What is it about gold? Though centuries separated their times, both Moses and Betzalel, and later Hiram and Solomon, fashioned the most central items for the mishkan/temple of gold. Though millennia separate us from Moses, Betzalel, Solomon and Hiram, today gold seems as precious and revered now as it did then.
It’s sort of yellow-ish, malleable, and can be polished to a bright shine. It certainly stands out among other materials and metals. It is generally not found in plentiful supply in the area of Israel or neighboring countries. Though gold was important in Egypt, it isn’t found in any great quantity there, though could be found in nearby Nubia. Nubia, in fact, comes from the Egyptian word “nub” meaning gold.
Though Egypt had literally thousands of mines (one ancient map notes over 1300 sites) total production is thought to maybe have averaged about one ton per year – not a particularly impressive amount.
The Egyptians considered gold a “divine” metal, and, due to its color when refined, it was associated with the sun, and the sun god Ra. As important as gold was, because it was somewhat difficult to find and refine, its use was limited and reserved for particular purposes (like funerary masks. How odd and ironic that this most precious of metals dug from the ground was destined to spend most of its time buried again!)
In liberating the spoils of Egypt, the Israelites were lucky indeed to have come away with enough gold jewelry to be smelted down to create first the covering of the golden calf, and latter the few ritual items for the mishkan made of gold (the menorah, the cover of the ark and the cherubim, and a few others.)
Solomon and Hiram seemed to have a little better supply of gold available to them, and they used it a bit more freely, but only a bit. Solomon’s source was named Ophir, but to this day, scholars disagree as to its location. Various parts of Africa. India. Some even have suggested Peru! (There’s even a weird theory out there that Solomon actually got a lot of the gold by raiding Egyptian tombs, but not many scholars lend credence to the idea.)
The lust for gold can do strange things to people. We’re all familiar with the dramatic versions of these cautions from films like Treasure of the Sierra Madre and similar classics. In American history we have the several gold rushes, and even today, people are still trying to find that one lucky strike, and I don’t mean a cigarette.
We have the Romans to blame, perhaps, for spreading the gold lust, for it was in their empire that gold coinage became a standard. Gold mines were a monopoly of the empire. The Romans were certainly a bit more extravagant in their use of gold.
Gold became a standard against which value could be measured. It remained so for millennia.
In our own modern world, we gave up using the “gold standard” to back the value of money some time ago, though there are those out there suggesting maybe we ought to go back to it.
I have a rather radical thought related to all of this. While I am one who deplores extravagance and displays of wealth and ostentation, I do think our ancient Jewish ancestors were on to something. They recognized gold as a rarity that deserved to only be used for a few very special things. By so reserving it, they put it somewhat beyond the ordinary. While one could argue that this might make it seem all the more valuable and cause people to desire it even more, and there is certainly evidence for this, I still believe it is possible to generate the opposite effect. Use just enough of it that people, while overwhelmed by its beauty and value, still recognize how rare it is, and that perhaps it should be set aside only for the most special uses.
This requires a lot of faith in human nature, and the overwhelming sense of history would dictate otherwise. Is there something in how our ancestors viewed gold that we can find and renew that would enable us to learn that not all precious things are desirable for individual ownership? Consider that our ancestors actually gave up their gold so that the artifacts for the mishkan could be made (sadly they also gave up their gold for the calf, but then everyone makes mistakes.) They valued gold for themselves, but somehow they knew that the gold would be put to better use serving and honoring G”d.
There’s a metaphor here, and clearly it speaks to us of more than just gold. There are perhaps many things in our lives that are of value to us but might be of even greater value if we surrendered their use to only the most special and holy of uses. Not all of these things are physical or tangible.
Ready to surrender your “gold” in service to the One?
©2011 by Adrian A. Durlester
Other musings on this parasha:
Vayakhel-Pekudei/Shabbat HaHodesh 5770-Corroborative Detail
Vayakhel-Pekudei 5769 - There Are Some Things You Just Have To Do Yourself
Vayakhel 5768-An Imaginary Community?
Vayakhel-Pekudei/Shabbat HaHodesh 5767-Redux 5760-The Lost Episodes: Too Much of a Good Thing
Vayakhel-Pekudei/Shabbat HaHodesh 5766 - So How Did Joseph Get Away With it?
Pekude 5765-Redux 5760-Pronouns
Vayakhel 5765-The Wisdom of the Heart
Vayakhel/Pekude 5764-Comma or Construct?
Vayakhel 5763-Dayam V'hoteir
Vayakhel/Pekude 5762-Sacred Work
Vayakhel/Pekude 5761 (Revised from 5758)-Craftsman. Artisan. Artist.
Vayakhel 5760-The Lost Episodes: Too Much of a Good Thing
Vayakhel/Pekude 5758-Craftsman. Artisan. Artist.