(10) They shall make an ark of acacia wood, two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high.
(11) Overlay it with pure gold — overlay it inside and out — and make upon it a gold molding round about.
(12) Cast four gold rings for it, to be attached to its four feet, two rings on one of its side walls and two on the other.
(13) Make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold;
(14) then insert the poles into the rings on the side walls of the ark, for carrying the ark.
(15) The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark: they shall not be removed from it.
(16) And deposit in the Ark [the tablets of] the Pact which I will give you.
(17) You shall make a cover of pure gold, two and a half cubits long and a cubit and a half wide.
(18) Make two cherubim of gold — make them of hammered work — at the two ends of the cover.
(19) Make one cherub at one end and the other cherub at the other end; of one piece with the cover shall you make the cherubim at its two ends.
(20) The cherubim shall have their wings spread out above, shielding the cover with their wings. They shall confront each other, the faces of the cherubim being turned toward the cover.
(21) Place the cover on top of the Ark, after depositing inside the Ark the Pact that I will give you.
(22) There I will meet with you, and I will impart to you — from above the cover, from between the two cherubim that are on top of the Ark of the Pact — all that I will command you concerning the Israelite people.
(10) They shall make an ark: The description of the Temple begins with its centerpiece – not the altar, but the ark, containing the two tablets of the Ten Commandments. Thus we see clearly that the main point of the Temple is not atonement, but Divine revelation.
Two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high: None of the dimensions of the ark are in units of whole cubits; they all include half cubits. This is an indication that the ark is not completely “self-contained.” The ark cannot fulfill its purpose, Divine revelation, in isolation, but only within the context of the entire universe, and as an integral part of it.
(10-11) Of acacia wood … Overlay it with pure gold: The ark, the table of the bread of display (also called the “showbread”), and the menorah all combine wood and gold (the ark and the table are made of wood overlaid with gold, and the menorah, although solid gold, is in the shape of a tree). Wood grows naturally, and thus symbolizes inner human life, the natural development of passions and the soul. But the wood must be contained in a solid, rigid framework of metal.
Overlay it with pure gold — overlay it inside and out: The external overlay of gold gives the ark a handsome appearance. And the inner gold lining pays honor to the tablets.
Overlay it with pure gold: There is gold in the Temple everywhere – in its vessels and even in its curtains. But gold is also the material that was used to create the golden calf.
In contemporary language, gold is a synonym for wealth. But in the language of the Torah, not gold, but silver, kesef, is the word that means “money.” Gold symbolizes that which is humanly excellent and ideal (e.g., the golden mean).
God predicted to Abraham that his descendants would be exiles in a foreign land, “and in the end they shall go free with great wealth” (Gen. 15:14). Gold thus represents the cultural “wealth” that the Jews brought with them out of Egypt. But this Egyptian “gold” was not pure, and in undergoing the process of purification it therefore had to be divided into two parts. The “superfluous, improper” gold went to creating the golden calf, while the “virtuous” gold that remained was used to construct the Tabernacle.
(11) And make upon it a gold molding round about: The word zer, here translated as “molding,” literally means “crown.” This molding is the “crown of the Torah,” which symbolizes the regal status of those, who, by studying and observing the Torah, merit to wear that crown.
The molding rose above the outer edges of the walls of the ark, supporting the cover, which rested on the upper edges of the walls.
(12-16) Cast four gold rings for it … Make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold; then insert the poles into the rings … The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark: they shall not be removed from it: The apparatus for carrying the ark is an integral part of it, and must never be detached from it. Even in the future, when there will no longer be any need to transport the ark, because it will reside not in the Tabernacle, but in the permanent Temple in Jerusalem, the poles must nonetheless always remain in the rings. This is to emphasize that the potential for movement and human development always remains.
(16) And deposit in the Ark [the tablets of] the Pact which I will give you: This will be the two tablets of the Ten Commandments. For many religions, the centerpiece of the temple is the “image” of their gods as they conceive them. In Judaism, however, at the center of the Temple stands not God’s image, but the symbol of His revelation; that is, God’s law. The most important aspect of the Jewish concept of the “invisible God” is that the center of religious feeling is not the “image” of God, but following God’s ways.
(17) You shall make a cover of pure gold, two and a half cubits long and a cubit and a half wide: The purpose of the ark is to preserve the two tablets. The ark’s cover with its cherubim is a separate but integral part of the ark, whose purpose is to continue the revelation begun at Sinai.
(18) Make two cherubim of gold: Cherub in Hebrew is keruv (plural keruvim). We first encountered cherubim in the Torah when God stationed them to guard the entrance to the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve had been ejected: “He [God] drove the man out, and stationed east of the garden of Eden the cherubim and the fiery ever-turning sword, to guard the way to the tree of life” (Gen. 3:24).
Thus, cherubim stand on the threshold between two worlds, keeping those worlds apart, by guarding the entrance to the “higher” world. Here, in the description of the ark, as at the Garden of Eden, cherubim again stand at the boundary between the two worlds, creating an “entrance” through which the Divine word enters our world. The Tanakh later describes God as “enthroned on cherubim” and “mounting a cherub and flying” (e.g., 1 Sam. 4:4, 2 Sam. 6:2, Isa. 37:16, Ps. 18:11). The common thread is that cherubim are identified with entry points into higher worlds.
Two cherubim: “Cherubim” is already plural, but unlike the passage in Genesis (3:24) which leaves the number of cherubim unspecified, here we are told explicitly that that there should be two cherubim. This is because they are here are a symbol of revelation, which implies two personalities in dialogue. In Genesis, however, where the theme is Creation, the emphasis is on the Creator, and not on the cherubim.
(19) Of one piece with the cover shall you make the cherubim at its two ends: The cover and its two cherubim form a single apparatus for continuing the Divine Revelation.
(20) The cherubim shall have their wings spread out above, shielding the cover with their wings. They shall confront each other, the faces of the cherubim being turned toward the cover: The two cherubim face each other, symbolizing love and dialogue, but they are also turned toward the cover, thus expressing their connection with the ark, and creating above the cover a special space.
(21) Place the cover on top of the Ark, after depositing inside the Ark the Pact that I will give you: Inside the ark are the Tablets – Divine revelation that is already expressed and recorded. God’s voice is further heard from the space between the cherubim on the cover of the ark; this is the continuing revelation.
(22) There I will meet with you, and I will impart to you — from above the cover, from between the two cherubim that are on top of the Ark of the Pact — all that I will command you concerning the Israelite people: The ongoing revelation, the voice of God that emanates from the space between the cherubim above the ark, derives directly from the original revelation – the tablets in the ark.