Every time we remove the sefer Torah from the ark, we recite this verse from Isaiah: “Ki miTzion teitzei Torah u’d’var Adonai mirushalayim” — “Torah shall come from Zion, the word of Adonai from Jerusalem.” This verse is sung or said in every shul in the world, and in every one we read the same Torah. The Torah has indeed gone out from Zion and traveled throughout the world.
This week, the parsha read in the world’s synagogues is Trumah, which contains the first part of the instructions for the building of the Mishkan, the portable sanctuary, and the things that were to be placed in it. The first of these is the aron, the ark, which was to hold the luhot, the tablets of the Ten Statements. The aron and the luhot were to be placed in the Holy of Holies, and God tells Moses that this is the place from which He will speak to him and give him commandments to be related to all Israel.
The Mishkan was to be portable, to be transported with the people on their journey to the Land of Israel. And so, the ark was to have rings on its sides through which would be placed the poles that the Levites would use for carrying it. The Torah says, “The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they shall not be removed from it.” This is worthy of note because no such instruction is given with respect to the other items (the table and the altars) that were to be transported by poles.
The author of Sefer HaHinuch (Spain, 13th century) sees this as practical wisdom: “We might be called upon to go forth with the ark in haste, and in the hurry of the moment forget to examine whether the poles are properly secured and, God forbid, the ark might slip from our hold.”
This is eminently reasonable, but Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch (Germany, 19th century) suggests a more significant explanation for this commandment: “The poles of the ark symbolize…the ubiquitous mission of the ark and what it housed — to be carried beyond its place to wherever circumstances demanded. The commandment ‘The poles shall not be removed’ embodies the eternal message that the Torah is not parochial, restricted to the particular country where the Temple is situated.”
According to Rabbi Hirsch’s explanation, the poles were not to be removed from the ark to teach us that for almost 2,000 years we Jews would carry the Torah with us wherever we went, in good times and bad, to every part of the earth.
It is the Torah that holds us together, that provides our common language and our common way of life. It is because of Torah that we are still here, long after those who sought to destroy us have disappeared. In the words of Heinrich Heine, the Torah is the portable homeland of the Jewish people.
And it is even more than that. Our rabbis tell us that the revelation of Torah took place in the wilderness rather than in the Land of Israel to show that Torah was not given exclusively to Israel, but to all the inhabitants of the earth.
The verse we sing when we take the Torah from the ark is from Isaiah, from the prophet’s messianic vision of the time of redemption:
And the many peoples shall go and say:
Come, let us go up to the mount of the Lord
To the house of the God of Jacob
That He may instruct us in His ways
And that we may walk in His paths,
For Torah shall come forth from Zion,
The word of Adonai from Jerusalem.
Thus He will judge among the nations
And arbitrate for the many peoples.
And they shall beat their swords into plowshares
And their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation shall not take up sword against nation,
They shall never again know war.