The Torah makes a curious distinction between the poles of the Aron (Ark of the Covenant) and the poles of the Mizbeiach (incense altar) and Shulchan (table of the showbreads). It is forbidden to ever remove the poles from the Aron, as it says, “The poles should be in the rings of the Aron and not leave it,” (Shemot 25:15 according to the Sages on Yoma 72a), but there is no such prohibition with regards to the Mizbeiach and Shulchan. When there was a need to transport the Mizbeiach and Shulchan, they inserted the poles, but the Aron’s poles stayed there permanently. Why the difference?
Why the poles could never leave the Aron can be understood similarly to the Rambam’s approach to lighting the menorah. According to the Rambam (Hilkhot Temidin Umusafin 3:10) the candles were lit both at night and in the morning.
There is a powerful lesson behind the Rambam’s approach. The Gemara comments: “Does He (G-d) need the menorah’s light? Of course not. Rather, the Menorah’s light was testimony that the Divine Presence rests in Israel. (Shabbat 22b)” This might be what is behind the Rambam’s understanding of the mitzvah of lighting the Menorah. Candles lit during the day are clearly not there to illuminate the darkness. They are a sign of the Divine Presence.
Therefore the poles are always to remain in the rings of the Aron. This makes a powerful statement. Just as the poles do not serve to transport the Aron when it is stationary, so they do not when the Aron is being “held” on the shoulders of those who “carry” it. It carries them; they do not carry it.
Just as candles lit during the day are not just there for illumination, so poles that remain in a stationary Aron are not just there to facilitate transportation.
Prepared by Eliezer Kwass, courtesy of Yeshiva Darché Noam