“He covered it (the ark) with pure gold, within and without, and he made for it a gold crown all around”
Shemot (Ex) 37:2
The Ark of the Covenant was the most important implement created for the tabernacle. In it were placed the tablets Moshe brought down from the mountain as well as some other meaningful items from their wanderings. It was made of acacia wood and covered ‘within and without’ with pure gold. The cover for the ark, it’s lid, also known as the mercy seat was made of pure gold with cherubim at either end. G-d Himself came down to meet with the children of Israel between the cherubim. It was a beautiful work of art and served the function of providing a place for Israel and YHVH to meet together.
This wonderful piece was placed in the holiest place in the Mishkan and eventually would only be seen by the High Priest once a year (except when it was moved). There was also no mention in the Torah of opening the ark or even an occasion or process by which it would be. So why was it essential to cover it with gold ‘within and without’, particularly ‘within’. Gold is a precious metal and is, by definition, scarce. So why cover the inside of the ark with gold when hardly anyone even sees the outside, and once it was closed, no one ever saw the inside?
There is an important spiritual lesson to be learned from the fact that G-d commanded them to cover it with gold within and without. Rabbi Sha’ul teaches us that we are the Temple of G-d. The ark was the central implement of the Mishkan so in some ways, we are also to be like the ark. The ark was beautiful on the outside. The glittering gold, the beautifully fashioned cherubim, the moldings and other decor all combined to make this object the most beautiful in the Mishkan. Many people can be beautiful on the outside as well. Certainly, western society has elevated physical beauty to be an essential characteristic and often the basis for people’s opinion of others. But it is more than that. It is the whole of one’s character and persona that is displayed to others. And looking and acting good are important. We are to avoid even the appearance of evil. We, as Torah obedient people, are concerned about many external things. The things we celebrate, the way we dress and look, the foods we eat and do not eat are all outward indications of who we are and whose we are.
In the first century, the Pharisees and the Essenes were both concerned about the same thing. They wanted to make sure they were obedient to the letter of the Law. However, the Pharisees were condemned in harsh terms by both Yahushua and Yochannon the Immerser. Yahushua made the statement that “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, you will by no means enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matt 5:20). We know that the Pharisees were known for the meticulous way they performed the Mitzvot. But we know from the writings of the Pharisees (rabbis) themselves that there were many hypocrites in their midst. The context of Yahushua’s statement tells us that if the externals are in order and the internals are not, the externals have no merit. The ark was made of pure gold within and without. We are to be made of the purity of truth within and without. The true test of character is how one acts when no one is looking. Do we care as much about being Torah obedient when we are at home or on the road as we are when we are fellowshipping with our brethren? How many people will really know if we obey the laws of Kashrut or niddah? No one but us and G-d. Torah observance is not something that is just external or something done in the context of fellowship. Torah is not a means to an end but and end in itself. The performance of the mitzvot is it’s own reward. We need to make sure our obedience to our Father in Heaven is not just meticulous on the outside but consistent on the inside and in the closet. The press conferences and the speeches may look and sound good but what’s going on in the hallways of the oval office? How pure is the gold in your ark?
The construction of the Mishkan now begins in earnest. This wonderful place where G-d’s unique presence would dwell among the people. And it was to be a task performed by the entire nation, everyone had a part to play in this work. There are some important lessons to be learned in the way they went about this project.
First of all, everyone gave to the work. The whole community had a purpose and they directed all their energies and resources toward the success of that mission. It was a large and very expensive undertaking and finding all those things in the desert was not easy. They carried everything with them and I am sure that they had become attached to some of them, some silver or gold bowl, a particularly fine piece of cloth, a beautiful gemstone. They had been slaves with nothing and now they found themselves with the spoils of Egypt. Yet they came and they gave, and they gave more than enough, even of the best things. We have been commissioned by YHVH with the task of recovering the truth and taking that truth to all the nations. It is a monumental task. Do we give the best to Him for it? Do we set aside a ‘generous portion’ from that which YHVH has blessed us? Do we set aside the best of our time for study and prayer? I dare say, the Mishkan would have looked pretty shoddy if it would have depended on most of our attitudes.
