We must strive to be like pure gold and no less, inside and out

Exodus 25:1-27:19
I Kings 5:26-6:13

In this Torah portion, the Jews are commanded to build the Mishkan (Tabernacle). Some find the description of the plans for building the Mishkan relatively uninspiring. However, an understanding of the symbolism involved provides us with a profound reminder of certain moral, ethical and religious truths. This can be observed, for example, in the first article belonging to the Tabernacle, the Aron (ark).

Three points about the Aron, which G-d commanded the Jews to build, must be noted:

• It was to house the Tablets of the Ten Commandments.

• It was to be kept in that section of the Mishkan known as the Kodesh Kedoshim (Holy of Holies), the most sacred part of the sacred edifice.

• It was to be made of acacia wood, overlaid with pure gold within and without, and it should have a crown of gold round about.

First, the nation of Israel was the depository of G-d’s revelation, just as the ark was the depository of the Ten Commandments. Just as the Tablets were to remain permanently in the ark, so must G-d’s word be carried in the heart of every Jew permanently at all times. Judaism uniquely strives to influence every action from the moment we awaken in the morning until our eyes close again in sleep. Just as the Aron rested forever in the Kodesh Kedoshim, so must we consider ourselves constantly in the presence of the Almighty, not only in synagogue or on Sabbaths or holidays, but every moment of every day.

Further, the Aron had to be inlaid with pure gold inside and out, and a golden crown had to be set round about its top. Just as the gold had to be pure, without alloy, our faith must be pure and sincere, able to withstand the acid tests of adversity, hardships and sacrifice.

Pure gold and no less is the standard demanded of us, inside and out. This is a warning against hypocrisy, against wearing a veneer of piety but being inwardly irreligious. Unhappily, there are those who outwardly profess to be G-d-fearing Jews, but conveniently forget that G-d demands of us honesty, brotherly love, mercy and charity.

Against this flagrant hypocrisy stands the Aron as an eternal protest. It was covered inside and out with gold to teach us that faith may never be merely an external show. As King David wrote in Psalm 51:8, “Lo, Thou Oh Lord, desire truth in the inward parts.”

G-d penetrates into our very soul, making it essential that we be as pure inwardly as outwardly. He judges us not by what we say or pretend to be, but by what we actually are. This demand for sincerity was kept constantly in the minds of the Jews by the image of the Aron overlaid with pure gold inside and out.

The last point in connection with the Aron is the golden crown that was placed “round about its top surface.” This can be understood as representing the crowning glory of the human being — his ability to reason. Our Creator has endowed us with intellect and the ability of developing original thought. It is this intellect that enables us to decide what should be done and what should not.

We require a constant reminder that unless our mind is as pure as pure gold, our deeds will ultimately not be acceptable to G-d. Evil thoughts will lead to the performance of evil deeds. Therefore we must strive to maintain the seat of our reason like the crown upon the Aron — pure and incorruptible. The Divine gift of reason should be worn as a crown of dignity and honor to be exercised for the purpose of improving ourselves.

These are some of the lessons inherent in the Aron that G-d commanded the Jews to construct. They are lessons that we need impressed upon us even today. We still need to be reminded that Judaism is not a creed but a way of life that aspires to ennoble us every moment of every day, wherever we find ourselves. We still need to be reminded that the hypocrite blasphemes the name of G-d, and we still need to be reminded that only a pure heart and a pure mind are acceptable to our Father in Heaven.

Shabbat shalom.

Rabbi Pinchas Lipner is dean of Hebrew Academy in San Francisco.