Portability was a key feature in the design of the Mishkan. This structure was readily dismantled when it was time to move, and was quickly reassembled on resting at a new location. The vessels sequestered within, were devised with a vision for their foreseeable transportation. Special coverings were produced to protect the artifacts whilst in transit and the keilim had poles to enable their portage.
Whilst virtually all the Klei Hamiksash had poles, two of the sacred vessels stand out in contrast to the other articles – The Ark and the Menorah:
The Aron was unique that its staves may never be removed. If someone were to deliberately remove the poles, their wanton transgression would be met with lashes. Why must the staves never be withdrawn?
Contrastingly the Menorah had no poles with which to convey it whilst travelling. Of all the sacred vessels, only the Menorah had no built-in method for handling its freightage. This is no oversight. Why had the Menorah no poles?
All items in the Mishkan are symbolic of world forces, correlating to the energy that drives and maintains the universe. Both the Aron and the Menorah represented a similar idea – Torah. However just as there are two dimensions to the Law, it was necessary to have two utensils to fully express this concept. Two Torahs were given to us: the Written Torah and the Oral Law. Many commentators parallel the Written Torah to the Ark, firstly it housed the Two Tablets Moshe received at Sinai. Secondly tradition tells us that a shelf jutted out of the Aron on which a Sefer Torah rested. The Menorah, a radiating candelabra, corresponded to the Oral Law which sheds light on the Written Torah.
With this introduction I believe we can tackle the two anomalies raised earlier. The staves used to carry the Aron, were accentuated in this holy object, by virtue of their permanence, they were not to be withdrawn ever. The Aron representing Torah is the portable doctrine of the Jew, ready to move at a moment’s notice. If the Jew is ready to move, his Torah is prepared to travel with him. Many a time we have been thrust further and further into exile, and to wherever that outpost may be, it is always the companionship of the ‘Aron’ which has ensured our survival. The poles may never be removed, because it is always ready to move.
Now let us turn to the Menorah. If one is to delve into the correlations of the other Keilim, one will ultimately find that they associate with external qualities and characteristics, such as prosperity and priestly service. A difference can be detected in the Menorah however, this object referenced a primarily internal feature. The Menorah is linked to the Oral Law which finds its home in the heart, mind and soul of the Jewish people. Our traditions and morals are passed down from father to son, from teacher to student, forever illuminating the word and mission of G-d. Its true essence can only be keenly felt by one who internalizes the teachings and values of the Torah. While the Aron also represents Torah, it stands ‘separate’ from those who cherish it, whereas the Oral Law fuses together with those that study it. Therefore being an instrument that belongs on the inside, it had no poles, for poles are tools to convey an item, to pick it up and to put it down. These are necessary for an object that can be relinquished or retained. It is not possible to put down the Oral Law it has to be a part of you.
The first medieval disputation between the Jews and Gentiles was held in the year 1240. The Jews were called upon to defend the Talmud from the slurs it cast on Yeshu from Nazareth. Reb Yechiel of Paris deftly proved how there were three people in the Talmud called Yeshu, and not all of them were from Nazareth. Many believed that Reb Yechiel emerged victorious.
Victorious or otherwise, four years later on Friday Erev Parshas Chukas (June 17 1244), the French burned twenty-four wagon loads of seforim. The true magnitude of this calamity is hard to envision. This took place before the advent of the printing press, at a time when each and every scroll was extremely valuable. The great Yeshiva headed by Reb Yechiel which boasted over three-hundred students, was now bereft of seforim. Their main physical tools which they utilized in studying were no longer; taken before their very eyes.
This did not dampen the students’ enthusiasm for Torah study. Reb Yechiel and many of his pupils were proficient in the Talmud by heart. Many had foreseen the danger and had memorized the Torah which was now written on their hearts. A system was initiated where scholars who were experts in one field would teach others, gleaning from their knowledge in return, thereby ensuring that the Torah would not be forgotten.