The Ramban observes that in the case of the other klei haMishkan, vessels of the Mishkan, they were first covered with wool and then covered over with the tachash – hide. The Aron HaKodesh was singular in that it was first covered with the tachash – hide and then was covered with the techeiles, turquoise wool. Chazal describe techeiles as having a color similar to that of the sea, similar to the sky which symbolizes the purity of Heaven. Thus, (according to Ramban) it was placed above the tachash – to call attention to the purity and sanctity of the Aron/Torah.
Horav Moshe Feinstein, zl, offers another perspective on the Aron’s distinction vis-à-vis its coverings. Techeiles and tachash represent distinct concepts. The blue color of techeiles makes people think of Heaven, the place of Hashem’s Kisei HaKavod, Throne of Glory. Thus, techeiles denotes faith in Hashem. Tachash, on the other hand, focuses on material/physical beauty (the tachash – hide-was unusually beautiful) which encourages us to enhance our mitzvah observance by cloaking them in physical beauty. [Understandably, we perform mitzvos because they are the tzivui Hashem, command of G-d, but people will find mitzvah observance more attractive and desirable if the mitzvah involves an element of aesthetic beauty. We perform mitzvos due to our commitment rooted in faith in Hashem. This does not mean that we cannot enhance our performance.]
Thus, the uppermost cover of the Aron, which is visible to the eye, should be techeiles, which calls to mind unarguable, accomplished faith in Hashem. This sets the standard and tone for how we are to view mitzvos. Only then can we cover the other vessels – the other mitzvos – with tachash – hide, representing beauty and enhancement of mitzvos which make their performance more inviting.
Horav Zev Weinberg, zl, takes a basic approach to the variation of the covers between the Aron and other vessels. The Aron is the receptacle in which the Torah is housed. The Torah is our spiritual guide. As such, its inner beauty, the beauty of the mitzvos, the beauty of living as a Jew, is what should be emphasized – not externals. Techeiles personifies a beauty of sorts – a beauty of purity of action, of deed, of service to Hashem. The Torah’s greatness lies in its inner aesthetics, not in its external beauty. When we feel the need to couch Torah in external elegance, we diminish its inner sublimity. Torah’s radiance shines from within. Does one daven better, with greater and more intense fervor, in a magnificent, spacious and elegant appealing shul? How many of us grew up davening in shtieblach that were situated in old, dark basements and storefronts? Those of us who have been davening in hot (in the summer) and cold (in the winter) tents (during the pandemic) have neither felt shortchanged, nor our davening lacking. On the other hand, this does not mean that beauty is denigrated. The significance of the Kohanim’s vessel’s, the Klei haMishkan was not diminished by showing their beauty. Torah, however, requires the motif to project its majesty.
We have been in exile for too long. As a result of our persecution, poverty, always being on the run, we have neglected the aesthetics in our service to Hashem. The world has not wanted to see Jews who dress better than they do, have nicer homes and cars than they do, and have places of worship which are tributes to the finest, most talented architects. We have been instructed to keep our collective heads low and our mouths silent. Today, baruch Hashem, the Jewish community is thriving and, in some instances, has lost sight of its age-old parameters. While the pursuit of a pleasant, aesthetically-pleasing environment is wonderful and can, in some instances, enhance our service to Hashem, we should not allow ourselves to fall into the abyss of excessive emphasis on external grandeur. This will ultimately do harm to the inner dimension of our service.
A shul is a house of worship because of the prayers and supplications that are rendered there. Just because it looks like a shul does not make it a place of worship. Physical structure can expand one’s spiritual consciousness, but if his focus is on the scenery, his prayers will lose their urgency and intensity. Thus, the colors of the tachash – hide overlapped the pure color of techeiles. Modesty and purity have a greater impact on inspiring, heartfelt prayer than large, imposing, art-deco edifices.