The second point is that everyone whose heart motivated them could participate in it’s construction and no one was turned away. G-d had given Bezalel and Oholiab special wisdom to supervise the work but the work of the sanctuary was not a spectator sport.
“Every wise hearted man whose heart YHVH endowed with wisdom, everyone whose heart inspired him, to approach the work and do it..” (Shemot 36:2)
Those whose hearts motivated them, YHVH endowed with wisdom to do the work, and of course this went for the women too (35:25). The importance of the motivation of the heart cannot be overemphasized because that is all they had. These were ex-slaves. All most of them knew how to do was make mud bricks. Now they were being commanded by G-d to make this opulent and intricate structure to house the very presence of the Creator among them. Most of us would have said “G-d hasn’t given me that gift”..or “that’s out of my league”... “I’m not smart enough”... “I’m not spiritual enough”. Yahushua said we have not because we don’t ask and that the Father is willing to give the best gifts to His children. He would not give us a task without equipping us. He blessed all those whose heart motivated them to have the gifts and talents necessary for the construction of the Mishkan. To any of us He will give us the wisdom and ability to participate in this wonderful work of recreating the ancient path. It is a daunting task and there are few who have explored the territory into which we are headed but we need only ask with a heart motivated toward YHVH and He will give us what we need. No more excuses.
Most of the end of the sefer Shemot is the actual construction of the Mishkan and all it’s furnishings by the children of Israel. Moshe first took up a collection in which more than enough material for the construction of the Mishkan was donated cheerfully. Then men and women who were ‘wise hearted’ came and actually did the work of construction and at the conclusion everything was set up just as G-d had commanded Moshe and the presence of G-d came and resided in the Mishkan. The project was a success. There were three types of people involved in the work of the Mishkan. The first were those who gave. Without these people, the work would have never been started and perhaps it was all some of them could do. In this group there were two types of givers. Those whose spirit motivated them and those whose heart inspired them. In the first group were those who gave what they could in order to see the collective vision accomplished. They were those whom Yahushua pointed to at the temple who gave of their abundance. There is no condemnation here, quantitatively the wealthy usually give more and it is this giving which brings in the bulk of what is necessary for any enterprise. The second group, however, are those who gave more than they could ‘afford’ as the widow at the temple did in Yahushua’s time. They believed in the vision of the work and gave all they had to it. It is these who receive the greater reward because they are willing to make a temporal sacrifice now to see G-d’s greater work accomplished. The second group are those who are ‘wise hearted’ and actually did the work of constructing the tabernacle. Wisdom has been described as the proper application of knowledge. There were people who had basic skills and used them in specific areas to build certain parts of the Mishkan. The weavers made coverings, the jewelers worked on Aarons ephod, the carpenters made the poles and furniture, the metallurgists worked with the gold and silver. Each person was essential to creating the Mishkan. But they were also somewhat limited, more than just wisdom was necessary to pull this whole project off. That is the third category. In Deut 1, Moshe send out a call for wise men and men of discernment (understanding) but when he describes the elders who come he acknowledges their wisdom but there is no mention of discernment or understanding. Without this quality something essential was missing. That ingredient was the understanding of how all the parts fit together, a comprehensive vision of the whole. If no men of discernment were available in the construction of the Mishkan, no one would have understood how to fit the parts together. There would have been no coordination of effort or proper allocation of resources to accomplish the task which was bigger than all the individual parts. This is where true leadership is necessary. Without someone or some group to focus the energies of all the wise hearted individuals and properly utilize the gifts of those who give, nothing meaningful will be accomplished. All are necessary and essential and if any group is missing, the ministry or project is doomed to failure. Find out where you fit in and do your job with excellence and joy for the final product will be greater than all our efforts added together.