The Location of the Aron Habris

Parshas Devarim

 

The Location of the Aron Habris

[Based on Likkutei Sichos Parshas Teruma Vol. 21 2nd Sicha and Vol. 36 Parshas Vayakehl Pekudei[1]]

 

During the period of the three weeks, the Rebbe encouraged the study of the laws associated with the building of the Temple, otherwise known as Hilchos Beis Habechira. These laws discuss the structure of the Temple, its dimensions, its vessels, and their unique laws. The basis for learning these laws is taken from a Midrash[2] which states that after the destruction of the Temple, Hashem showed Yechezkal Hanavi a vision of the Temple and instructed him to tell the Jewish people of the structure of the Temple and its dimensions. He is to instruct them to study the laws of the building of the Temple. Yechezkel objected to this command, saying to Hashem that it would be better off to wait until the Jewish people leave exile to instruct them of these laws, as what good is it for them to study it now while they are in exile, and unable to build the Temple. [This is like adding salt to their already existing wound caused by the destruction.] Hashem replied to Yechezkal “Because my children are an exile therefore my home should be nullified? When the Jewish people study these laws, I consider it as if they are building My home.” The Rebbe further novelized based on this that during times of exile when one is unable to help build a physical Temple, one fulfills the eternal Biblical command of “Making me a Temple” through studying the laws of the Temple.[3] Accordingly, when studying the topic of this Sicha regarding the location of the Aron Habris, one should have in mind to fulfil this eternal Biblical command of making G-d a Mikdash.

In this Sicha we will explore the location of the Aron Habris, and how discovery of this location should affect us today. Myriads of people throughout the generations, Jews and gentile, have been mystified by the saintly Aron which served as the residence of Hashem’s Shechina and represented a tremendous power for those who owned it. Many individuals throughout the generations attempted searching for the Ark, but to no avail. Notably, Steven Spielberg, who is a Jewish film producer, produced a film in the 1980’s depicting a search for the lost Ark. The film, which featured star actor Harrison Ford, who is Jewish, ended up becoming one of the top watched and grossed films of all times. Although the film and its gory nature does not fit with Torah philosophy, the exposure of the film to 100’s of millions of people throughout the world, spread interest of the Aron and its true whereabouts. In this Sicha, we will explore the location of the Aron, as brought in the works of the Talmud and our Sages. After introducing the various opinions on the matter, the Rebbe asks a series of questions on a ruling of the Rambam which seems to uncharacteristically arbitrate on a historical debate that has no meaning to the title of his Halachic work, called Mishneh Torah. The lesson we learn from this, aside for knowing the location of the Ark, could be utilized to escort a person in his every day dealings with other Jews, and how a Jew must be looked it from his deep goodness which remains untouched irrelevant of what we see on the outside.

 

 

Explorations of the Sicha:

1.      Where is the Aron Habris located?

2.      Who put it there and why?

3.      Is it proper to try to search for the Aron?

4.      What holiness does the Temple mount contain today, and was the Kodesh Hakedoshim truly destroyed?

 

Quick facts about the Aron:

The names: In scripture, we find that the Aron was referred to by five names: 1) Aron Haeidus[4]; 2) Aron Habris[5]; 3) Aron Hashem[6]; 4) Aron Haelokim[7]; 5) Aron Hakodesh[8].

How was it made?[9] The Aron was made up of three hollow boxes placed one within the other. The outer and most inner boxes were made of gold, while the middle box was made of Accacia wood.  

The dimensions: The Aron was 2.5 Ama [120 cm] length by 1.5 Ama [72 cm] width, and was a height of 1.5 Ama [72 cm]. According to some calculations[10], its total weight [together with the Kapores and Luchos] was 8500 kilos. On this the Talmud[11] states that the Aron could not be physically carried, and rather it miraculously carried those who carried it.

The Kapores and Keruvim: On top of the Aron was placed the Kapores, which was a gold lid. The Kapores consisted of the figures of two Cherubs that were placed at opposite ends of the Kapores. These figures were called the Keruvim. The entire Kapores, including the Keruvim, was made of gold. Many statements of the Sages are associated with the Keruvim. The Sages[12] state that the Keruvim had the faces of children, one of a male and one of a female.[13] The Keruvim would miraculously appear in different positions. The wings of the Keruvim, which reached 80 centimeters from the ground, would move upwards during the times of prayer, similar to a flying position.[14] The Talmud[15] states that when the Jewish people would visit during the three Festivals, they would be shown the two Keruvim hugging in a marital position to express the love of Hashem for the Jewish people. When the Jewish people fulfilled Hashem’s will, the Keruvim faced each other, symbolizing the love of Hashem for us, similar to the love of a husband for a wife. When the Jewish people disobeyed Hashem, the Keruvim turned their backs on each other.[16] Hence the Keruvim were not a mere sculpture of gold, but contained actual life and movement that represented the very relationship between Hashem and the Jewish people.

