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Parsha Ponderings – Bamidbar


After assigning the Tribes to their respective spots in the Israelite encampment, the Torah goes on to describe the process of disassembling the Tabernacle and preparing its vessels for travel. While each vessel was packed in unique fashion, the general process was the same for all; each vessel was covered with two coverings- one of techeiles-blue dyed cloth, and the other of exquisitely colorful tachash-skin. Within this general framework, however, there was one glaring variation when it came to the order of the two coverings’ placement. Whereas the Ark is first wrapped in tachash-skin and only then clothed in techeiles-cloth, all the other vessels are first covered with the techeiles-covering and then the tachash-skin. Indeed, logic would seem to dictate that the exquisite beauty of the tachash-covering should be displayed for all to see, not tucked away under the simpler techeiles-covering. Why then, we must wonder, was the order switched when it came to covering the Ark?

Our Sages teach us that the bluish hue of the techeiles is meant to evoke the color of the Heavenly throne, which was likewise blue. Hence, the techeiles covering would be representative of the Godliness manifest in Creation. With this in mind, perhaps we may suggest the following solution to our problem.

The Ark was unique in that its main purpose was simply to be, not for something to be done with it per se. Whereas the Menorah was meant to be lit, the Altar to sacrifice upon and the Shulcan [Table] to bring the Lechem haPanim upon, the Ark was there simply to carry the Torah and provide a dwelling place for the Divine Presence. Hence, the Ark represents ideals and ideas, while the other vessels are action-oriented.

Herein lies the reason for the distinction between how the two are covered for transportation. The Torah is teaching us that action, which is physical by definition, has no innate beauty. The beauty physicality possesses is solely in its function as a manifestation of Godliness. Hence, the action-vessels must first be draped in techeiles, or Godliness, before it can be rightfully clothed in beauty, or tachash-skin. When it comes to the Godly ideals of Torah, on the other hand, the beauty is innate. The Godly ideals of the Ark are therefore deservedly cloaked in the beauty of tachash-skin on their own merit. In fact, the ideals of Torah are possessed of such overwhelming beauty that there is a danger of treating them solely as works of art while forgetting to implement them on a practical level altogether, as per the Godly dictate. It is thus necessary to cloak the beauty, or tachash, of Torah, in techeiles, or Godliness, to ensure that its Godly beauty remains applied within the parameters of Godliness in practice.

Indeed, it is most fitting that the Torah convey this message as the Mishkan is dismantled and the Israelites begin their travels. Although it is indeed the case that true beauty is to be found in the spiritual spheres of thought and Godliness rather than action and physicality, this truth has a tendency to become clouded as one descends from the world of spirituality to reenter the world of action. The more one becomes involved in the world of action, in which physicality is deified, the greater his risk of deluding himself into thinking that actions, not ideals, is where true beauty is to be had. It was thus incumbent upon the Israelites, as the Tabernacle was dismantled and they began to reengage the physical world of action, to carry a constant reminder with them of where true beauty lies.

How much more so must we, living in a world which shuns the true beauty of spirituality while deifying the false beauty of physicality, constantly remind ourselves of this absolute truth; that it is only the ideals of Godliness which possess true beauty, and that it is only their physical implementation which can lend beauty to an otherwise colorless physical act.

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