Community Rabbi Corner, March 8, 2019

Rabbi Joshua Hess
Congregation Anshe Chesed
Linden, NJ
Parashat Pekude

When the building of the Tabernacle concluded, Moshe performed a final act of taking the tablets and placing them into the Ark. We, too, are commanded to place a Torah in the Ark in the synagogue.
Why is it that the luchot in the Tabernacle were placed in the ark lying down, whereas the Torah that we place in the Ark in the synagogue stands upright? If the source is the tablets in the Tabernacle, then why do we not store the scrolls in our synagogues too lying down?
R. David Ibn Zimra suggests that there is a fundamental difference between the tablets and Torah. The Tablets were meant as edut, a testimony; they were not intended for reading. Their very presence was important, but people did not come especially to open the Ark and to read the Tablets in order to inform themselves of the Law. Whereas the Torah was meant specifically for reading and for instructing; hence the Torah is kept in an upright position, always ready for immediate use.
What we are taught, therefore, is that the Torah must be for us more than a symbol, more than mere edut. It must be a guide, a code for conduct. The very word "Torah" means guidance and instruction. A symbol is revered; a guide is used and experienced. Because of its very sacredness, a symbol often lies prone. It is remote and distant. A "Torah" is of course sacred, but its sanctity is enhanced by its involvement with and use by the community. A Torah, in order to fulfill its holy function, must stand ready — literally stand! — to be read and applied.