Rabbi Yakov Haber
Rabbi Yakov Haber

The Divine Presence: The Hidden and The Revealed

The detailed description of the materials, dimensions, and structure of the utensils and kohanic vestments associated with the Mishkan in the desert -- mostly to be applied as well to the construction of the permanent Mikdash in Jerusalem -- leads the Midrashim and the commentaries to seek out and elaborate upon an enormous amount of symbolism inherent within the Mishkan/Mikdash which instructs and informs us concerning multi-faceted aspects of Divine service.  This is not surprising in light of the comment of many that the true sanctuary is the individual Jew; the Mikdash serves as a model and live analogy for this concept. (See The Ultimate Mikdash for further elaboration on this last point.)  Here, we focus on one aspect of the construction and placement of the Aron.

The Talmud (Yoma 54a) relates that the badim (poles) were slightly pulled from their position on the sides of the Aron to protrude into the Paroches which divided between the Kodesh HaKadashim (Innermost Chamber) -- where the Aron rested -- and the Heichal (Outer Chamber).  However, neither the Aron nor even the badim were visible as the Paroches prevented their being seen.  (See Ha'amek Davar who infers this concept from the Torah's description of the placement of the badim (Parshas VaYakheil 40:20).)  To quote Rav S. R. Hirsch (commentary to our Parsha  (25:12-15)): "To anyone in the sanctuary, they (the badim) were  the sole visible evidence of the existence of the Ark of the Covenant behind the curtain."

Perhaps we can explain the symbolic meaning of this partial revelation of the Aron as follows.  (See Gemara Yoma ibid. for its explanation.  The themes elaborated upon here can be taken as elaborations on that same explanation.)  The prophets of old have already noted the inherent paradox concerning G‑d's relationship with His world.  On the one hand, G‑d is apparent everywhere: "m'lo chol ha'aretz k'vodo", "the Earth is filled with His Glory!" (Yeshaya 6:3).   On the other hand, G‑d his hidden and remote: "achein atta keil mistatier", "Indeed, you are a G‑d who hides" (ibid. 45:15).  In the language of Rav Y. D. Soloveitchik zt"l in his classic work, The Lonely Man of Faith (p. 48):

…man is faced with an exasperating paradox.  On the one hand, he beholds G‑d in every nook and corner of creation, in the flowering of the plant, in the rushing of the tide, and in the movement of his own muscle, as if G‑d were at hand close to and beside man, engaging him in a friendly dialogue.  And yet the very moment man turns his face to G‑d, he finds Him remote, unapproachable, enveloped in transcendence and mystery.

This duality was expressed dramatically by the placement of the badei ha'aron.  At the same time it was known that the Aron, upon whose k'ruvim G‑d rested his Divine Presence, was just behind the curtain, but yet, no individual could actually witness this splendorous sight.  The Gemara in Yoma expresses this by comparing the shape of the badim jutting into the Paroches to the contours of a human body -- seen but yet not seen through clothing.

In our lives, we often catch glimpses of Hashem's hand.  We see His majestic Hand in His Creation ("the heavens bespeak the Glory of G‑d!").  We observe His hand in History as the Tzur Yisrael, ensuring Israel's protection.  We are often awed by His hashgacha p'ratis, individual Divine Providence, in our lives ("shivt'cha umish'ant'cha heima y'nachamuni", "your rod and support comfort me").  But yet, even with all of this, G‑d remains mysterious, transcendent, unseeable and unreachable.  Sometimes, this duality leads to doubt or crises in religious faith.  The only individual who actually saw the Aron in its full splendor was the Kohein Gadol on Yom Kippur.  Perhaps the symbolism behind this is twofold.  First, our spiritual giants, prophets and great Torah sages, with their intense connection to the Almighty, constantly serve as our guides reminding us of Hashem's Omnipresence even in times when His Hand is hidden from our eyes. Thus, the Kohein Gadol testifies to us: "Yes, the Divine Presence rests in the Kodesh HaKadashim the whole year round, and I am a living witness to this fact!" Second, Yom Kippur, with its intense all-day ‘avoda, is an opportunity for the individual also to experience the sense of the Divine presence.

There are times, though, in our individual and communal lives and history, during which G‑d's Hand is unmistakably present.  This concept is perhaps symbolized by those times during the year that the entire nation was privileged to actually see the Aron.  The above-cited Gemara in Yoma records that during the festivals, the Kohanim would roll up the curtain so that the people could see the Aron and the K'ruvim embracing one another and would tell them, "See your dearness before Hashem!"  The Mo'adim not only commemorate historical periods of intense Divine connection and revelation in the past but serve as time periods when those same aspects of Hashem's revelation to us occur in the present albeit on a smaller scale.  It is no surprise that precisely at those points, the Aron, symbolizing as it did the Sh'china's presence within K'lal Yisrael, was revealed in it full glory.

The entire period from the month of Adar through the month of Nissan, traversing through the joyous holidays of Purim and Pesach and the miraculous redemptions they commemorate -- one more hidden, one more revealed -- serves as an eternal reminder of the times when Hashem's intervention on the world-scene is obvious and apparent.  This season of the year and the festivals celebrated within it serve as eternal sources of spiritual confidence and rejuvenation to vaccinate us for those times in our lives when G‑d's hand is less than apparent.  We are instructed: "Mishenichnas Adar marbin b'simcha", "When Adar enters, we increase our joy!"  As Rav Soloveitchik often noted, true joy occurs only when one is in the presence of HaKadosh Baruch Hu.  This entire period of miraculous redemption serves to remind us of the fact that although the intensity of the Divine Presence changes based on our actions, Hashem is always with us.  "Lo ira ra ki atta imadi", "I will not fear evil because You are always with me!"  May we merit speedily the full revelation and return of the Sh'china in our days!

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