The Great Unifier
Parshat Terumah seems to consist of many very technical details that explain how to fashion the various keilim in the Beit HaMikdash to Moshe and Betzalel. However, a closer look at the text reveals that it is more than a to-do list. Twice in the parsha, grammatical inconsistencies occur. In the directions to build the aron. The passuk says “Ve’asu aron atzei shittim,” “And you (plural) shall make the aron out of wood (25:10).” Up until this point, the commandment to build every kli was in the singular form of “ve’asitah.” What about the aron warrants a change in grammar? The next passuk talks about the gold plating for the aron, and it returns to the singular command of “ve’tzipitah.” If the aron is an object so unique that it requires plural language, why doesn’t the Torah continue to use plural language at least through the completion of the instructions to make it?
There is a separate question that many ask about the aron, and that is why would such an important kli be wooden, with only a golden covering? Why not make the entire aron out of gold to make it as beautiful as possible?
The Ramban says that the aron was unique because it was the only kli that was built in some way by everyone in Klal Yisrael. Each person either contributed a small amount of gold directly for the aron or helped Betzalel fashion it. It should not be surprising to us that the aron was unique in this respect. The aron was the key element of the Mishkan, housing the luchot – the foundation of Am Yisrael that is accessible to everyone.
The Mishnah says (Avot 4:13) that there are three crowns. One is the crown of Malchut, one is the crown of Kehunah, and one is the crown of Torah. Two of the three are exclusive – if a person is not born into the families of Aharon or David, they cannot be a Kohen or a King. Yet Torah is different. No matter what background a person has, he is able to learn Torah and reach great heights in the realm of Torah study.
The Mishnah in Avot also says (2:16) “It is not incumbent upon you to finish the work, but you are not free to excuse yourself from it.” Betzalel was incapable of finishing the aron on his own. He needed the help of the entire nation to build such a significant vessel. Likewise, with only one person’s input on how to build the symbolic world of Torah, the Torah itself suffers. Chazal say that there are 70 faces to the Torah. Each person in Klal Yisrael needs to do their part to ensure that the Torah will flourish and be incorporated into the lives of the entire nation for generations.
Now we can understand why the aron was made out of both wood and gold. While gold symbolizes wealth and prominence, wood symbolizes simplicity. While talmidei chachamim create the prominence and grandeur of the Torah, the most important contributions to the world of Torah come from` the average person. Without the contributions of ordinary people, the world of Torah may look pristine, but in reality it is on that is destined to collapse.
In order to ensure the continuity of Torah, everyone needs to be involved in it. It is not enough for the “elite” to learn Torah on behalf of everyone else. Each person needs to make his or her individual effort in Torah. This is why the word “ve’asu” is used; it is not enough for Betzalel to make the aron by himself. Each member of Klal Yisrael needs to have the opportunity to make an individual contribution to the world of Torah.