Parashat Terumah- The Torah’s “Footsteps”
The first of the furnishings of the Mishkan discussed in Parashat Teruma was the Aron, the sacred ark, in which the original Torah scroll was stored. G-d commanded that four rings be affixed "Al Arba Pa’amotav" – on the ark’s four "Pa’amot" (25:12), and the poles used to carry the Aron were inserted through these rings along the two sides of the Aron.
Rashi and several other commentators explain the word "Pa’amot" to mean "corners." The Ibn Ezra (Spain, 1089-1167), however, notes that nowhere else in Tanach do we find the word "Pa’amot" used in reference to corners. Instead, this word is used in reference to footsteps, in as the verse in Shir Hashirim (7:2), "Ma Yafu Fe’amayich Ba’ne’alim," which is understood as praising Beneh Yisrael when they journey by foot to Jerusalem for the three Regalim (pilgrimage festivals). And in Tehillim (85:14), G-d is metaphorically described as walking along a road – "Ve’yasem Le’derech Pe’amav." The Ibn Ezra thus concludes that the Aron’s four "Pa’amot" were four "feet" upon which it stood. It would have been disrespectful, the Ibn Ezra writes, for the ark to lie directly on the floor, and so G-d required affixing four feet underneath the Aron on which it rested, and it was on the legs that the rings for the transport poles were attached.
Later Rabbis observed that in the verses cited by the Ibn Ezra, the word "Pa’amot" actually does not mean "feet," but rather "footsteps." Those verses speak not of the feet themselves, but of feet that move and walk. On this basis, some have suggested further insight into the significance of the "feet" underneath the Aron. The Aron, which contained the original Sefer Torah, has "feet" in the sense that it "walks" with Am Yisrael throughout its long, tumultuous history. No matter where we go, and no matter how drastically the world changes, the Torah comes with us. We don’t abandon or revise the Torah, but rather bring its timeless values and principles with us and apply them to the new realities and circumstances that arise.
I have had the privilege to read and study many halachic responsa by the leading Torah sages of the modern era, outstanding figures such as Rav Moshe Feinstein (1895-1986), Rav Eliezer Waldenberg (1915-2006), Hacham Ovadia Yosef (1920-2013), and Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (1910-1995). These scholars addressed all kinds of questions, including issues relevant to modern technology and medicine. In not a single responsa do any of these luminaries write, "The Torah does not have anything to say about this new discovery." In every single essay, they work to determine how the ancient, immutable principles of Halacha apply to the situation presented to them. When we study these Halachic texts, we experience "the Torah’s footsteps," and see how the Torah accompanies us wherever we go, throughout the ages, how the original Torah given to our ancestors at Sinai remains as relevant today as it ever was.
In our personal lives, too, we bring the Torah with us wherever we go. The Torah does not stay behind the curtain in the ark in the synagogue; it accompanies us when we leave the synagogue to return home, go to work, go on vacation, go shopping, or tend to any of our other affairs. The feet underneath the ark teach us that the timeless values and laws of the Torah come with us at all times, and must inform our behavior throughout the day, each and every day of our lives.