SALT - Friday, 3 Adar I 5776 - February 12, 2016

  • Rav David Silverberg

            The Torah in Parashat Teruma (25:11) requires building the aron (ark) from shittim wood and plating it with gold both inside and out: “mi-bayit u-mi’chutz tetzapenu.” 

The Gemara in Masekhet Yoma (72b), in a famous remark, notes the symbolic significance of the interior and exterior gold plating: “Any Torah scholar whose interior does not correspond to his exterior is not a Torah scholar.”  The ark, which contained the original Torah scroll, needed to be constructed in such a way that its interior matched its exterior, both plated with gold.  Similarly, Torah scholars must be the same inside and out; rather than just appear “golden” – scholarly and pious – they must be “golden” on the inside.  Their impressive image must accurately reflect the kind of people they truly are.

            Developing this point a bit further, there seems to be no reason, at first glance, for the Torah to require plating the interior of the aron with gold.  After all, nobody sees the inside of the ark.  Only the exterior is visible, and we would thus expect the Torah to demand only that the exterior be plated with gold to bring glory to this sacred article.  The fact that the Torah requires gold even on the interior proves that the external appearance is not the only important factor.  The ark must be “golden” even in places which are not exposed to the human eye.  And this, perhaps, is the point of comparison noted by the Gemara between the aron and people.  Too often, our efforts at self-growth are focused on our image, on the way we appear to others, on ensuring to act in a way that will earn us the admiration, approval and respect of the people around us.  Chazal here remind us that this is not what self-growth is about.  Certainly, just as the aron was golden on the outside, we must work to maintain an appropriate public image.  But our efforts must also include tending to our “interior,” to refining the aspects of our characters and our lives that are not visible to anyone else.  Even when nobody sees us, we must conduct ourselves in an appropriate manner and recognize, in the Mishna’s famous words, “what is above you – a seeing eye, a hearing ear, and all your deeds are being written in a book” (Avot 2:1).