torah is if we can extend it to sanctify and influence the most mundane parts of life. 

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Likkutei Sichos 16 Yisro 2    


Battling the Inner Amalek - בשלח


Battling the Inner Amalek

Amalek attacked the Jewish people when they were traveling from Egypt to Sinai. According to the Mystics, the Torah commands us to remember what Amalek did to us, because the energy of Amalek seeks to block our journey from our inner Egypt to our personal Sinai. 

The episode of Amalek concludes with the words of Moses describing the war between G-d and Amalek: "And he said, For there is a hand on the throne of G-d {spelled yud hey, the first two letters of the four letters of G-d's name} (Exodus 17:16). Rashi comments: 

Why is the Divine name divided in half? {I.e., why is the Name יָ-הּ used instead of י-ה-ו-ה ?} {The answer is that} the Holy One, blessed be He, swore that His Name will not be complete and His throne will not be complete until the name of Amalek is completely obliterated. 

The Kabbalists explain that the first two letters of the divine name, "yud" and "hey" represent the Divine attributes of "wisdom and "understanding" and were referred to as the "concealed worlds", whereas the last two letters represent the "revealed worlds", "vov'' represents emotion, and the final "hey" represents action. Amalek, then, does not oppose G-d as an abstract idea (the first two letters of G-d's name), rather, Amalek opposes G-d's presence in the real world - in the "revealed worlds'' of emotion and action. 

This is relevant to each of us. We each strive to grow and develop in our spiritual journey of self-improvement and becoming closer to G-d. Yet sometimes, we experience a block. What we know in our mind (the "wisdom" and "understanding"; the "concealed worlds'') does not seem to play out in our emotions and affect our actions (the final two letters of the Divine name; the "revealed worlds").

The Torah describes the antidote to Amalek. 

Moses commanded Joshua to choose men and battle Amalek. Yet the Jewish people were only victorious when Moses raised his hands: 

It came to pass that when Moses would raise his hand, Israel would prevail, and when he would lay down his hand, Amalek would prevail. (Exodus 17:11)

The conventional interpretation is that when the Jewish people saw Moses's hands raised heavenward, they turned to G-d and were, therefore, victorious. The Chassidic interpretation is that in order to be victorious over Amalek, we must figuratively "raise our hands above the head". We must not wait for the knowledge of the mind to trigger an emotion that will lead to action; rather, we must commit to doing the action despite the lack of feeling at this moment. 

The antidote to the inner Amalek, the cold indifference that interferes with our relationship with the people we love and with G-d, is raising the hand. Despite the temporary emotional block of Amalek, we commit to what is right for the relationship. 

Adapted from Shaar Haemunah (Miteler Rebbe) chapter 14

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