Take this Torah scroll and place it beside the Ark of the Covenant of G‑d, your G‑d, and it will be there as a witness.

-- Devarim 31:26

Classic Questions

Where was the Torah scroll placed? (v. 26)

Rashi: In [Tractate] Bava Basra, the Sages of Israel were divided over this matter. Some maintained that there was a shelf protruding from the Ark, where it was put. Others maintained that it was put next to the tablets, inside the Ark.

The Rebbe's Teachings

Moshe's Torah Scroll (v. 26)

Rashi cites two views of "the Sages of Israel" concerning where the Torah scroll that Moshe wrote was placed:

  1. On a shelf protruding from the Ark.

  2. Or inside the Ark.

This prompts the following questions:

  1. Since Rashi's commentary is devoted exclusively to explaining scripture at the literal level, how could he accept the notion that the Torah was placed inside the Ark, when the Torah states unambiguously that it was placed "beside the Ark"?

  2. Rashi's first interpretation is also difficult to accept at the literal level, since the detailed description of the Ark's design in Parshas Terumah makes no mention of "a shelf protruding from the Ark," on which a Torah scroll could be placed. Why does Rashi not conclude more simply that the Torah was kept next to the Ark, without the Ark having a special feature to accommodate it?

The Explanation

While verse 26 states clearly that Moshe's Torah scroll was to be placed beside the Ark, the verse does not state explicitly whether the Torah was required to remain in this place at all times, even when the Ark was in transit.

However, from the context of the verse, it is quite clear that the Torah was required to remain next to the Ark during transit, because:

  1. Verse 26 was an instruction given to "the Levites, who carried the Ark of G‑d's Covenant" (v. 25).

  2. In a much broader context, the verse is part of Moshe's instructions to Yehoshua in preparation for their imminent entrance into the Land of Israel. They were going to begin traveling very soon, and during this time, the Tabernacle would have to be dismantled. So if we were to accept that the command in our verse (to place Moshe's Torah next to the Ark) only applied when the Tabernacle was erected, then it would turn out that Moshe's instructions here did not apply to the immediate future, and were therefore out of context with the rest of his words to Yehoshua, which did concern the immediate future.

  3. In any case, the verse stresses that the Torah was placed "as a witness," which would presumably apply at all times.

This requirement for the Torah scroll to be with the Ark at all times presented Rashi with a problem: The Ark was protected with no less than three coverings while in transit (Bamidbar 4:5-6), so how could Moshe's Torah scroll remain "beside the Ark" when the coverings intervened?

To solve this problem, Rashi offered two solutions (from "the Sages of Israel"):

That the Ark had a shelf protruding from it, on which the Torah scroll was placed, and clearly, the coverings must have been placed over the Ark and its shelf (and scroll).

As for the fact that this shelf was not mentioned in Parshas Terumah, we could argue that since the command to "take this Torah scroll and place it beside the Ark of the Covenant" was surely an instruction which Moshe had heard from G‑d, it follows that the requirement to make the shelf is derived from this verse itself—as a logical extension of the requirement to keep the Torah scroll next to the Ark at all times.

However, in the final analysis it is difficult to accept that at this time, some forty years after the Ark was made, a shelf was suddenly added. Therefore, Rashi cites a second interpretation, that the Torah scroll was placed inside the Ark.

However, this too is difficult to accept, because the verse states that the Torah scroll was placed "beside the Ark" and not in the Ark.

Thus Rashi was forced to bring two interpretations, since each is problematic at the literal level.

Ultimately, Rashi was equally dissatisfied with both interpretations, so he prefaced his explanation with the phrase: "the Sages of Israel were divided over this matter," as if to say: "neither of these interpretations are preferable at the literal level, and they differ only according to the personal approaches of the Sages."

(Based on Likutei Sichos vol. 9. p. 196ff.)