Many sacred objects in Jewish tradition are described by Scripture or in Oral Tradition as being composed of sapphire stone. Some examples: the Throne of Glory (God’s “throne”), the Two Tablets of the Covenant, Moses’ staff.
For things such as the Throne of Glory, we can be certain the description of sapphire stone is meant figuratively, or merely in a comparative fashion, but as for the other items, whether this is meant literally or figuratively is a question for a separate discussion.
That notwithstanding, what makes the sapphire stone so special that it is the substance of choice for these sacred objects?
I had always surmised it is because of the stone’s color — it is blue, like the sky, which reminds us of the heavens generally, so its color is related to things of holiness.
However, I have discovered a new quality of sapphire which may also relate to its selection as the substance of choice for objects of supernatural origin. Here is an excerpt from Introduction to Geology by Robert Bakewell (p. 35):
Though alumine or pure clay communicates a soft quality to most stones of which it forms a principal constituent part, a very remarkable exception to this is offered in adamantine spar and the sapphire, which nearly equal the diamond in hardness. Klaproth, one of the most laborious and eminent chemists of the present age, has analysed these stones : the former contains 90 parts in the 100 of pure clay ; the latter 95 parts in the same quantity. ‘What a high degree of cohesive power (he observes) must nature command, to be able to transform such a common substance as clay (aluminous earth) into a body so eminently distinguished and ennobled as the sapphire by its hardness, brilliancy, and its resistance to the action of fire, of acids, or the effects of all-destroying time!’
So aside from its “heavenly” color, the sapphire is distinguished in that it is composed 95% of clay, a soft substance, yet despite this, is among the hardest, most durable substances on earth, rivaling the diamond! This while clay usually makes a substance softer! So sapphire, then, is a substance that in a way appears to defy the normal laws of nature. In this way, sapphire is an almost “supernatural” substance. (While I’m sure there is a naturalistic chemical explanation for this phenomenon, I merely mean to remark on the surprising quality of sapphire in this regard, giving the initial impression of an inexplicable, transcendental quality.) It makes sense then, that this substance is an appropriate choice for supernatural objects.
It also carries a profound lesson that even the most mundane and profane substances (clay) can be transformed into something extremely lofty and pristine. It is even more significant that man himself is described in Scripture as having been formed from the clay of the earth, and fashioned into a spiritual being with the introduction of a divine soul. This is very much analogous to the sapphire. I believe we have discovered something very deep and profound here.
May we merit to refine ourselves such that we, like the sapphire, transform our mundane bodies into pristine spiritual vehicles!