What did the Aron contain?[17] In the Aron was placed the Luchos Habris; both the first which were broken by Moshe, and the second Luchos. Likewise, according to some opinions, the Sefer Torah which was personally written by Moshe was placed in the Aron.

Where was the Aron placed?[18] The Aron was placed in the center of the Kodesh Hakedoshim, on top of the Even Hashetiya.

Miracles associated with the Aron: There were many miracles associated with the Aron, such as the movement of the Keruvim and the fact it carried its carriers, as mentioned above. As well, the Aron was known to help during war, bring blessing to those who had it, and to avenge anyone who did not display to it proper respect.[19] Likewise we find the Aron did not take up any physical space inside of the Kodesh Hakedoshim.[20]

The function of the Aron: Hashem spoke to Moshe from the Aron. The Aron was the area in which the Shechina dwelled within the Mikdash and the world.

The History of the Aron-From its construction until the 1st Temple era:[21]

The Mishkan, and Aron, were first built in the year 2449 after creation [1307 BCE]. The Mishkan made several journeys with the Jewish people throughout the 40 years in the desert. In the year 2488 or 2489[22], the Jewish people entered Eretz Yisrael and Yehoshua built the Mishkan in a town called Gilgal.[23] The Mishkan remained there for 14 years, until year 2503. Afterwards the Mishkan was moved to Shilo and remained there for 369 years, until the year 2,871, when it was destroyed in battle with the Pelishtim, and the Aron Habris was taken into captivity.[24] The Mishkan was then rebuilt, without the Aron, in the town of Nov, and remained there for 13 years[25], until its destruction by Shaul, in the year 2884. It was then rebuilt in Givon and remained there for a further 44-50[26] years, until the building of the first Temple. The first Temple was built in the year 2928 [828 BCE]. The Aron was eventually freed by the Pelishtim after its capture in the war that destroyed the Temple in Shiloh, and was then kept in various areas. It first traveled to Beit Shemesh, and then Kiryat Yearim, and then the home of Oved Edom Hagiti, until it was eventually brought by Dovid to Yerushalyim, Ir David. It remained there until the building of the Temple by his son Shlomo. Accordingly, from the destruction of the Mishkan in Shilo, the Aron had not been in the Mishkan, neither in the Mishkan built in Nov or the Mishkon built in Givon, and would only return to the Kodesh Hakedoshim after Shlomo built the first Temple.

What happened to the Aron during the 2nd Temple era?

The Talmud[27] states that amongst the differences between the first and second Temple, was the fact that the second Temple did not contain the Aron Habris. The immediate question raised by this statement is what then happened to the Aron? Who took it; Why was it taken, and where was it placed? The Talmudic Sages offers three solutions as to the whereabouts of the Aron, each solution being held by a different opinion of the Sages.

The first solution-The Aron was taken to Bavel:

The Talmud[28] states that Rebbe Eliezer and Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochaiy were of the opinion that the Aron was exiled to Bavel in the wake of the destruction of the 1st Temple. Evidently, the Aron was never returned, and according to their approach, the location of the Aron is unknown, and has possibly remained in Bavel or had been taken to some other unknown area. [Another solution is offered in the Sefer Hamakabim[29], which is not considered an authentic Jewish source[30], says Yirmiyah took it and hid it on Mount Nevo, the mount in which Moshe was buried. Various unsubstantiated legends exist amongst gentile communities regarding what occurred to the Aron, and some even claim to have it.[31]]

The second solution-The Aron was hidden by King Yoshiyahu:

Another solution offered by the Talmud[32] is that the Aron was hidden by King Yoshiyahu. King Yoshiyahu was a righteous king of Davidic lineage and reigned over Judea in the year 3,116 [640 BCE]. Relatively, Yoshiyahu enjoyed a peaceful reign until he met his death in battle with Egypt. He was the father of Tzidkiyahu, who was the last king to reign and lived in the times of the destruction of the first Temple. The basis of the above Talmudic statement, that Yoshiyahu hid the Aron, is an explicit verse in Divrei Hayamim[33] which states that king Yoshiyahu “Told the Levites to take the Aron Hakodesh and place it in the house built by Shlomo the son of David, king of Israel.” Now, at that point the Aron was already in the Kodesh Hakedoshim, which was built by Shlomo. Thus, what home of Shlomo was Yeshayahu referring to and why did he have the Aron taken there?

