(ליקוטי שיחות חלק כ”א, שיחה ב’ לפרשת תרומה עמ’ 156 והלאה)
The Ark’s journey until the First Temple.
A. Where is the Ark of the Covenant?
Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai say that the Ark was taken to Babylon by Nebbuchadzezzar (Source 1, 2). Rabbi Yehuda ben Lakish understands the verse to imply that the Ark was never moved from the Holy of Holies, and says it was buried under that site (Sources 3, 4). The Talmud adds details about who instructed that it be buried, who buried it, when, and where (Source 5). A third opinion maintains that it was buried under a different area of the Temple (Source 6).
B. Are the Sages Historians?
Maimonides rules in accordance with Rabbi Yehudah, that the Ark was buried under the Holy of Holies (Source 7). The Rebbe asks: (a) Why is an adjudicator of Jewish law entering the field of history, and even opining on which side is correct? (b) How could King Josiah have removed the Ark from the Holy of Holies before the danger presented itself, thereby undermining the sacred rituals for years to come?
C. An Alternate Holy of Holies
The Rebbe explains that Maimonides isn’t weighing in on historical debates, but is ruling on a matter of Jewish law. Maimonides is establishing that there was another, hidden, part of the Temple structure which contained an alternative Holy of Holies. The Rosh says that the blessing King Solomon gave at the Temple dedication alludes to this (Source 8, 9). Maimonides isn’t simply discussing the historic fate of the Ark, but explaining a law in the Temple construction: This hidden Holy of Holies was an original, sacred part of the Temple, and had the same degree of sanctity.
D. The Eternal Holy of Holies
The Rebbe explains that Maimonides has a major, novel understanding: The key part of the First Temple – the hidden-away Holy of Holies – was never destroyed, and the Ark of the Covenant is intact there until today, and will remain there eternally. When the Second Temple was built, it in effect connected with that existing Holy of Holies, and the same will happen with the Third Temple. Thus, all three Temples are really one continuous, eternal structure.
Story: Rabbi Getz and the search for the Ark of the Covenant