Tezaveh-The Altars

Even though all three metals – gold, silver and copper – were used in the building of the mishkan (“tabernacle”), the two altars within the mishkan were made of copper (in the case of the external altar, upon which were offered sacrifices), and gold (in the case of the inner altar, upon which incense was offered).  There was no silver used in the making of either altar, and the question is, why?  The purpose of the mishkan and in particular the altars, upon which offerings of all types were brought, was to elevate the world.  And if so, why wasn’t silver included?

We’ll understand by realizing that even though we no longer have the Temple or the altar or all that accompanied them, we can find what the temple and the altar represented, inside each and every one of us.  The Temple is the person himself, and just as we had to treat the Temple with great sanctity and sensitivity, so we much relate to our own body and soul, with respect and sensitivity.  The altar alludes the heart that beats within each one of us.  It has an inner component and an outer component – but more about that shortly…

In last week’s parsha (Terumah), we learned that that silver represents the tzaddik – the person who never sinned his entire life – who always persevered on the path of Torah and mitzvoth without ever having deviated.  Gold, on the other hand, represents the ba’al tshuva – the person who strayed away from the true spiritual path, and then returned.  Since he knows the taste of sin and transgression and yet rejects it, he shines with the light of one is able to uplift all aspects of the world.  Copper on the other hand, represents those who have gone off the path and sinned, but not yet returned to the true path.

And that is why there was no silver in either altar of the mishkan.  The altar, like the heart of the person, is the place where fire burns.  It is the place where the fires of false desires as well as the fires of true desire for Godliness burns and consumes us.  The external altar, where sacrifices are brought represents the part of the heart that has regret for the past, that wants to expiate for our sins and transgressions.  Therefore, it is made for copper, because it represents that part of us which has not yet returned to the One above.

The inner altar is the part of the heart that yearns for Godliness, that is always connected, whether or not we remain on the true path or we stray.  There is always a point of the Jew that remains pure and connected, even when he strays off the path, and that is what ultimately brings him back to the path.  That part of the heart is represented by the internal golden altar, upon which the incense is offered.  Since this is the part of the Jew which never strays, even though externally he may sin or transgress, it brings him back to the true path.  For that reason, it is symbolized by gold, and the incense altar is made of gold.  But, the tzadik who never strays at all, who is represented by silver does not need the altar.  His path of worship is always straight to the One above and therefore the altar did not contain silver at all.

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

From Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol 3, page 910

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