Parashat Tetzaveh

All That's Gold Doesn't Glitter

Behind every gold ring are mountains of waste and trails of destruction.

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Provided by Canfei Nesharim, providing Torah wisdom about the importance of protecting our environment.

The Torah portion Tetzaveh continues the instructions for the building of the Mishkan, or Sanctuary, which were begun in last week's portion, Terumah. The Mishkan is the center of the Israelite camp, the locus of the Divine Presence on earth, and the precursor of the Temple in Jerusalem. Appropriately, the instructions feature a long list of rare metals, fine skins and fabrics, precious gems and gold. A lot of gold.

canfei nesharimIn the Torah portions Terumah and Tetzaveh, gold is mentioned nearly 50 times--far more than any other material. Gold covers most of the Mishkan and its furniture, including the Holy Ark, which is topped with two solid gold cherubs. The High Priest, who leads the service of the Mishkan, is draped in gold: gold chains, gold bells, gold rings, gold settings for precious stones; there is even gold woven into the fabric of his garments. A solid gold headplate crowns the ensemble.

Such a finely adorned sanctuary and spiritual leader would not be out of place in our own time. Our society has a passion for gold and jewelry. We mark significant life transitions with jewelry. We regard finery as a symbol of sophistication, love, and inherent worth.

The Impact of Gold

But today, behind every gold ring are literally mountains of toxic waste and trails of destruction. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), hard rock mining, which includes, although is not limited to, the mining of gold, releases almost half of all toxic pollution in the US, with a clean-up cost in the tens of billions of dollars.

Gold mining utilizes toxic chemicals, releases harmful elements previously bound up in the rock ore, and consumes massive amounts of water. Here are just a few examples of problems associated with gold mining:

gold dollar sign chainThe planet's bulk gold deposits have nearly been depleted, so many of today's mines use a process known as heap leaching. To produce one ounce of gold, at least 26 tons of ore must be mined from the earth, and then a cyanide-solution is poured over the mound to separate the gold from the rock so the miners can collect the remaining microscopic gold particles.

Cyanide use is effective and cheap, but accidents have happened, affecting wildlife and river systems in the vicinity of the mine. In 2000, a mine reservoir in Romania broke its dam, causing a toxic waste spill that polluted a tributary of the Danube River. That accident, the second that year, was described as the worst environmental disaster since the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear reactor accident in the Ukraine.

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Shimshon Stuart Siegel is studying for rabbinic ordination at the Bat Ayin Yeshiva in the Judean Hills.