February 18, 2021 10:55 pm at 10:55 pm #1949868abukspanParticipant
Terumah 4 — Of Beams and Belief
ועשית את הקרשים למשכן עצי שטים עמדים
You shall make the beams of the Mishkan of shittim wood, standing erect (Shemos 26:15).
The kerashim, the beams of the Mishkan, were made of shittim wood, which comes from cedar trees. The Midrash (Shemos Rabbah 35:1) tells us that the world was not worthy to use these cedar trees, and they were created solely for the Mishkan and Beis HaMikdash.
Two related questions are in order. Why is the world unworthy of the cedar? And if cedar-wood is truly not fit for the world, the Mishkan and Mikdash could have been constructed using an alternative type of lumber. Why did HaKadosh Baruch Hu make an exception?
In Menachem Tzion, Rav Menachem Bentzion Zaks suggests a homiletic understanding of the Midrash. The Gemara (Taanis 20a-b) teaches us, “A person should always be soft as a reed, not rigid as a cedar.” Reeds bend with the wind; they are supple and able to compromise. The cedar, however, is straight and unbending.
To get along with others, one needs to be pliant and agreeable, to go with the flow. People who are set in their ways do not go very far: in friendship, marriage, business partnership, or society at large. A person who stubbornly insists on following his own ideas and his own wishes is likened to a cedar tree that remains upright and does not bend, even when subjected to the strongest winds. When the Midrash states that the world was not worthy of using cedar trees, it is telling us that this quality of unyielding stubbornness should, in theory, never have been brought into the world.
As the Midrash informs us, cedar-wood was created only for the purpose of the Mishkan and Mikdash. According to Rav Zaks, the Midrash is teaching us the exception to the rule. In the realm of the Mishkan and Mikdash — in matters of kedushah and daas — one must be inflexible and rigid. For in matters of religion, there is no room for giving in or compromise.
Perhaps we can take this lesson of the unyielding cedar and the beams of the Mishkan a little further, by going back in history. Where exactly did Bnei Yisrael acquire these cedar beams? Rashi (Shemos 25:5, 25:15) informs us that Yaakov brought these cedar trees with him from Eretz Yisrael and planted them in Mitzrayim. But he was not the one who originally planted them in Eretz Yisrael.
According to the Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 94:4), when the Torah says that Avraham planted an eishel in the city of Beer Sheva (Bereishis 21:33), it means that Avraham planted cedar trees. When Yaakov stopped in Beer Sheva (ibid. 46:1) on the way down to Mitzrayim, it was to cut down those cedars and to bring them with him. It was these trees that Bnei Yisrael took along with them when they left Mitzrayim, and which they used for the kerashim of the Mishkan.
Many items necessary for the construction of the Mishkan were supplied miraculously in the Midbar. Why couldn’t the cedar be delivered the same way? Why did Yaakov have to bring those trees down, and why did Bnei Yisrael have to take them with them when they left Mitzrayim?
In light of Rav Zaks’ symbolic lesson of the sturdy nature of the cedar, and how such an attitude is crucial in regard to the Mikdash and matters of faith, perhaps we can explain why Avraham Avinu planted cedars and how these trees were vital for Bnei Yisrael in the harsh years of the exile.
Avram (as he was first known) was the original iconoclast, in the literal sense of the word; he broke the idols. The Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 42:8) says that Avram was called Ivri, because the entire world was on one side, one eiver, and he was on his own side, his own eiver. The whole world was into paganism, until Avram came along and said, “No, this is not right!” He embodied the sturdy and defiant nature of the mighty cedar as he fought against idolatry. His eishel of cedar growing in Beer Sheva was a testament to his fortitude and uncompromising attitude in matters of faith.
Yaakov understood that this was what Bnei Yisrael needed to overcome what could have been an insurmountable challenge in Mitzrayim, flooded as it was with avodah zarah and immorality. Bnei Yisrael only merited geulah because they were unbending like the cedar. They did not change their names, they did not change their language, they did not speak lashon hara, and they did not sin in regard to arayos, forbidden relationships (Vayikra Rabbah 32:5). It was as if Yaakov was instructing his children, “I am bringing these cedar trees — and all the rigidity they represent in terms of kedushah — to Mitzrayim, to serve as a constant reminder for you during your stay in that country. And you will use them later to build the Mishkan.” Already in Mitzrayim, these cedars served as a guidepost and reminder of the remarkable ability that is the hallmark of the Jews, the descendants of Avraham. The ability to not yield and give in to temptation or duress.
In Emes Le’Yaakov (ad loc.), Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky offers two other reasons that Yaakov took the trees down to Mitzrayim. His first pshat is, in his words, a psychological one.
Yaakov himself was fearful of going down to Mitzrayim, concerned that Bnei Yisrael would get stuck there. Hashem reassured him, “Do not be afraid of descending to Egypt, for I shall establish you as a great nation there. I shall descend with you to Egypt, and I shall also surely bring you up…” (Bereishis 46:3-4).
