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Holy Containers

“Have the people make an Ark of acacia wood—a sacred chest 45 inches long, 27 inches wide, and 27 inches high. Overlay it inside and outside with pure gold, and run a molding of gold all around it.” — Exodus 25:10–11 NLT

The Torah portion for this week is Terumah, which means “contributions,” from Exodus 25:1–27:19, and the Haftorah is from 1 Kings 5:26–6:13.

Scripture spares no details when it comes to the description of how the Tabernacle should be built or how the holy vessels should be constructed. In fact, the details are so precise that one can even see such objects today at the Temple Institute in Jerusalem where a group of scholars meticulously reproduced many of the items described in this week’s Torah portion. However, the Jewish sages taught that the details and descriptions reveal to us more than how each item should look. There are also messages for our lives encoded in these divine blueprints.

The Holy Ark, which contained the Ten Commandments, is a case in point. Scripture specified that it must be made out of wood, but coated in gold – both on the inside and outside. The sages asked: Why must there be gold on the inside too? No one would even see that part!

According to the sages, the instructions about the inlay of gold teach us that “a person’s outside must match what is inside.” In other words, don’t be a hypocrite! Even though no one can see what we truly feel or how we behave behind closed doors, the way we are beneath the surface must reflect the way we are above it.

We can fool the world, but there is no fooling God. As Scripture says, “People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). Only a person who is golden through and through is fitting to be a vessel for God.

However, this leads us to another question: So why not make the entire Ark out of gold? What’s the point of the wood? The use of wood teaches us another important insight about becoming proper vessels for God’s use. Wood comes from a tree, a living creation that both changes and grows. This teaches us that we also need to always be changing and growing. No one can become thoroughly golden overnight. But if we persist and constantly pursue it, we will eventually grow into our best selves.

The gold and wood prescribed for the Holy Ark are exactly the prescription that we need for our lives: we must grow a little bit every day, sincerely trying to perfect ourselves inside and out. That way we can become holy containers for the Word of God and serve a prominent role in His worship and service.

With prayers for shalom, peace,

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President

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