And you shall make two carrying poles of acacia wood and cover them with gold. And you shall insert the poles in the rings on the sides of the Ark, to carry the Ark with them. The poles should remain in the rings of the Ark and should not be removed from them
The Ark, which housed the two tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments and the Torah scroll written by the hand of Moses, sat in the innermost chamber of the Sanctuary, a place so holy that only the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) was permitted entry, and only on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year.
When the people of Israel were in the Sinai Desert, they built a portable sanctuary–the Mishkan–which they carried along with them on their journey from Egypt to the Holy Land. At each of their forty-two encampments, the Mishkan was assembled and then dismantled when the time came to journey on. For this reason, all the vessels of the Mishkan had specially-made carrying poles, which were inserted in rings affixed to their sides, in order to carry them from camp to camp.
Regarding the Ark, there is a specific commandment (counted as one of the 613 mitzvot) never to remove the carrying poles–despite the fact that the Mishkan was often not moved for many months. Indeed, this law also remained in force for the 381 years that the Ark stood in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. The prohibition to remove the carrying poles is unique to the Ark–we do not find any such commandment regarding the other vessels of the Sanctuary.
There is a lesson here to each and every Jew, but particularly to the “arks” among us–those who devote their lives to the study of Torah. As the receptacle of the word of G-d, the Ark is the holiest vessel in the Sanctuary; its natural place is in the innermost chamber of the Temple, in sacred seclusion from the cares and mundanities of the outside world. Nevertheless, the Ark–particularly the Ark–must be in a state of constant readiness to travel, perpetually poised to leave its inner sanctum for wherever it might be needed.
The Torah instructs that when Shabbat must be violated in order to save a life, this should be done by the greatest and most venerated members of the community. The same holds true when a fellow’s spiritual life is in danger. If there is a soul thirsting for the word of G-d in the ends of earth, it is the “ark” who must leave his sacred chamber to carry the divine wisdom to him. And even when the “ark” is in his chamber, he must always have his carrying poles inserted in his rings–he must always be aware of his responsibilities toward the outside world, always be ready to set out at a moment’s notice.
Based on an address by the Rebbe, Adar 11, 5732 (February 26, 1972)
Adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe by Yanki Tauber.
. The Ark was installed in the Holy Temple upon its completion by King Solomon in the year 2935 from creation (826 bce), and was hidden away by King Yoshiyahu in 3316 (445 bce).
. Talmud, Yoma 84b; Mishneh Torah, Laws of Shabbat, 2:2.
. Likkutei Sichot, vol. XVI, pp. 334-335.