Sunday, July 18, 2010

The First Temple and the Lost Ark

Imitation of the Ark


With 17 Tammuz (about three weeks ago), we have entered the three – weeks mourning period before 9 Av (Tisha be'Av). On Tisha be'Av (this Monday night and Tuesday) we commemorate the destructions of the First and the Second Jerusalem Temple. Today we are praying for the arrival of Meshiach, the building of the Third Temple and the reinstitution of the Cohanim and Levi'im service in the Temple.

The Babylonian empire was founded in 441 BCE (according to the Jewish calendar in 3319). Nebuchadnezzar took the throne after he threw out the Assyrians. Only one year later, Nebuchadnezzar's army reached Judea and arrested King Yehoyakim. Seven years later, in 433 BCE (according to the Jewish calendar in 3327), the Babylonians destroyed the First Temple in Jerusalem and was dragging thousands of Jews as well as King Zidkiyahu into the Babylonian Exile.

For the following 52 years, the Land of Israel was almost abandoned. Not entirely because there were Jews living in Israel at all times but most of the population was gone. Jeremia's (Yirmeyahu's) Prophecy: "And G – d spoke: After seventy years in Babylon, I will remember you and return you to this place". This happened with Ezra the Prophet: The Persian King Darius (a son of the Jewish queen Esther) allowed the Jews the return to Eretz Israel.

Talmud Yoma 54 discusses different possibilities where the Ark (Aron HaKodesh) could have vanished. Since then, researchers, historians and adventurer have been busy finding the Ark. Just take a look at Indiana Jones.:-)
So far, nobody has ever found the lost Ark of the Jews. Some claims state that the Ark was taken to Babylon, others claim that the Ark is in Ethiopia but the most likely solution is that the Ark has never left the Temple Mount. The Talmud teaches that before the Babylonians got hold of the First Temple, the Ark was hidden in secret tunnels underneath the Temple Mount. In fact there is a secret tunnel system under the Temple Mount leading into different parts of Jerusalem.

The Gemara (rabbinic discussions) in Yoma even tells us the exact location where the Ark may be hidden. To undermine the claim the Gemara tells us about a certain event happening during the times of the Second Temple:
Once a Cohen (Temple Priest) was busying himself inside the Temple and noticed an uneven pattern in the floor. Just as if someone had removed parts of the floor and later returned. The Cohen ran to his friends and wanted to tell them what he had seen but at this moment he died. The Talmud Yerushalmi Shekalim 6:1 – 2 teaches about this rather strange incident. The Tiferet Israel commentates that G – d didn't want the Cohen to reveal the location of the hidden Ark and this is why the Cohen had to die.

There are many many legends and stories about the Ark but it will only be rediscovered when the time of Meshiach has come. The Ark together with the Ten Commandments, the ashes of the Red Cow (Parah Adumah) or Aharon's stick.
The question "Why the Palestinians haven't found the Ark" arises. Aren't they digging like mad on the Temple Mount just in order to get rid of any Jewish signs ? Answer: Sometimes you are standing right in front of an object but when G – d doesn't want you to see it, you won't even notice it.

Reish Lakish says in the Gemara in Yoma 54a:
When the Gentiles (here: Babylonians) entered the Sanctuary, they saw the Cherubim joined together".

The Talmud Tractate Bava Batra 99a teaches that the Cherubim (the two angels on the Ark) were facing each other when Israel (the Jews) acted according to G – d's will. As soon as the Jews did the opposite and sinned, the two Cherubim were looking into opposite directions. Why then were the two Cherubim embracing each other when the Babylonians destroyed the First Temple ? Answer: Because G – d wanted the nations to see how much He loves Israel (the Jews).

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