The Rabbi's Study

Who Built the Ark? Brother Moses Built the Ark!

Now, Deuteronomy is delivered as Moshe’s final recollections of the forty years of wandering, and in Parashat Eikev he recounts, among other things, the incident of the golden calf. In doing so he makes this seemingly insignificant statement:

So I made an ark of acacia wood, and I carved two tablets of stone like the first ones; and I ascended the mountain, and the two tablets in my arm. (Deut. 10:3)

So he definitely had the tablets when he ascended the mountain, and God had commanded him to carve new tablets to be inscribed atop the mountain, but who built the ark?

In Exodus, God commands Moshe to instruct Betzalel and the craftsmen to make the ark…. So who built the ark? Maybe Moshe is remembering things incorrectly, I mean, almost 40 years have passed, right? Maybe even the greatest prophet has some memory loss…

Here’s what Ibn Ezra has to say about the matter:

I made an ark – It could be that he means he commanded for it to be made…or this could be in reference to the verse “make for yourself a wooden ark” (v. 10:1) – the  tradition will prevail.

“The tradition will prevail”? What does that mean!?!

Well, there’s one seemingly relevant tradition found deep in the Talmud Yerushalmi which seems to have no occurrence elsewhere in Talmud or Midrash:

It is taught: Rabbi Yudah ben Lakish says: There were two arks which would go with the Jewish people in the wilderness; one with the Torah placed within and one with the shattered tablets placed inside. (Jer. Talmud Sotah 35a)

Apparently, according to Yudah ben Lakish, there was the ark which was made by Betzalel and had fancy gold, and the keruvim on the lid, and that one would stay in the tent and would never leave (the one with the Torah), and then there was a second ark (the one with the shattered tablets) which was made only of wood and would go out and come in with the Children of Yisrael as they journeyed and went to war and so forth. Now, this is clearly a severely minority opinion which, based on its absence in later anthologies and collections, was not accepted in any widespread manner. However, Ibn Ezra apparently found it to be the correct interpretation, and this seems to be what he means by “the tradition will prevail.” In other words, the correct interpretation would one day become the mainstream interpretation.

I suppose only time will tell…

 

 

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