The Torah describes the measurements and construcition of the
ark in great detail. The pertinent data is discussed and explained
further in the Talmud
(Baba Batra 14a). The external measurements of the ark were:
"Two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide and
a cubit and a half high" (Exodus 25,10). In keeping with
the Talmudic computation that one cubit equals six handbreadths
(Baba Batra 14a), the length of the Ark should have been fifteen
handbreadth, its width - nine and its height - nine.
The Torah continues to describe the ark's construction, saying:
"overlay it with pure gold - overlay it inside and out"
(Exodus 25,11). From this the Sages conclude that the Ark was
constructed from three arks one within the other, (in fact these
were crates, as the Ark had no legs. The Ark stood on the ground
and its opening was from its top). One ark was made of Acacia
wood and the other two - the innermost and the external - were
made of gold. The width of the wooden walls, according to this
calculation, was one half a handbreadth and the golden arks were
very thin, in fact no more than a thin internal and external covering.
We can then compute the internal measurements of the ark as follows:
Fourteen handbreadths in length, eight in width and eight in height.
In addition there were thin strips of gold, one half
handbreadth in width which covered the edges
of the top of the Ark on all four sides in order to give the Ark
an appearance of being made entirely of gold.
On the outer Ark there were gold rings on all four corners, one
third of the way up from the bottom. Into these were placed the
poles used for carrying the Ark. Inside the Ark were, according
to the sages, the First Tablets (of the Ten Commandments, broken
by Moses upon his descent from Mt. Sinai) , the Second Tablets
and the Scroll of the Torah (Sefer Torah) written by Moses before
his death in the Wilderness of Moab (see Exodus 25,21; Deuteronomy
10, 1-5; 1 Kings 8,9). Maimonides in his introduction to Mishneh
Torah said: "Moses wrote the entire Torah in his own hand
before his death, and he gave a Sefer Torah to each one of the
tribes and placed one in the Ark for posterity ...". In
addition, there were deposited in the Ark the flowered staff
of Aaron and the Jar of Manna.
The measurements of the Tablets were, according to Rabbinical
tradition: six handbreadths in length, six in width and three
handbreadths in thickness (Baba Batra 14b). Moses placed the
broken Tablets in the Ark as if they were whole. The Tablets,
then, took up twelve handbreadths in length, six in width and
six in thickness (height), leaving two handbreadths in the length
and width of the Ark.
The measurements of the Sefer Torah written by Moses according
to the same Talmudic tradition, were: six handbreadths in height
and two in thickness. These are the preferred measurements of
any Sefer Torah - the diameter being one third of the height.
Moses placed the Sefer Torah in the corner of the Ark where there
was an empty space of 6x2x2 handbreadths and this space allowed
the Sefer Torah easy access when it was taken out of the Ark
and returned there.
According to the measurements of the Ark, specified above, its
weight must have been between one hundred fifty and two hundred
kilograms (depending on the weight of the wood). (On the weight
of the Ark see: Sefer Haparshiot, Eliyahu Kitov, Jerusalem, 1988,
The Tablets weighed, according to the Rabbinical tradition, described
above, forty "Se'ah" - each, which is equivalent to
approximately five hundred liters. If we translate volume into
weight we are speaking about approximately five hundred kilograms
(stone being heavier than water), so that in any case each pair
of Tablets weighed around 1,000 kilograms and the two pairs together
at least two thousand kilograms.
The curtain and the Cherubim were also very heavy: the volume of the Cherubim was fifteen hundredths of a cubic meter. The volume was not hollow since both Cherubim were solid gold. Their height was ten handbreadths and they also had long wings. This translates into thousands of kilograms of gold !
The above descriotion of the measurements and contents of the
ark, raises several questions: How could it have been possible
for four men to carry the Ark on their shoulders, could they have
possibly borne such a heavy burden ?! Moreover, how could it
have been possible to lift the Ark by means of the poles? They
would have broken the moment an attempt was made to lift the Ark.
The rings would also have broken, since they were attached to
very thin walls of gold.
It could not have been done by natural means, and this is apparently
the reason behind the Talmudic saying: "The Ark bore its
bearers and passed" (Sota 35a). This also explains why G-d
became angry at Uzzah (2 Samuel, chap. 6), when he reached out
to grasp the Ark to prevent it from falling from the wagon: "The
Holy One Blessed Be He said to him: Uzzah, it bore its bearers
- it can certainly carry itself".
According to the sages, then, it was only an optical allusion,
when the four men seemed to have been carrying the Ark. In fact,
"The Ark bore its bearers". However, in my opinion,
this sentence expresses more than a simple, physical meaning.
It means that the Torah upholds those who uphold it.
There is also significance to the fact that the inner Ark was
made of wood. The Torah is also referred to as: "A tree of
life to those who uphold it" (Proverbs 3, 18). It is likened
to a drowning man who happily finds a root of a tree and holds
on to it. He holds on to the tree but in reality the tree holds
him and saves him from the waters which threaten his life....
Exactly thus does the Torah hold man, carries him and lifts him
A man may believe that he dedicates his life to the Torah, not
realizing that he receives much more from the Torah than he gives
to it, he receives life itself. The Yalkut Shimoni on Proverbs,
chap.3, says: "All those who devote themselves to the Torah
- it becomes for them a life-giving medicine, for it says: Those
who find Me find life", and on the Book of Psalms the
Yalkut comments: "The Holy one Blessed Be He said to David
- if you seek life, look at the Torah, for it is said : it is
a tree of life to those who uphold it".