In this week’s Torah portion, the Jews are commanded to erect a Tabernacle wherein G‑d’s presence will rest. In its inner sanctum, the Holy of Holies, would rest the tablets of the covenant, ensconced in the holy ark. Moses was commanded to plate the wooden ark with pure gold, and to attach four golden rings to its corners. G‑d then directed Moses:

You shall make poles of acacia wood, and you shall overlay them with gold. You shall bring the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, to carry the ark with them. The poles of the ark shall be in the rings; they shall not be removed.1

Even after the ark reached its final destination, the poles remained lodged within the rings

The ark was always transported atop the shoulders of the Levites. There certainly was no shortage of wagons to carry the ark, but the personal attention it was given was a sign of reverence. The poles facilitated the shoulder mode of transportation.

Even when the Jews were camped in a particular area of the desert for a lengthy stay, and even after the ark reached its final destination in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, the poles remained lodged within the rings which were affixed to the ark.

Why weren’t the poles removed when the ark wasn’t traveling? What are we to learn from the fact that the holiest artifact in the world was always ready to travel at a moment’s notice? Interestingly, while poles were also attached to other vessels, such as the altars and the showbread table, there was no prohibition against removing their poles when they were not in use.

An understanding of the uniqueness of the Tabernacle, and the special function which it served, will explain the ark’s permanent need for travel accessories. Unlike the Temples, which were stationary in Jerusalem, the Tabernacle was mobile, and was carried around throughout the “great and awesome desert, [which was inhabited by] snakes, vipers and scorpions, and drought where there was no water.”2 In a deeper sense, the desert represents a spiritual wasteland, a place devoid of Torah—which is compared to life-sustaining waters. Such a place is the natural habitat for “snakes and scorpions”—all sorts of spiritually dangerous influences and diseases.

Unfortunately, the people who find themselves in a spiritual desert are oblivious to the toxicity of the environment, and completely unaware of the existence of healthy lands which are blessed with streams of the purest water. It is the obligation of the tribe of Levi, those devoted to G‑d’s service, to pick themselves up, take along the ark and the Divine Presence, trek through the desert, and bring the quenching waters of Torah to the doorstep of the lost Jew. Once the person has tasted the sweet waters, there’s no turning back to the desert routine . . .

The desert represents a spiritual wasteland, a place devoid of Torah

The Levites would certainly rather spend their time swimming in the refreshing waters of the Torah; but it is their duty to approach their fellow Jews, no matter where they may be, and revive their souls.

This is why the poles were never removed from the ark. The Torah must always be ready to be rushed to the assistance of a thirsty Jew. The scholars must never consider themselves above running into the desert to save the Jew who is dying from spiritual thirst.