Aron HaBrit (Ark of the Covenant)
The Aron HaBrit is the kli (vessel) created as a holder for the luchot (tablets) received by Moshe (Moses) at Har Sinai (Mount Sinai). The Aron rests in the Kodesh HaKodashim (Holy of Holies)-the place where the Shechinah (Divine Presence) is most present in this world.
Structure: The Aron is composed of three boxes one inside of the other- an outer box of gold, a middle box of wood, and an inner box of gold. The Aron is covered by the golden Kaporet (cover), to which are attached the Kruvim (cherubs), also made of gold. Attached to the Aron are two long poles used to carry it from place to place in the desert. However, one of the miracles that Chazal (the Rabbis) tell us about is that the Aron felt weightless to those who carried it! Although all of the vessels in the Mishkan (Tabernacle) had attached poles for transportation purposes, the Aron is the only kli whose poles stay attached even when it sits in its permanent location in the Beit HaMikdash (Temple).
Contents: Inside the Aron are the shards of the first luchot and the whole second luchot. There is a debate as to whether the Sefer Torah (Torah scroll) written by Moshe was inside the Aron or alongside it on a shelf. Alongside the Aron stood additional items: a container of maan (manna), Mateh Aharon (Aharon’s rod that sprouted almond blossoms), and the Shemen HaMishcha (anointing oil).
History: During the periods of the Mishkan and Bayit Rishon (the First Temple), the Aron stood in the Kodesh HaKodashim. During Bayit Rishon, it stood directly on the Even HaShtiyah (foundation stone). Shortly before the destruction of Bayit Rishon, Yoshiyahu HaMelech (King Josiah) hid the Aron away underneath the Beit HaMikdash for fear that if left in the Beit HaMikdash it would be stolen or destroyed by the Babylonians. When the Jews returned to build Bayit Sheni (the Second Temple), they did not find the Aron. Therefore, there was no Aron in the Kodesh HaKodashim during Bayit Sheni.
The Aron is believed to still be hidden away under Har HaBayit (the Temple Mount). According to the Mishna in Masechet (Tractate) Shekalim, there is a tradition that the Aron is hidden away in a tunnel that is found under Lishkat HaEtzim (the Room of the Wood) in the southeastern corner of the Ezrat Nashim (Women’s Courtyard).