It is true that before his death Yosef assured Bnei Yisrael verbally that Hashem would remember them (ibid. 50:24), but they needed something tangible to remind them that they would not be in Egypt forever. Yaakov therefore used those cedars as a means of encouragement. The Jews would consistently reassure themselves, “These trees were planted by our ancestor Avraham, and were brought down by his grandson Yaakov. Because one day we are going to leave this land, and we are going to build a Mishkan for Hashem.” They had a constant and visible memento, even in their darkest moments, that things would change and they would leave Mitzrayim. The trees represented the faith and hope for the future. (See also HaMussar VeHaDaas pp.96-98, for the thoughts of Rav Avraham Jofen on this topic.)
Rav Moshe Yosef Scheinerman (Ohel Moshe pp.679-680) takes this a step further. The pasuk describes the shittim wood as “omdim — standing erect.” According to one opinion in the Gemara (Succah 45b), “omdim” is not just standing erect, but remaining forever. Though the two Batei Mikdash were destroyed, the Mishkan erected by Moshe Rabbeinu lasted forever; when it was no longer in use, it was put into storage.
What was behind its everlasting power? The beams used in its structure.
Yaakov brought the cedar trees for these beams and took care of replanting them (Tanchuma, Terumah 9), but who took care of watering them after that? It was Bnei Yisrael who saw to this task, even during the terrible years of suffering and enslavement. The Ohel Moshe paints a portrait for us:
A Jew drags himself home after a day of excruciating and backbreaking labor. He is bruised and beaten, with cracks in his skin oozing blood. His wife takes one look at him and offers him a hot drink and something nourishing to eat. Instead of finally taking a moment to relax, though, the man of the house responds, “No, I cannot rest just yet.”
“Why not?” his wife wonders. “Look at you! You can barely move.”
“First I have to water the tree,” he informs her.
“What on earth are you talking about?” his wife asks him. “What tree are you referring to?”
So he explains to his wife, “Yaakov Avinu planted cedar trees, to prove that we are not going to be in this wretched place forever, but that one day we will be redeemed. After we are liberated, we will be commanded to build a Mishkan, and we will use these trees that I am watering today.”
With that, he goes out, still in pain and bleeding, and waters his tree.
This went on, continues the Ohel Moshe, through all the years of slave labor. Every single day, the Jews demonstrated their emunah loud and clear.
That is why these trees are omdim — they last forever. Trees that are infused with emunah are everlasting, and nobody can destroy the beams that are created from them. The Mishkan was thus founded upon emunah, as its beams were watered with the blood, sweat, and tears of Yidden who believed in Hashem and in His redemptive powers.
Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky brings a second reason that Yaakov Avinu brought down the trees with him, also based on the meaning of “omdim” as lasting forever. Using the trees planted by Avraham ensured their purity, and thus the success and longevity of the Mishkan.
The Gemara (Bava Metzia 85b) tells of the mission that Rabbi Chiya undertook to ensure that Torah study would never be forgotten among the Jews. First, he planted flax, from which he fashioned nets to capture deer. Those deer were then slaughtered, their flesh given to poor orphans and their skins converted into parchments. On these parchments, Rabbi Chiya wrote the five books of the Chumash. He brought these Chumashim to a community where there was no Torah study and assembled five children, each of whom was taught one of the five Chumashim. When each child finished learning his Chumash, Rabbi Chiya instructed each of these young pupils to teach the others what he had learned, promising to return to see if they succeeded.
Why was it necessary for Rabbi Chiya to go to the bother of planting and trapping when he could have simply purchased the parchment he needed? Citing the Vilna Gaon, Rav Yaakov explains that performing all the steps in-house ensured that everything was done with kedushah and taharah, with no possibility of any inappropriate or foreign thoughts. This guaranteed the success of his mission, that the Torah learned by these children would be both pure and everlasting.
Rav Yaakov suggests that Avraham had a similar thought in mind. The lumber used for the Mishkan was from the pure and pristine wood of his own trees, from his eishel orchard, which had been planted for the mitzvah of chesed. This wood was perfect for a structure that housed the Mizbe’ach, which, as we have learned (Parashas Yisro), could not come in contact with any metal, which is representative of instruments of war.
Only with such lumber could the hashra’as haShechinah in the Mishkan be complete and could the structure last forever, as in the phrase “atzei shittim omdim — shittim wood that stands forever.”February 19, 2021 9:04 am at 9:04 am #1949953Reb EliezerParticipant
There is an argument between the litvacks and chasidim. The litvish interpret עת לעשות לה’ הפרו תורתך when the Torah is weakened, it is a time to accomodate in order to protect it that more should no be let go. Whereas the chasidim interpret the reverse ‘הפרו תרתך עת לעשות לה be strong and steadfast and don’t budge as the cedar above when the Torah is being weakened and don’t let go an inch.February 19, 2021 1:03 pm at 1:03 pm #1950042Reb EliezerParticipant
The writing of the oral law was a necessity in order the Torah should not be forgotten. The Rabbenu Bachaya explains at the end of Parashas Ki Siso that Rebbi only wrote down in the mishna what he felt was necessary for their understanding and as the generations came, more elaboration was required. Rav Nossan Adler only put dots on the margin because he had a photographic memory and complete writing was not necessary.
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