Noah's Ark: A Place For Man In God's World
God's Ark And Noah's Ark
Rabbi David Fohrman
Founder and Lead Scholar
Parshat Terumah contains the building instructions for the Tabernacle, and the Ark of the Covenant found within. The instructions for the Ark are explicit, the details minute, and the phrasing... seemingly familiar. Indeed, the Ark of the Covenant is seems to be related, in way, shape and form to ... Noah's ark! Now, its not just that they're both called 'arks', although that does seem to tie the two neatly together. There are multiple connections between God's Ark and Noah's ark, so much so that it really does seem that the Torah wants us to look at these two structures side by side. Join Rabbi Fohrman as he discovers how the two Arks are related, and tries to understand why these two structures are intrinsically connected and what it may mean for us.
Hi everybody, this is Rabbi David Fohrman. Welcome to Parshat Terumah. You are watching Aleph Beta.
This week’s parsha details the building instructions for the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. And in those blueprints, I think I found something remarkable. I want to share it with you. It’s the telltale signs of a fascinating, hidden pattern. A pattern that centers around the most sacred feature of the Mishkan, the Aron, the Holy Ark. I want to show you the pattern, piece by piece, and – over this week and the next one – ponder with you what it might mean.
What Does the Ark of the Covenant Represent?So here’s the thing that first clued me into this pattern. When the Torah describes how the Holy Ark was supposed to be built, a few things stand out about the description. One thing, in particular, the text tells us, is that the ark needed to be built out of wood – and it was supposed to be overlaid, inside and outside, with pure gold. In the words of the text,
וצִפִּיתָ֤ אֹתוֹ֙ זָהָ֣ב טָה֔וֹר מִבַּ֥יִת וּמִח֖וּץ תְּצַפֶּ֑נּוּ
You shall overlay it will pure gold, inside and outside you shall overlay it.
So, does that remind you of anything? Because it turns out that, in the Torah, there is actually another structure that is also supposed to be built the same way. Which is to say there’s another structure, that God commands to be built out of wood – and that other structure also is supposed to have an overlay, inside and outside, with some other substance. And wouldn’t you know it: In all of the Torah, the phrase ‘mibayit umichutz’, inside and outside – it appears only in connection with these two structures: God’s ark in the Mishkan, and this other, mystery structure, elsewhere in the Torah. Anyone care to guess where?
Well, here’s a hint: It is another ark. It is... Noah’s ark.
Yes, coincidentally enough, although in Hebrew, Noah’s boat was a teivah and the box that housed the Ten Commandments was an aaron, it just so happens that in English – we use the same word to denote both structures. They’re both arks. God’s ark and Noah’s ark.
God's Ark and Noah's ArkNow, that might be a coincidence – but it does seem that the structures have something in common – I mean, at least in their appearance, they do seem to be mirror images of one another. Think about it: God’s ark is made of wood, and it is overlaid, inside and outside, with gold. It presents itself as this really shiny box, glistening with shiny, precious material. And then you have… Noah’s ark, made of wood, covered, inside and outside with a very different kind of material: Pitch – a substance that is … really the very opposite of gold.
Gold is bright and shiny; it reflects light. Pitch is dark; it absorbs light. Gold is smooth; pitch is sticky. Gold is odorless; pitch is pungent. Gold is precious; pitch is almost worthless. I mean you get the picture here.
There is mirror image relationship between these two structures, but it could just be coincidence I suppose... It does seem kind of crazy to think that the Torah intends us to see these two structures as related, in any fundamental way, to one another, right? But, you know, as they say – just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not out get you. Maybe the structures are connected somehow…
But how would we know? How would we know whether the notion that these two arks mirror each other in some fundamental way – whether this incipient theory really holds any water, you’ll pardon the pun?
Well, you’d have to see more connections between these two structures, wouldn’t you? So let’s go back and see whether such connections exist.
KoferAsk this: Might there be anything else about God’s ark that reminds us of Noah’s?
Well, let’s take a look at that verse I showed you above; the one that describes the pitch that covers Noah’s ark. It says:
וְכָֽפַרְתָּ֥ אֹתָ֛הּ מִבַּ֥יִת וּמִח֖וּץ בַּכֹּֽפֶר
(6:14) And you shall cover it, inside and outside, with pitch.
So, that word for ‘cover it’ – vechafarta – how do you spell it? You spell it: kuf, pei, reish, tav. So... here’s the thing: That exact sequence of letters, kuf pei reish tav, appears in only one other context in the entire Torah. Where? You guessed it: In connection with God’s ark. Kuf, pei, reish, tav, it just happens to spell kaporet, the word the Torah coins for the solid gold covering that you’d lay on top of the Aron in the Tabernacle to cover it.
What Is the Meaning of These Ark Parallels?Two wooden boxes. Mibayit umichutz. Overlays that are exact opposites of one another. Kaporet, Vechaparta. The connections really do seem to be there. Except: If the connections are real, what could possibly explain them? Why would the ark of Noah be connected, in some essential way, with the ark of God, of all things? Sure, in English, they are both arks. But they are so different: One ark saves humanity from destruction during a flood. The other houses the Ten Commandments in God’s holy sanctuary. The two roles seems as far apart from one another as you could possibly imagine. Why would they be related to each other?
