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All That Glitters

Faigy Peritzman

Their intrinsic value has zero to do with market value

Wednesday, February 06, 2019




nd this is the offering that you shall take from them: gold, silver, and copper.” (Shemos 25:3)

People assume that gold, silver, and precious stones are expensive because they’re scarce. If we found enough of them, they’d become worthless.  

However, the Chovos Halevavos maintains that these precious items have an intrinsic worth not based on their market value. The proof is that the Torah placed value on gold, silver, and precious stones long before the creation of society’s market value. 

For example, Rabbeinu Bechaye (28:15) explains that the 12 precious stones of the Eiphod were chosen because each had a unique value and segulah.  Furthermore, he maintains there’s actually a spark of ruchniyus within inanimate objects that gives them unique worth. (Rav Shimshon Pincus, Tiferes Shimshon)

Confession: I’m old-fashioned, I like yellow gold. At the risk of dating myself, when I was a kallah, people were still buying yellow gold. I loved my kallah bracelet — an intricate twist of wide links complete with a toggle closure. (Remember those?) 

Two years later my friend showed me her white-gold bracelet set with diamonds. I hid my pity, knowing she got the raw end of current trends. Who wants gold that looks like silver? Her claim that white gold was of better quality than yellow seemed like she was trying to justify a lame trend in styles.

But society has proven me wrong. I’ve seen countless friends, relatives, and, most recently, my own daughter, all wearing their pale white (dare I say stainless steel-looking?) jewelry. Where’s the fire? Where’s the glow? I’m relieved that I got engaged at a time when yellow gold reigned supreme.

Matter is composed of four elements: fire, water, wind, earth. The Gemara in Menachos (29a) says that Shlomo made ten Menorahs. For each Menorah, he took a thousand gold bars and put them in a furnace 1,000 times until they were reduced to one pure bar. He wasn’t trying to eliminate impurities; rather he was removing the element of earth from the gold, leaving only fire remaining. The Torah describes this gold as radiant like the sun and moon. 

Years ago, I was in Bnei Brak running to catch the bus. I sank into my seat, hot and sticky, and then noticed my wrist was bare. My gorgeous shiny kallah bracelet had fallen off while I was running. While I tried to keep this loss in perspective, somehow it signified the loss of those innocent years. 

According to the Torah, the value of gold is higher than silver. Silver, which is white, represents Middas Hachesed. Gold is red like fire, representing Middas Hadin. Isn’t Middas Hachesed more valuable than Middas Hadin? 

The Gemara in Yoma (21b) states that there are many types of fire. In the physical world, fire is productive — it cooks and provides warmth and light — but it also has the power to harm. Once burning, an earthly fire cannot distinguish between good and bad, and burns both.  

In contrast, the fire of Middas Hadin in the Heavenly sphere is a “fire that eats other fires.” It has the power to consume fires of bad decrees and of conflict. And, most significantly, it can distinguish between good and bad, consuming only bad. 

Now we understand the essence of gold. Its element of fire is strongest, and that’s why it’s red. But its fire is that of Heavenly din, which can distinguish between good and bad. That middah is even greater than that of chesed — which explains why gold is more expensive than silver. 

I’ve shopped several times, trying to replace my bracelet with an elegant white-gold bracelet.  Not one ever spoke to me. I didn’t want any bracelet. I wanted the same one I’d picked as a kallah, which spoke of shiny dreams and fiery ideals. But that wasn’t going to happen with today’s trends. 

Until I chanced upon a store way off the beaten track, in the back alleys of Meah Shearim. And there, in a dusty window, buried under a pile of tangled jewelry, was a glint of shiny yellow gold. 

“Can I see that bracelet in the window? That yellow one with the braid?” 

And wouldn’t you know it, as the wizened proprietor lifted it out, I saw the toggle closure. It wasn’t my bracelet, but its twin, buried for 20 years, since such bracelets had been the rage. 

These days when the sun catches those shiny yellow links, they glow, reminding me of the true worth inherent in every link of life.    

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 629)

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