The “Aron Haberit,”1 the holy ark of the covenant, is the most sacred artifact in all of Judaism. A golden box containing the tablets with the Ten Commandments, the ark stood in the Holy of Holies, the Temple’s innermost sanctum. Today, its location is unknown, hidden until the day Moshiach comes.

Design of the Ark

The ark, which represents G‑d’s love for his people, was built by the chief architect of the Tabernacle, Betzalel. G‑d instructed that the ark be built from acacia wood, and gave very specific dimensions: 2.5 cubits in length and 1.5 cubits in height and width.2 There were an additional two boxes, both made from gold, that encased the wooden box. In all, the ark comprised three layers: gold, wood, gold. The top of the outer box was lined with a gold decorative rim called the “zeir.”

The ark had no feet; it rested directly on the ground. Rings were fastened to each of its four corners, through which gold-plated wooden poles were threaded. The poles, which were never to be removed, were used by the priests from the Kehot house to carry the ark, for it was forbidden to transport it by wagon.

The “kaporet,” a golden cover one handbreadth thick, covered the outer box. Atop the cover, fashioned from the same piece of metal, sat the “keruvim,” cherubs—two childlike sculptures that faced each other, their wings towering above the ark.

Discover the Inner Meaning of the Ark’s Unusual Dimensions

Placement of the Ark

In the Holy Temple, the ark’s home was the most sacred chamber, the Holy of Holies. Only the High Priest was allowed inside, and only once a year, on the awesome day of Yom Kippur, when he would enter the Holy of Holies and perform the annual service before the ark.

When King Solomon constructed the first Temple, he built an alcove deep within the Temple Mount for concealing the ark. Toward the end of the first Temple period, King Josiah, divining the Temple's destruction, had the ark hidden there.3 4 It remains hidden until today, and when Moshiach comes and rebuilds the third, everlasting Temple, he will uncover the ark and bring it home.

In the Temple, the ark rested directly on the “Even Hashetiyah”—the Shetiya stone, which is the foundation point of the entire world.5 In the second Temple there was no ark, only the Shetiya stone.


The ark housed the tablets (engraved with the Ten Commandments) that Moses brought down from Mount Sinai, the broken pieces of the first set of tablets,6 and a Torah scroll.7 A pitcher of manna and Aaron’s miraculous staff8 were placed right in front of it.

Read: Which Objects Were in the Holy of Holies?


Many miracles were associated with the ark. For one, “it carried its carriers.” When the Kohanim lifted it for transport, instead of them carrying the ark, the ark carried them.9

Additionally, when Joshua led the Jewish people into the Promised Land after Moses’ death, they camped alongside the Jordan river. At G‑d’s command, Joshua sent the ark toward the river. When the feet of the ark- bearers entered the water, the river split, allowing the Jews to cross. When the last Jew had crossed, the ark crossed the river, and the water began to flow again.

And when the Tabernacle stood in Shiloh, the priests mistreated the ark and removed it from the Temple, taking it into battle with them in the hope that it would provide protection. When the Philistines defeated the Jews, they captured the ark and brought it back with them to their lands. The ark wrought havoc on the Philistine cities, bringing terrible plagues and afflictions, even causing their god, the idol Dagon, to be destroyed. Frightened and fed up, they ultimately sent the ark back to the Jews.

Read: War With the Philistines

Heaven on Earth

According to the Talmud, the space occupied by the ark did not take up space. What does that mean? The Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle was 10 cubits wide, and the ark, which stood in the center, had a length of 2.5 cubits. Yet, when measuring from the sides of the ark to the wall, one would find five cubits on each side.10 This paradox was entirely miraculous, something we cannot even wrap our heads around; the ark both taking up space and not taking up space at the same time.

Chassidic teachings explain its significance. In general, G‑d has two opposite modes with which He operates: revealed (the natural) or concealed (the supernatural). Nature, with its seeming lack of Divinity, is a result of G‑d’s power to conceal Himself. Miracles, on the other hand, when the laws of nature are broken, are the very expression of G‑dliness, His power openly revealed. In truth, however, G‑d is beyond both of those, He is neither entirely concealed, nor revealed. Neither locked into operating in a hidden, limited manner, nor bound by his infinitude. He is beyond both, and can unite the two modalities if He so desires.

It was in the Holy of Holies, the most sacred spot on earth, that this exact reality was revealed. The ark did occupy space—the natural, and at the same time it did not—the supernatural. It was the perfect kiss between Heaven and earth.

See The Temple Mount as Sacred Space