The tabernacle (mishkan), which was commanded to be built in our parsha (Terumah) contained gold, silver and copper, among other materials. Gold and silver are precious metals, so it is clear why they were included in the mishkan. Copper, though is more of an industrial metal, so why was it included?

To answer that, we need to review the three opinions on when exactly the tabernacle was built:

1) One opinion (Zohar part 2, 224A) is that both the command and the donation of materials for the tabernacle took place as the first set of ten commandments was given, and before the sin of the golden calf.

2) A second opinion (Midrash Tanhuma, Terumah Ch.8) says that the command and donation took place after the second set of tablets were given (Yom Kippur)

3) A third opinion (Zohar part 2, 195A) suggests that the command was given before the sin of the golden calf, but the actual building took place later, after the second of tablets were given.

Corresponding to these three opinions are three different profiles of Jews.  After the first tablets were given but before the sin of the golden calf, the Jews were like tzadikim – righteous people who never sinned.  The process leading up to the giving of the Torah “converted” those who left Egypt into new and unsullied Jewish souls.

After the sin of the golden calf, however, the Jews were like sinners.  They were Jewish, by all means, but they needed expiation and atonement for the sin of the golden calf.  Even though only a small number of Jews were actually involved in the sin, the lowered the spiritual level of all Jews, and therefore the Jewish profile at that point was comparable to those who have sinned and are in need of atonement.

Finally, after the second tablets were given to the Jews (on Yom Kippur), the Jews were like ba’alei teshuva – those who have strayed off the path of Torah and mitzvoth and then come back and re-joined the fold.

The three Jewish profiles above correspond to the three metals – gold, silver and copper.  Gold has intrinsic value.  Silver also has intrinsic value but it has more value  as coinage – something that may be used to purchase other items.  As such, silver corresponds to the tzadikim – those who are capable of bringing Godliness into the world, but only in a limited fashion, according to the prescriptions and laws of the Torah.  Gold on the other hand has more intrinsic value.  It corresponds to ba’alei teshuva, who because they have been on the “other side” and sinned, return to Torah with more strength and determination and elevate the negative aspects of the world to which they were attached as well.

However, the Jews also contain a lot of people who are still in need of expiation and atonement.  They are sinners, but they are Jews nonetheless.  Like copper, that has no intrinsic value but has much value as coinage, these Jews have the potential to bring back large swathes of the secular world with them when they adopt a Jewish lifestyle of Torah and mitzvoth.  Therefore, they are compared to copper.

The danger is that the tzadikim and the ba’alei teshuva, once they are serving God in the appropriate manner, will forget about those who have strayed off the path and not found their way back.  Therefore, the tabernacle included all three metals, to hint to us that the tzadikim (silver) and the ba’alei teshuva (gold) must also be involved with those who need a tikun because they are sinners (copper).  All three are necessary and vital components of the Jewish people as a whole

For a longer and more detailed version, go to www.jerusalemconnection.org

From Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Vol 6, page 152

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