Talmud Megilla 10b teaches in Rabbi Levi’s name that the Ark of the Covenant “had no measure”. This means that although its width was 1.5 cubits and its length 2.5 cubits…it diminished no internal space from the Holy of Holies in which it rested. The Holy of Holies in Solomon’s Temple was 20 cubits square. This is the room designated for the Ark. When placed in the center of that room, if one measured from the Ark’s side to any wall, the distance should be less than 10 cubits. But it wasn’t! No matter which wall one measured to, the distance was 10 cubits…as if the ark wasn’t there! The Talmud said this was a miracle.
Why was this miracle was essential? How can we begin to understand why God might have created this miracle?
As all God’s ways contain deep wisdom, the first step is to examine the miracle from standpoints of both form and function. What type (form) of miracle was it? What did the miracle essentially do? (Function) Well, we know that this miracle rendered the Ark as if it did not occupy any place. There was no less room in the Holy of Holies when the Ark was there, than when it wasn’t. The same inner dimensions were measured. So we arrive at the conclusion that “location” or place is what the Ark’s miracle addressed.
Now, what about location, does this miracle point to? The miracle tells us that the Ark in some amazing manner did not partake of location. Hmmm…
Let’s go further. The next matter we must address is what is unique about the Ark, and no other item. This we can readily answer. The Ark of the Covenant contained the both sets of the two sapphire tablets that Moses received at Sinai (the broken first set, and the whole second set). Written upon them are the Ten Commandments. Now let’s refine our question: “What is it about the Torah (the Ark) that a miracle was necessary to render it as not taking up any location?” Furthermore, we know that God spoke to Moses from above the Ark, from between the two cherubs.
I suggest the following…
We must understand the Ark, but we must also appreciate that its location was inside the Temple. What was Temple? Temple – according to Sforno and I believe others – was a concession to man. As the Gold Calf demonstrated man’s inability to relate to God abstractly after Moses’ death, God responded by instructing us to build the Temple. This would allow man some concessionary, physical expression for his religious life, but it would also strictly guide and limit us from any idolatrous expression, as was the case of the Gold Calf.
Temple is where we relate to God. Now we might see the danger. We might assume God is “here”. But that is impossible, for God is not physical and therefore, He does not take up any space or location.
We just got our answer!
Since man has a need to relate to God with physical expression, and Temple is in fact a location…man can very easily err and assume God is “in” Temple.
This I believe to be the fundamental lesson of the Ark’s miracle. It did not diminish any measure from the Temple. This very Ark, over which a voice was created and spoke to Moses, was identified more with God, than all other items. Furthermore, the Ark housed the Torah, of which we require a clear reminder of its divine origin. We must know that the Torah’s wisdom is truly God’s wisdom. And His wisdom is not of this world. Therefore, it was necessary that the Ark demonstrated this fundamental that the knowledge it contained is divine; just as that which is not capable of Earthly measure. Just as we cannot measure something that is not physical, we also cannot measure the Ark’s location. This miracle thereby equates immeasurability with divinity.
One more idea occurs to me here. This miracle differs from others. For example, once Aaron’s rod converted into a snake, we can grasp what snake is…the same with all 10 Plagues. God used wind to deliver the locusts; we can grasp the idea of blood, frogs, and even the death of the firstborns. We know what death is. But how can I measure a room, obtain a measurement of 20 cubits. Yet, when I place the Ark in it, I still obtain the same measure as if it is not there?
This is a different type of miracle. What type? It seems to highlight man’s inability to “comprehend”. Using our knowledge and measurements, we find a contradiction here. The room contains the same space whether the Ark is there or not. I am forced to reject my measurement as accurate. In other words, God’s Ark miracle forces man to reject human comprehension. He must bow to a greater wisdom, a wisdom he cannot fathom.
Again, we see another element of this miracle that teaches us the divine nature of God and His wisdom inscribed in His Torah. We appreciate that God wishes man to obtain only correct notions concerning Him. And most primary is that we cannot know what God is, and certainly, that He is not physical, He takes up no space; He is not in the Temple.
God is very real, but He is not “here” on Earth...or occupying any space.