Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Gold and the Walls

Before the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932, gold coins had circulated freely in the United States as legal money, and gold bullion was owned by banks and other private entities. In early 1933, as part of the New Deal, the U.S. Congress enacted a package of laws which removed gold from circulation as money, and which made private ownership of gold in the U.S. (except for coins in collections or jewelry such as wedding rings) illegal.

-Wikipedia entry on Ft. Knox

One of my friends made an interesting comment tonight; she asked a question about Jewish law, and my answer led to explaining the idea of “The Fence Around the Law”. She was a little…not confused by the concept; more like disturbed. She compared it to putting all the country’s gold in Ft. Knox (yes, I know not all the gold is there, but go with it for now). We take something beautiful and valuable, and hide it where it can’t be seen or touched. And after all, what value does gold have if you just hide it in a room somewhere and don’t ever use it?

This seemed to me a very apt metaphor. We build this fence to protect the law, or possibly to protect ourselves from the law, and after a time all we can see is the fence. In fact, there are rumors the building is empty.

Another of our friends pointed out there’s a reason the gold is in there. And even just sitting there, it still has value and purpose. In fact, a large part of its value is, as he put it, making sure we don’t have it. Now, that’s not as contentious a statement as it might originally seem; if all that gold were released to the market, it would cause massive inflation, making our current economic problems even worse. And this is partially true for Torah study as well. Part of the reason to put the law behind a fence is to keep it out of our hands. In this theory, if the people held the law they might get it wrong. And not in a small way; they could destroy Judaism by turning the law into something it’s not!

To a certain extent, I hope I am exaggerating. I hope there is a more positive, affirming, uplifting, spiritual reason for the fence. And if so, I hope someday to learn it. But whatever the reason, the effect is the same. Our only view now is of the walls. And the gold cannot be seen.

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