Terumah: A Mistaken Depiction of the Tablets

February 8, 2024

What did Moses put inside the Ark of the Covenant, and how does that inform the correct depiction of the Tablets?

(Sicha, Shabbos Ki Tisa 5741, and Simchas Torah 5742)

The Ark of the Covenant

G-d commanded the Jews to construct a Mishkan, a portable sanctuary, and its sacred vessels, including the Ark of the Covenant. Inside the Ark, Moses was to place the Tablets (Source 1), the shards of the shattered Tablets (Source 2), and the Torah scroll he would write (Sources 3-4). The Torah specifies the dimensions of the Ark (Source 5), and the Talmud further clarifies the dimensions down to the inch, and discusses the dimensions of all of the Ark’s contents and how it all fit inside (Source 6). 

The Shape of the Tablets

Thanks to the precise dimensions of the Ark and the Tablets in the Talmud, the Rebbe arrives at the conclusion that should have always been obvious to all: the Tablets were square. Indeed, that is written already by the scholars of the Middle Ages (Source 7). The Rebbe explains that the mistake became ingrained in the Jewish world after printers, mostly non-Jewish, depicted the Tablets according to their opinion. The Rebbe made efforts to have organizations and synagogues change their logos and symbols to reflect the correct shape (Source 8). The Rebbe supported his position by citing another contemporary scholar who independently arrived at the same conclusion (Source 9). The Rebbe further explained that when an educational institution depicts the tablets incorrectly, that will undermine the children’s faith in their educators. Moreover, using a depiction that originated in the non-Jewish tradition shows a preference for the non-Jewish version over the Talmud.



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