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The Patek and The Ark

Open up the back of a Patek Philippe watch, and you will find a world of beautifully polished, beveled gears. It's the same with many other high end watch brands. Why would a watchmaker devote precious hours to making beautiful something that will seldom, if ever, be seen?


In Parshat Terumah, Moses is given instructions by God on how to build the Tabernacle, which will be Israel's central shrine and the dwelling place of God's presence during the journey through the wilderness to the Promised Land. As part of the instructions, God tells Moses that the Israelites are to make a wooden ark to house the tablets of the 10 Commandments. God says of the ark, "Overlay it with pure gold—overlay it inside and out . . . " (JPS Tanakh, Exodus 25:11).


Why waste precious gold covering the inside of the ark, which will seldom, if ever, be seen? Medieval Spanish commentator Rabbeinu Bahya gives to explanations. The first comes to Rabbeinu Bahya from a Talmudic-era Rabbi, one Rabbi Hanina of Sepphoris. Rabbi Hanina states that there was gold on the inside to give honor to the contents of the ark, normally understood to be the stone tablets, along with a fully completed Torah scroll. The second opinion comes from multiple Rabbis in Yoma 72b of the Babylonian Talmud (William Davidson Talmud). The Rabbis state that a true Torah scholar must be the same on the inside as he is on the outside. The Rabbis are basically calling out phonies. It's about integrity, they're saying. Even though nobody might know what you think or say or do in the dark, even though nobody may see the inside of the Ark or a Patek Philippe, it still matters.


One last thing. Some modern watches have see-through glass case backs. Interestingly, the Sages comment on Job 28:17's "Gold or glass cannot match its value" (JPS) that Torah scholars must be transparent; they shouldn't hide their inner selves.


What do you think about all this? Do you think it's pointless to decorate the inside of a watch if nobody will ever see it? What about the Ark? Are there any other lessons that can be learned from the fact that the Ark's inside must also be covered in gold? Share any and all thoughts as a comment on this post, or, even better, as your own post in the "Forum" section of this website. "Forum" is in the dropdown menu titled "More".

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