 

Where did Yeshayahu hide the Aron?

The Talmud[34] brings two opinions as to the location of hiding that Yeshayahu had the Aron placed into:

In the Kodesh Hakedoshim: Rebbe Yehuda the son of Lakish states the Aron was hidden in its place. The Brasia Mileches Hamishkan[35] explains this to mean that the Aron was hidden inside the Kodesh Hakedoshim. What exactly this means, we will see in the Rambam’s ruling.

In the Chamber of Wood: Rav Nachman, and the Sages state it was hidden in Lishkas Haietzim, the chamber of wood, which was in the section of the Ezras Nashim of the Temple. This latter opinion backs its claim with the following frightening account: There was once a blemished Kohen who was positioned to work in the wood chamber to select the fresh woods from the woods that have eroded and grown worms. One day during his work, the Kohen noticed an uneven area on the tiles. He came to tell his friend, and his soul immediately left his body, unable to finish his sentence. In a greater detailed version, the Talmud retells that the Kohen had dropped his ax on that area of the tiles, and it became consumed in a flame. From all the above they understood that the Aron must be hidden in that area.  

The Rambam’s solution:[36]

The Rambam is famously known for his arbitrations on Halachic disputes of the Talmud, as he records in his Magnum Opus, Mishneh Torah, which was the first work of final Jewish law placed into print. In the above matter of dispute regarding the location of the Aron, and its three opinions, the Rambam likewise gives a final ruling. The Rambam states[37] when Shlomo Hamelech built the Temple he built it with the foresight that it would one day be destroyed. Therefore, during the initial construction, he built an underground tunnel under the Kodesh Hakedoshim, which was windy and deep, in which the Aron could be hidden and saved from eventual captivity. Yoshiyahu, a descendent of Shlomo, eventually had the Aron hidden in that area. This then is the intent of the verse in Divrei Hayamim that Yoshia had the Aron placed in the house that Shlomo built, as it refers to the secret underground tunnels built by Shlomo in the original construction of the Mikdash. Furthermore, it also clarifies the position of Rav Yehuda Ben Lakish that the Aron was hidden in its place, as it was literally hidden in the area of the Kodesh Hakedoshim, in a tunnel underground. The Rambam further adds that together with the Aron also was hidden the staff of Ahron, the jar of Mun, and the anointing oil made by Moshe. This position taken by the Rambam that the Aron is found in a tunnel that is under the Kodesh Hakedoshim, was also the position of the later Codifier, the Radbaz as seen in a respona of hios to be brought next.

The excavations to find the Aron throughout history:

Throughout the generations, search and rescue teams of gentiles have gone out on the mission to find the Aron.

The Muslims: The Radbaz[38], a 16th century Sage, and chief Rabbi of Egypt, describes in a responsa the following tale of excavations: Under the Dome of the rock, which is formally known as the Al Aksa mosque, lies the foundation stone, known as the Even Hashetiya. Although the Mishneh states that this foundation stone protruded only 6 cm from the ground, due to the excavations of the Muslims, it now protrudes three stories from the ground, and one hence is required to go up many stares to reach the top of the rock. The Muslims say that under the rock there is a tunnel. The kings, and generals of previous generations had all wanted to discover where the tunnel led to and search for any artifacts that remained there. Each time they sent someone down, he would never return, thus finding his premature death. Ultimately, it was decided to close up the opening of the tunnel with earth and cement and to bar anyone’s entrance to there from then on. To this very day, no one knows what is in there. Evidently, the Kings and generals were foretold that the Aron was hidden there and that is what motivated their excavations.

Charles Warren: Charles Warren was a British officer and chief archeologist of Jerusalem during the period of British rule over Israel in the 1900’s. He performed various excavations under the Temple Mount in search of artifacts of the Temple, including the Mizbeiach. His work was stopped prematurely and his efforts never produced any real findings.

