From the revelatory experience at Har Sinai, the Torah continues with a detailed description of the Mishkan. The tablets given to Moshe were kept in the Ark, which was to be made of Acacia wood coated both on the inside and the outside with gold. The Talmud in Tractate Yoma (72b) explains the reason for this requirement:
The Ark- in which the Torah was kept- was supposed to be gold plated on the inside and the outside to show that there can be no hypocrisy among Torah scholars. The lived they conduct in private must comport with the image of righteousness they project to others. This raises an obvious question: If the gold plating of the Ark is supposed to represent consistency, and harmony between one’s internal and external lives, why not fashion it entirely out of gold?
Rav Yehuda Leib Ginsburg was a Rav in Russia who immigrated to Denver in the early 20th Century, and authored a commentary called the Yalkut Yehuda on the Aggadic passages of the Talmud relevant to the weekly Parshah. Rav Ginsburg explained that gold represents pure spirituality, as signified by the study of Torah, but wood represents basic human tendencies, which make up the human experience. A Torah scholar cannot be made of pure gold, devoid of any human qualities; a person who lives by the Torah also has to be human, experiencing emotions and desires that a normal human does. Rav Ginsburg uses this to explain, homiletically, a comment from Rabboteinu Baalei HaTosafot, that asserts that the Ark could not have been made out of pure gold because it would have been too heavy for the Levites to carry.
Gold on the outside means that the Torah sees as valuable and as the centerpiece someone who truly does have Torah inside and out. A person has to be a bonafide Torah scholar to gain respect, but at the same time, they cannot become so heavy and distant that they are unrelatable and removed from the concerns of real people. This explanation about the Aron speaks to the heart the challenge of educating and raising Jewish children, living a Torah lifestyle and loving and supporting Israel. For many, Judaism is pure gold that is too heavy to carry, Torah is a burden to uphold and Israel is an ideal and a legacy whose weight is too much to bear. Of course, being an observant Jew is not easy, and being a supporter of Israel is not just about fun experiences. It is no accident that our Sages described the convert’s act of accepting the obligatory nature and practice of the commandments as קבלת עול מצוות, the acceptance of the burden of Mitzvos. But the question we need to ask ourselves is what our perspective is on these commandments, and their performance. Are we focusing on the positive, or just looking at the negative? Is our connection with Shabbat merely about avoiding a minefield of arcane restrictions, or is it about the blessing of a day of rest entirely removed from our routine? Is our connection with kashrut just about following a dizzyingly complex set of rules, or about the mindfuless inherent in a system that governs what enters our bodies? Are the laws of Lashon Hara arbitrary rules designed to prevent us from having enjoyable social interaction, or are they designed to elevate and refine us, so that we will speak about ideas rather than people? Is our connection with Israel merely about raising funds for victims of terror, focusing primarily on with the unspeakable tragedies, or are we there for (and in) Israel for times of triumph and joy as well?
If the issue for us heaviness of the Ark, it also provides a challenge and an opportunity for us. For the ארון is not made entirely of gold; it has wood in it as well. We all need, at some point, to be able to answer affirmatively what being being a Shomer/Shomeret Mitzvot and ohavei Eretz Yisrael means to us, and to be able to identify what would make it more meaningful than it is already. Judaism is not supposed to be a pure gold ארון. It is supposed to have the wood component to it, containing human qualities, experiences that satisfy us and our need for warmth and emotion. May we succeed in this challenge!