An excellent man, like precious metal, is in every way invariable; A villain, like the beams of a balance, is always varying, upwards and downwards, himself his own dungeon. -Saskya Pandita
Since time immemorial, mankind has admired metals for their strength, their reliability, their durability. It is therefore no coincidence that the first three materials that God requests for the construction of His Sanctuary are gold, silver and copper.
Because of our modern sophisticated metallurgical products, in our industrialized and technologically advanced era, we generally don’t have an instinctive understanding of the roles and properties of these different metals. In biblical and pre-industrial times there was a greater affinity and appreciation for the different metals, how they were found, refined, processed and used.
Rabbi Hirsch on Exodus Chapter 25 explains how these precious metals are mentioned here not only for their practical uses, but also because of the characteristics they represent:
“In our discussions of Jewish symbolism we have shown how the Biblical text has chosen metals, because of their hardness, as the most appropriate metaphors for firmness and strength. Because of the value attached to metals, Scripture employs them as symbols of the value attached to qualities of the spirit. But it is especially because of their metallurgical properties that Scripture cites metals as the most striking symbol of all that is good and true, in “alloys” of various degrees with evil and falsehood, and as a metaphor for the process of “testing” and “refinement” associated with truth and morality. Copper symbolizes baseness, or nature still in its unrefined state. Silver connotes a more advanced stage at which the object is still in need of purification but has clearly become amenable to refinement. Gold, which primarily occurs in unalloyed form and can withstand the most rigorous tests, is taken as the symbol of the purest, most genuine form of moral nobleness and true constancy.”
“Metals combine maximal ductility with maximal firmness. When softened by fire and beaten with a hammer while still soft, they can be given any desired shape, but once they have received that shape they retain it so firmly that it can be destroyed only by superior force. Hence metals symbolize to us the character trait we should activate in our obedience to the dictates of duty and particularly to the will of God as it has been revealed to us. Indeed, the Word of God is described as a “hammer” and a “fire.”
“Consequently, metals, more than any other substance in nature, present themselves as the most fitting symbol of what our moral attitude should be toward our calling.”
In Rabbi Hirsch’s analogy, copper would be our starting point, silver is the next level of refinement and gold is the goal. The fire and hammer of God’s word should mold us; guide our innate strength and capacity, to shape ourselves as vessels for Him. Once we have found that ideal path, that ideal form of service, we should not be easily moved from it, but rather retain a solid, useful, steadfast direction, that is not easily bent or turned.
In short, our spirit, our dedication, our commitment should be metal-strong.
To the precious women of Garin Be’Matan. Stay strong. You’re on amazing paths.