Meir Yehuda Gatz: Rabbi Meir Yehuda Gatz was a Tunisian Jew who served as the chief Rabbi of the Western Wall and Israel’s Holy sites from the years 1968-1995. He had a tremendous passion to search for the vessels of the Temple, including the Holy Ark, and he made it his life mission to do so, even if it meant forfeiting his own life. He believed that finding these vessels would help hasten the redemption in ways unprecedented in history. At first, he approached the task with tremendous awe and indecisiveness, until he received the Halachic written approval from the two Chief Rabbis of Israel at that time, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and Rabbi Goren. He also received secret permission from the Israeli government and its prime minister, Menachem Begin, to go forward with the excavations. There was however one Torah Giant who stood up against this attempt by Rabbi Gatz, and that was the Lubavitcher Rebbe.[39] Rav Gatz wrote to the Rebbe in 1976 regarding the excavations and the Rebbe wrote to him at least twice to desist from any such thoughts of excavating any of the holy areas, or questionable holy areas, and that he should speedily inform the Rebbe of the abandoning of these plans. The Rebbe also informed Rabbi Gatz of the grave error involved in even discussing areas of the Temple Mount that Jews can enter, as doing so will cause a stumbling block for non-religious Jews and cause them to walk even in the forbidden areas. The Rebbe’s opinion was thus very clear that he opposed any such talk of Jews visiting the Temple mount, even if it were allowed according to Halacha. It is told that the Rebbe even mentioned to Rabbi Gatz that continuing his plans of excavation sould threaten his very life, just as we saw in the story of the Kohen who tried to reveal to his friend the uneven tile he saw in the Lishkas Haeitzim. Nonetheless, Rabbi Getz was determined to go forth with his life passion and mission, and actually accomplished quite a lot in his excavations, coming close to the tunnel under the Kodesh hakedoshim, which contains the Aron. G-d however had His will, and the work had to be abruptly stopped after the top-secret mission leaked to the news, and caused a public uproar around the world. The government immediately instructed for the project to be aborted and the tunnel area closed up with cement, and so it has remained until this very day.

The Rebbe’s Sicha

The questions on the Rambam’s approach:

Earlier we stated that the Rambam rules like the opinion of Rebbe Yehuda Ben Lakish, that the Aron was hidden by Yeshayahu in a tunnel under the Kodesh Hakedoshim. The Rebbe asks two questions on this assertion of the Rambam.

  1. Why did the Rambam feel a need to write the history of what happened to the Aron in all this detail. It is very uncharacteristic of the Rambam to discuss matters of history in his Sefer of Halachos, unless it serves a Halachic purpose. What Halachic purpose does it serve to know the location of the Aron, with all the details mentioned? Furthermore, in this case, the Rambam had to arbitrate a Talmudic dispute to come to his conclusion, and why then did he enter himself into this dispute to begin with, when seemingly it plays no relevance to the laws of the Temple which he discusses.
  2. The Rambam discussed the laws of the Temple vessels in chapters 1-3, with exception to the Aron. Why did the Rambam position the laws of the Aron only later on in chapter 4, which already begins the detailed laws of the structure of the Temple, and not its vessels.

 

How can the 2nd temple have Kedusha if its missing the Aron which has the Shechina?

The answer to the above question can be found after introducing a further question. Ass brought earlier, the Sages state that in the 2nd Temple era, the Aron was not found in the Temple. How then can the Temple be considered a Halachically valid Temple? The Aron is not just another one of the Temple vessels, but is the main vessel of the Temple, the heart of the Temple, which serves as the location for the Divine presence to rest and reveal itself to the Jewish people and the world. What good is a Temple if it does not contain the basic necessary ingredients to house the Shechina?  This certainly applies according to those authorities[40] who hold the entire purpose of the Temple was for the Shechina to reside, in which case seemingly in their opinion, there was never a valid 2nd Temple. But furthermore, even in the opinion of the Rambam, who holds the main aspect of the Temple is its sacrifices, the Aron was considered its main vessel of which the Temple could not be validated without it. It is precisely due to this question that the Rambam felt compelled to arbitrate on the historical dispute regarding the location of the Aron, and write about it in such detail. 

