Parashat Teruna: Don’t Ever Stop
The Torah in Parashat Teruma describes the Mishkan, at the center of which was the Aron, the holy ark which contained the tablets from Mount Sinai. In describing the Aron, the Torah (25:12) tells us that rings were attached to the four "Pe’amot" of the ark. Poles were then inserted through these rings, and the Leviyim would use the poles to transport the ark.
What is the definition of the word "Pe’amot"?
Rashi explains this word to mean "corners," and thus the Torah refers here to the four corners of the Aron. Ibn Ezra, however, disagrees, noting that the word "Pe’amot" elsewhere in Tanach means not "corners," but rather "legs." One example is a verse in Shir Hashirim (7:2): "Ma Yafu Fe’amayich." Accordingly, Ibn Ezra asserts that, contrary to conventional thinking, the Aron had legs, and the rings for the transport poles were affixed to the legs of the Ark. Ibn Ezra notes that it would be disrespectful to have the Aron, the holiest of all objects, sit directly on the floor, and it therefore stands to reason that it had four legs on which it stood.
The question arises, however, according to Ibn Ezra’s theory, why did the Torah refer to the ark’s legs with the unusual term "Pa’amotav"? Why didn’t it use the more common word for legs, "Raglayim"?
The answer, perhaps, is that these two words have different connotations. They both refer to legs, but to different contexts. "Regel" is used in reference to a leg that is stationary and stays in place, whereas "Pa’am" refers to a leg that is walking, that is in motion.
If so, then the Torah’s use of the word "Pa’amotav" in reference to the Aron’s legs becomes very significant. The Aron, which contained the Torah, had legs that were, symbolically, always moving. The message to us is that in Torah life, we must never stand still. There is never a point where we’ve learned enough or accomplished enough. Until our final breath of life, we must be striving to grow, to improve, to progress, to advance to the next level.
The Gemara teaches us how the Yeser Ha’ra (evil inclination) attempts to lead us to sin: "Today he says, ‘Do this,’ tomorrow he says, ‘Do this,’ until eventually the person worships idols." The simple reading of the Gemara’s comment is that the Yeser Ha’ra works incrementally, luring us to make one minor compromise in our religious standards, and then another, until eventually we commit grave sins, Heaven forbid. But there is also another interpretation of the Gemara. "Today he says, ‘Do this,’ tomorrow he says, ‘Do this’" – each day, he tells us to do the same thing we did yesterday, to be the same person we were the day before. The Yeser Ha’ra’s greatest asset, according to this reading, is the natural tendency to feel complacent, to remain in one’s comfort zone, to continue doing what he has always done, rather than putting in the effort to grow and advance.
There is a saying in the business world that if you’re not making money, you’re losing money. This is true in Torah, as well. If we’re not growing, then we’re falling. The vain pleasures of the world draw us like a magnet, and we resist this pull only by actively pursuing higher aspirations. If at any point we just sit back and relax, we will fall.
This is why great Torah scholars are referred to with the term "Talmid Hacham" – "bright student." Even the generation’s leading scholars are called "students" because they still have more to learn and are always trying to reach new levels of achievement. The process never ends, and is never supposed to end. Human beings in this sense are greater than angels. The angels will always be who they already are, whereas we, by definition, have the unlimited capacity to grow. No matter what we’ve achieved, we can achieve even more, and we must try to achieve even more.
The Aron did not have "Raglayim," it had "Pa’amot," to teach us to always "be on the move." It would be a terrible mistake to feel satisfied with the Rabbi’s weekly sermon and reading an occasional English book about Torah concepts. The majority of us can and must do more than that. We have to set our sights higher, and work to achieve more. Like the Aron, we must always be working to move, to progress, reaching ever higher standards of Torah study and observance.