For the week ending 18 November 2023 / 5 Kislev 5784

Taamei Hamitzvos

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Reasons Behind the Mitzvos: Not Removing the Aron’s Handles

By Rabbi Shmuel Kraines

The Aron used to lead the Jewish people into battle, and they would experience supernatural victories in its merit. This week we will explore the symbolism of the Aron, as it is reflected through one of its mitzvos.

Mitzvah 96 (see also mitzvos 95 and 379)

“Within the rings of the ark shall the staves be; they may not be removed from them.” (Shemos 25:15)


The Aron (ark), the Shulchan (Table), and the Mizbei’ach HaZahav (Golden Altar for incense) were equipped with rods that were inserted through rings on their sides in order to serve as handles and facilitate their transportation. These handles of Shulchan and the Mizbei’ach were inserted only when the nation travelled, and were removed when they encamped, but the Torah prohibits the removal of the Aron’s handles at all times. Even once it arrived in its permanent home, the Beis HaMikdash, the handles remained.

Reason One: Essential Symbols

The Aron contained the LuchosHaBris (Tablets of the Covenant), where were the symbol of the covenant between Hashem and the Jewish people.The Aronwas thus not only a container, but also a symbolic article, with each of its parts symbolizing a different element of the Covenant. The Ten Commandments that were engraved on the Luchos are a microcosm of the entire Torah, and thus, the Aronis especially symbolic of the Torah scholar, who carries the Torah within him. Its handles, which supported it, symbolize the supporters of Torah study. If they would be removed, this would suggest that supporters of Torah do not share intrinsically in the Torah study that they support. They may receive reward for their service, but the Torah that is studied is not theirs. Therefore, the Torah commanded never to remove the handles, to demonstrate that the supporters of the Torah are partners with those that study it, and they will share equally in the reward for the study in the World to Come. Furthermore, since the Aronhouses and represents the Covenant, it is not fitting for it to be incomplete in any way at any time.

*Shach to Shemos 25:13, based on Pesachim 53b; Chafetz Chaim. Ralbag.

Reason two: The Honor of the Aron

Since the Aron is the pride and glory of the Jewish people, we are commanded to treat it with the utmost respect and reverence. It would not be fitting, therefore, to manipulate it or to alter its form in any way, even only by inserting and removing its handles. Moreover, it may occur that it becomes necessary to travel with it in hurry, and if the handles are not already firmly attached, they may be inserted improperly, and the Aronmight fall.

The insertion of the handles for the purpose of transportation would be disrespectful in another way as well. The Arondid not need to be carried. On the contrary, our Sages teach that “the Aroncarried those that carried it.” Therefore, the Torah commands us to leave the handles on at all times, to show that that just as the handles were unnecessary while the Aron rested in the Mishkan, so too were they unnecessary when it was being carried. It would seem that even so, the Torah commanded their construction in accordance with the principle that “one does not rely on a miracle.” In light of this idea, we gain further insight into the aforementioned idea that the handles allude to the supporters of the Torah: The Torah does not truly require people’s support; on the contrary, those who “support” it are, actually, supported by it.

*Chizkuni and Bechor Shor. Chinuch.

Reason three: The Torah is Portable

Another reason the handles may not be removed is that the removal of an article’s handles indicates that it is in its place, but the Aron and the Torah it represents are not limited to any earthly place; indeed, it was presented to us in the middle of a desert! The Aron is certainly associated with the Mishkan, but it is independent of it. It led the Jewish people through the Wilderness and it sometimes led the in their battles. Even when the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed and the Jewish people were exiled outside Eretz Yisrael, the Torah remained with them. Its holiness is so great that it cannot be limited.

In contrast, whenever the Mishkanrested, the handles of the Menorah and the Table could be removed. These articles represented Hashem’s spiritual blessings and physical blessings respectively, which are linked specifically to His Sanctuary and our service to Him there. Thus, whenever they were at rest in the Mishkan, their handles could be removed, indicating that this was the place of these articles, and that they served no function outside the Mishkan.

*Berachos 8a; Rav Hirsch.

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