38. Terumah II - WOOD AND GOLD

THE SAGES INFORM us that the ark which Bezalel fashioned was made of gold and wood. Gold was on the outside and wood on the inside (Rashi, Ex. 25:11, Yoma 72).

The question that poses itself is, why did he make the ark that way? From the biblical account we know that there was no shortage of gold in the desert. Why then did Bezalel make the ark of both materials--wood and gold?

An understanding of the nature of these substances will explain this seeming enigma. Each of these materials has a particular quality which was included in the ark. Gold is durable and strong. Time attacks the preponderant majority of substances. Its ravages can be seen everywhere. Colors fade; metals rust; fibers rot. Man himself is one of the chief victims of the ravages of time. It robs him of his youth; it saps him of his strength; and in the end it steals his life from him. When we are young we do not realize what a thief time is --how it takes from us seconds and minutes, days and years. Then one day we look at ourselves in the mirror and discover his theft. We note how the hairs --or what's left of them-- are beginning to turn to silver, that wrinkles and furrows appear on our faces, and bags under our eyes. Climbing a flight of stairs tires us and makes us huff-and-puff; aches and pains cause us discomfort and anguish of soul. All these are the softening touches of time --getting us ready for the final assault.

This is also true in the realm of ideas. They, too, are transient. They may last a decade, a generation or an age, but eventually they become rusty, antiquated and even obsolete. Gold is one of the rare exceptions to this rule. It is durable and strong. It resists time and decay. There are ideas and principles which, like gold, are not subject to the onslaught of time, but are durable. David compared the teachings of the Torah to gold. "More to be desired are they than gold" (Ps. 19:11). Its doctrines have withstood the most concentrated assault of centuries of testing and attack.

It was, therefore, proper that the ark which housed the Tablets of the Law be made of gold, to symbolize the enduring worth of the Torah of God.

Gold, however, has one chisaron, one drawback. It is lifeless. Wood has the maaleh, the advantage, that it comes from a living thing, that it grows, has roots, produces foliage and fruits. The Torah, therefore, is compared not only to gold but also to a tree. "It is a tree of life to them that grasp it" (Proverbs 3:18). What gold lacks is supplemented by wood, and what wood lacks is supplemented by gold. The durability of gold and the vibrancy and life of wood were merged in fashioning the ark. Eternity and life were forever to be the symbols of the Torah.

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