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Last week’s parsha (Terumah) discusses the “outer altar,” made of copper, and this week’s parshat (Tezaveh) discusses the “inner alter,” made of gold. The altars were “inner” and “outer” both because of their physical placement (the “inner,” golden altar was located further inside of the tabernacle) and because of their spiritual significance. While the “outer” altar, made of copper, was used for everyday sacrifices, the “inner” golden altar was reserved for the incense offering and a once-a-year offering by the high priest. What was conspicuously absent among the materials of the altars is the semi-precious metal, silver. We don’t find silver among the materials of the altars, even though it is prominent in other aspects of the tabernacle and temple.

The Torah is eternal, and applies to all times and all places. The fact that neither the tabernacle nor the temple now exist in time and space means that we must look elsewhere to find them. The verse in last week’s Torah portion says (Ex.25:8), “Make for me a temple, and I will dwell within you.” That is, G-d demands from us to build whatever structure we can, according to the Torah’s specifications, and then He will dwell within each and every one of us – in the soul. And that’s where we should be looking for the inner and outer altars – within ourselves. In last week’s portion, we said that gold, silver and copper represented three different kinds of Jews. Silver are the “tzaddikim” who never sinned. Gold stands for those Jews who sinned and went off the path but sought to return to G-d, and copper stands for those who sinned and still didn’t find their way back to the One above. And that’s why we don’t find silver among the materials of the altars. Within the person, the altar is the heart - the emotion and longing to return and cling to G-d. The altar, whether inner or outer, is all about getting back on track, returning to the One above. That happens on different levels, whether superficially or within the deepest recesses of the heart. But, a tzaddik who never sinned (“silver”) need not return (since he is constantly in touch with G-d), and therefore silver is not among the materials of the altars.

The Mishneh (Hagiga) goes into a discussion of the altars and concludes that under no circumstances did they become ritually unclean. They remained spiritually pure no matter who touched them and what was put on them. Rebbe Eliezer said that’s because they were like the earth (they were filled with earth, which does not become spiritually impure), and the other sages said it’s because they were only coated with gold or copper (which was therefore nullified to the earth within them). What was the difference between them? Rebbe Eliezer could see right through to the soul of a person. He was famous for saying nothing that had not already been said by other sages before him. His intellectual prowess was matched by his modesty, which is why he did not want to take credit for any new Torah innovations. That’s why he believed that all Jews are holy, that all Jews are pure, through and through. The altar inside of each and every one of us remains pure, because every Jew is essentially connected to the One above. On the level of the inner altar, this means that as far away as we might have strayed, there’s a golden soul inside that remains unsullied and attached to the One above. Rebbe Eliezer could see right through to that golden soul and assumed that it was real and actual in all of us. Not only that, but even the copper altar within us, the element that did not yet return to G-dliness and spirituality, is pure to Rebbe Eliezer. He could see only the earth, the purity and simple connection that characterizes every Jew.

The sages, though, gave more importance to the exterior. They as well recognized that the essence of the Jewish soul is pure and cannot become disconnected from the One above. However, there’s a difference between seeing right through to the essence, and seeing the essence together with the exterior. The sages felt that the Jews are simply not living according to the essence alone. We also live in a world of externalities. Not many of us lead our lives according to spiritual principles alone. Most of us give credence to the physical world, to maintaining our lifestyle and level of physical comfort. That level should be and is subservient to spiritual principles – to fulfilling 613 commandments and learning Torah – but that doesn’t mean that we are willing to give up our standard of living. This the sages of the Talmud recognized when they said that both altars – the inner and outer levels of the heart – remain pure under all circumstances since the metal is only a coating and an exterior. They meant that even though we live our lives in the physical world, the essence of our soul does not become sullied. Some of us have made attempts to renew our connection with G-d (gold) and others have not yet done so (copper), but even taking into account what we look like on the surface, all Jews are connected with the One above.

And that’s why even the precious metals and commodities fluctuate in price. They may have intrinsic value, but nonetheless, their perceived worth shifts from time to time. Gold and copper come in different forms, and sometimes it’s their exterior appearance that influences us. Nevertheless, in essence they retain their value, just as the Jewish soul is always connected with the One above.

Adopted from Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe ztz’l, vol. 3, p. 910 Rabbi David Sterne, Jerusalem Connection in the Old city of Jerusalem