THE LOST ARK
Steven Spielberg’s fantasy movie, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” draws its inspiration from the holy Ark, described in this week’s parasha. The Ark disappears from Jewish life at the end of the First Temple period. Some sources suggest it was buried somewhere under the Temple Mount to avoid it falling into enemy hands. For the past two and half thousand years, its location has remained hidden.
It seems strange that although other Temple vessels like the Menorah and the Altar were reconstructed for the Second Temple, no attempt was made to replace the Ark. Indeed, Moses Maimonides, in codifying the Laws of the Temple, omits any instructions on how to build the Ark.
Why would that be?
Well, the Ark was important only because it contained the two tablets on which the Ten Commandments were engraved. It had no significance of its own. Once the tablets were lost, there was no point in having an Ark.
One might have thought that the loss of the two tablets would be a devastating setback for the Jewish people. After all, they represented the words of G-d that the nation heard at Mount Sinai when the Torah was given. Surprisingly, this was never regarded as a problem. Throughout the period of the Second Temple, the service functioned with The Holy of Holies empty.
This directs us to a powerful idea. Our parasha opens with the commandment, “They shall make a Sanctuary for me and I will dwell in them.” (Shemot 25:8). Many commentators point out that it would be more accurate for the text to say, “I will dwell in it.” There was only one Sanctuary. The use of the plural term, “I will dwell in them” suggests that G-d is saying ‘I will dwell among the Jewish people.’ The deeper significance of the Sanctuary is the one we build inside of ourselves in welcoming G-d into our heart and into our lives.
The book of Proverbs encapsulates this beautiful idea specifically in regard to the tablets. “My child, guard My words and keep My mitzvot close to you…Bind them on your fingers, inscribe them on the tablet of your heart.” (Proverbs 7:1-3)
The poetic phrase “tablet of your heart” deliberately evokes the image of the original tablets of stone. Proverbs challenges us. Can you take those stone tablets and make them part of your identity?
When the essence of the Ten Commandments has become internalised, such that they are written on the tablets of our heart, then it is no longer a problem that we don’t have the original tablets.
The Ark and tablets may be physically lost but we can carry them forward in our hearts.