If I am not for myself, who is for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I?

Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14


The Talmud relates that the Ark in the Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple) in Jerusalem, which held the Two Tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments, possessed most unusual physical qualities. The Torah specifies the Ark's dimensions. "Two cubits and a half should be its length, a cubit and a half its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height." Nevertheless, says the Talmud, it did not occupy any of the space of the chamber that housed it. Miraculously, "The area of the Ark was not part of the measurement."

What was the point of this amazing miracle?

Man, in his quest to better himself, is forever faced with a dilemma. Should he strive to break free of his nature and its limitations? Or, is it preferable to work within the parameters of his natural self, to make the most of what he is?

Each goal has its advantages and shortcomings. It would seem that, to attain perfection, man must reach beyond what he is, as every individual has his inherent limits and deficiencies. Yet lofty, spiritual "experiences" often remain outside of a person's reality failing to translate into anything tangible in his daily life.

The Ark's "physics" teach us that the two goals are not mutually exclusive. The Ark transcended the spatial, yet retained all of its qualities. In the same way, no matter how high a person reaches, his attainments always can, and must, be made part of his pedestrian, human self.

A life lived according to Torah (which the Ark, container of the Ten Commandments, represents) enables man to reach beyond the confines and dictates of his physical environment and society. At the same time, it insists that he make this greater reality his reality that it become an integral part of his own nature, character and everyday behavior.