So I’d like to suggest a theory for your consideration. Remember before, how I suggested that, in some ways, the two arks seem to be mirror images of one another? We saw that with respect to their overlays, pitch and gold being quite the opposite of one another. What if that explains the conceptual connection between these arks, too? In other words: Maybe these two arks really are mirrors of one another, in terms of their function, not just their appearance. Maybe they do the same, essential, thing as one another – but in a reverse kind of way.
What could that mean? Well, think about God and think about mankind. Could it be that… each ark helps one of these beings, live in the other’s world?
What would that mean?
Well, let’s start with God. Our world isn’t really His place. I sometimes give the analogy of a Monopoly game to explain this. You know, imagine a conversation between little hat and little shoe going around the Monopoly board. One day, little hat says to little shoe: ‘Hey, Do you believe in Parker?’ Little shoe responds, “what do you mean by that?” And little hat continues: “Well, you see right over there, on the side of the board, it says, ‘made by Parker Brothers’. Well, what do you say? ‘Do you believe in Parker?” And before he gets a reply, little hat he says: ‘Look, I don't know about you, but I'm a Parker atheist. And let me tell you why. I've been here for a long time. Every week I go around this board. I've seen it all, I've seen Tennessee Avenue, Park Place, Boardwalk. Every week I pass go and collect two hundred. I've even seen free parking and I've even seen jail. But I've never seen Parker. If Parker really exists, how come I don't see more of him!
So, what would you say to little hat? You’d say: My friend, you’ve been looking for Parker in all the wrong places. Parker doesn't live on the board; he made the board! So of course, he exists outside the board!
The creator of a system obviously lives outside the system. So if God is our Creator, that means: God lives in His own realm, beyond space and time. Yes, He understands what is going on in this world; sees it; can influence it; even make signs and miracles happen here – but still, this world is not His place. There is, however, an exception to this: The Tabernacle – and the ark within the Tabernacle.
The Spiritual Meaning Behind the Ark of the CovenantYou see, the Torah speaks of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, as a home for God in this world: V’asu li mikdash, veshachanti betocham; make for me a holy place, and I will dwell among them, the verse says. And the ark with in the Mishkan seems to have a special role with respect to this. The Torah tells us that the ark is where the Presence of God would reside, It would hover in a cloud over the kaporet, over the covering for the ark. So… maybe the ark… strange as it sounds… is a vessel designed to facilitate God’s existence in an environment that is otherwise not be God’s own environment: It’s our world, the world of humans.
And now… think of the reverse… think about us… in God’s World. We don’t live in God’s world. But what, if suddenly, we had to? Let me ask you a question: Did it ever strike you as odd that the Torah’s description of the world before creation sounds a great deal like a flood? Go back to the second verse of Genesis; it is a verse that seems to describe this ‘pre-Creation’ world: V’ha’aretz hayta tohu vavohu. The world was utterly chaotic. Choshech al pnei tahom. It is dark. Ruach elokim merachefet al penei hamayim. There is a spirit, or a wind from God that’s hovering over this water, this water that’s all over the place. Put all those elements together, what does it look like? It is a vast water world, dark and wind, there’d be waves crashing all over the place. It would be like a flood.
Now, why the Torah describe God’s world that way, a flood like world? That is something I don’t have time to talk about now (I explored this in another series of talks on Aleph Beta– you can find them below). But if we just accept this as a given for a moment – God’s World, beyond space and time, is spoken of by the Torah as it were a dark, water world – it seems to me that we can infer something really interesting about the nature of the flood in Noah’s time. When the floodwaters inundated the earth… it wasn’t just that the world was being destroyed. It was being undone. It was as if the world was returning to its original, tohu vavohu, pre-created state. What is that ‘pre-Created state’? That would be God’s world.
Noah’s moment on the world stage was a moment when humans, to survive, suddenly needed to somehow make it in God’s World. And the ark that God instructed Noah to build? It was the vehicle through which this could happen.
So think about these two arks, now. They really do mirror each other. Noah’s ark allowed humans to exist, safely in an environment approximating God’s own world. And the ark of the Tabernacle allowed God to reside, ‘safely’ as it were, in mankind’s world – without our world being utterly overturned in the process.
Biblical Connections to the Ark of the CovenantSo that’s the basics of a theory I want to sketch out to you. I want to continue to talk about it with you next week. And right now, it's really just a theory. Seems kind of intriguing, kind of speculative; could be right, could be wrong. And what I want to do next week, is two things. First of all, I want to take this theory out of the realm of the speculative, and into the realm of the ‘very hard to deny’. I want to try to prove it to you. And I also want to explore the further implications of this theory. I want to explore, in the larger sense, what these correspondences might mean for our understanding of the Tabernacle.
How are we going to do that?
Well, I want to show you that these connections between the two Arks, Noah's Ark and God's Ark, aren't just isolated moments in which the biblical text in one context, seems to echo the biblical text in another. No. Each of these points are part of a vast web. Each is part of a much larger, breathtaking, pattern – a pattern that both proves the correspondence between the arks, as well as further explains the meaning of that correspondence.
Meet me here next week, and I’ll show you what I mean.