 

The Kodesh Hakedoshim and Aron remain in the Holy of Holies until this very day:

The Rambam stated that Shlomo Hamelech initially built a special tunnel under the Kodesh Hakedoshim to house the Aron when the time came for the Jewish people to be exiled. By doing so, the Rambam in essence has ruled that the Aron was never removed from the Kodesh Hakedoshim and remains there until this very day. How so? Shlomo originally built two Kodesh Hakedoshim; one on the ground for times of peace, during the 1st Temple era, and one underneath it for times of exile. Both of these areas are considered part of the original Kodesh Hakedoshim, and contain the same holiness. Accordingly, when King Yoshiyahu instructed the Aron to be placed in the underground tunnel, it was placed in the underground Kodesh Hakedoshim that was originally built by Shlomo. Now, being that the Aron has remained there from that point on until today, it is found that in essence the Aron was never missing from the second Temple, and rather that it was simply found in the lower compartment of the Kodesh Hakedoshim. Furthermore, even today when we see the destruction of our Temple and Holy of Holies and witness a Mosque which is a source of terror and evil sitting on our holiest ground, in truth, deep down under that spot lies the Holy of Holies together with the Aron, and the Aron and Holy of Holies was never destroyed.

A higher, but more subconscious, level of the Shechina resides today:

The same way that the Aron was never really removed from the Kodesh Hakedoshim, so too the Shechina, which resides on the Aron, was never removed; not from the 2nd Temple, and not today. Furthermore, placing the Aron in the depths of the ground represents an even higher and more intense level of the Shechina that resides today, even greater than the times of the 1st Temple. However, due to its great intensity, it cannot be revealed and is hence not visible by the conscious mind.

 

Lessons of the Sicha:

·         Even today, the Temple area contains Holiness, and revelation of the Shechina. The Shechina does not just rest on the Western Wall, but is also found, and mainly found, on the Aron, which is in the underground Holy of Holies till this very day, under the same spot of the original Holy of Holies.

·         Although the Temple Mount today is covered by places of worship of other religions, who use it to spread hate and evil, in truth deep down inside lies the untouched holy of holies with the holy Ark intact, and the Shechina residing upon it. So too, every Jew contains a level of Holy of Holies, a level of true sincerity towards G-d, deep in the recesses of his heart, even if on the outside he appears to be one who promotes evil and sin. It is our job to excavate the spiritual holy of Holies found in every Jew and bring it to the surface.  

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[1] Most of the article here is a historical introduction regarding the Aron and is not based on the Sicha. The Sicha only really begins from the section discussing the questions on the rulings of the Rambam

[2] Tanchuma Tzav 14; Pesikta of Rav Kahana 6; Pesikta Rabasi 16; Yalkut Shimoni Yechezkal 43:10

[3] See Likkutei Sichos 18/412; Hisvadyus 5748 2/564; Shulchan Menachem 3/52

[4] Shemos 26:33-34

[5] Yehoshua 3

[6] Yehoshua 3

[7] Shmuel 1-4

[8] Divrei Hayamim 2 36:10

[9] Parshas Teruma 25:10; Yuma 72b

[10] See Sefer Haparshiyos 4/159

[11] Sota 35a

[12] Chagiga 13b

[13] Rabbeinu Bechayeh Teruma 25

[14] Brought down in the Zohar

[15] Yuma 54/1

[16] Baba Basra 99a; Yalkut Shimoni Melachim Remez 281

[17] Bava Basra 14a

[18] Rambam Hilchos Beis Habechira 4/1; Radbaz 691; See Mishneh Yuma 53b

[19] See Shmuel 1 5-7 regarding the suffering of the Pelishtim and Shmuel 2, 6 regarding the blessing given to Oved Edom Hagati

[20] Yuma 21a; Bava Basra 98a; Megillah 10b

[21] For much of the information below-refer to Shmuel 1 and the Sefer Seder Hadoros

[22] See Seder Hadoros for a dispute in whether it was year 2488 or 2489

[23] See Yehoshua 4/19

[24] Shmuel 4/19

[25] See Seder Olam Raba 13; Yerushalmi Megillah 12a

[26] See Zevachim 118b [44 years] and Seder Olam Raba 14 [50 years]

[27] Yuma 21b

[28] Yuma 53b

[29] 2:4-8

[30] See Sanhedrin 100b regaridng Sefarim Chitzoniyim, of which Sefer Hamakabim is listed as one of them

[31] Claims range from a church in Ethiopia, to a pyramid in Egypt, to a tribe in Zimbabwei.

[32] Yuma 52b

[33] 2 35/3

[34] Yuma 53b-54a

[35] 7/6

[36] Rambam Hilchos Beis Habechira 4/1

[37] Beis Habechira 4/1

[38] Letter 691

[39] The letters of the Rebbe to Rabbi Getz are printed in the Sefer of Ohalei Tzaddikim which brings the correspondence letters of the Rebbe to hundreds of Gedolei Yisrael

[40] Ramban

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