Parashat Toldot

By Rabbi Isaac Mann
One of the most popular derashot (homiletical interpretations) that rabbis make use of when delivering sermons on the Sabbath of Terumah is one that explains the reason that the Torah forbids the removal from the Aron (the Ark) of the staves that were used to carry it. The other vessels of the Mishkan (the Tabernacle) described in this week’s parashah, such as the Shulhan (the Table) and the Mizbei’ah (the Altar), also had staves that were inserted through the rings attached to the vessels to allow easy transport from place to place. But unlike the Aron, for which the Torah says (Ex. 25:15), “The staves shall be in the rings of the Ark; they shall not be taken from it,” no such prohibition is stated for the other vessels. Indeed, Maimonides lists this prohibition as one of the 613 commandments of the Torah (mitzvah 313).

The darshanim (homileticians) observe that the Ark is associated with the Torah, for the luhot (the Tablets containing the Ten Commandments) were placed therein (Ex. 25:21). The staves that were used to carry the Ark, as well as the other vessels, the exception being the Menorah, which had no rings or staves, are thus the carriers or supporters of those vessels. Symbolically then, the supporters of the Ark, namely the supporters of the Torah, are part and parcel of the Torah. They may not be moved or dislodged from them. The parnassim (sustainers) of the Torah are integral to it. They should not be seen as outsiders who are called upon only to help when there is a crisis, such as when the Torah needs to be moved, or, in modern terms, when a new location needs to be found for a yeshivah or a Torah academy or the like and a new building put up. But rather they remain attached to the Ark, always there to help and always attached to the Torah.

In a sense, this interpretation fits neatly with the well-known association that the Midrash makes between Issachar and Zebulun (see Deut. 33:18 and commentaries thereon). While Issachar (i.e., his descendants) dwelt in tents studying the Torah, Zebulun (i.e., his descendants) went out and worked in the fields to sustain his brother. The working brother is considered no less meritorious than his learning sibling. Both reap the benefits of Torah study. Both are full partners in advancing the knowledge and spiritual truths that are embedded in the Torah. One cannot exist without the other.

Just a few short weeks ago, we were privileged to participate in a hanukat ha-bayit for AJR. It was uplifting to see the presence and participation of both the students and faculty, who are the current Issachar, the ones who study and immerse themselves in the Ark’s luhot, as well as the benefactors, including many alumni, who made it possible for the Academy to relocate to its current beautiful space. Those benefactors, the Zebulun of our days, and happily some remain or become Issachar as well, are very much a part of the Academy and should be seen as partners in the learning that goes on within its walls. Let those staves they put on their shoulders to carry and sustain AJR never be removed.


Rabbi Isaac Mann is on the rabbinic faculty of AJR. He is the rabbi of the Austrian Shul on the Upper West Side and serves as chaplain at Metropolitan Hospital and Bronx-Lebanon Hospital.