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      Judaism: Our Forefathers, the Lumberjacks

      Published: Friday, February 21, 2014 10:29 AM
      This week's dvar Torah is by Rav Asher Smith - Former emissary (shaliach) in Syracuse and Kansas City, now head of English Speaking Section at Yeshivat Hesder HaGolan and teacher in Ramat HaGolan.


      Acacia wood, Atzei HaShita, were one of the main supplies used in the making of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). The first time acacia wood is mentioned is in Exodus, Shemot, (25:5), when Hashem tells Moshe to collect Atzei HaShita for the building of the Mishkan and its vessels.

      There are two main explanations given as to where the Jews found these trees.  First, is the opinion of the Midrash Tanchuma which is brought down by Rashi on the above verse, that ”Jacob foresaw that Am Yisrael  (the Jews) will build a Mishkan in the desert, and therefore brought trees to Egypt and planted them there, telling his children to take them with them when they would leave Egypt.  Second, is the Ibn Ezra, and of the Tosafot that there were acacia forests in the desert, near Mount Sinai.  Yet in our reading we find an additional idea concerning the wood used for the Bariach-haTichon, the horizontal support bar which ran through holes in the walls, thus connecting and supporting the Mishkan walls.

      The verse (Exodus 36:33) states: "And he made the middle bar to pierce the midst of the planks from one end to the other end."  Yonatan ben Uziel translates and explains that this bar was carved from the tree that the Patriarch Abraham planted in Beer Sheva, and would pray by.

      Aside from the practical question of how Am Yisrael had access to a tree from Beer Sheva while camping at Mount Sinai, there is the spiritual question, which is: what do the words of Yonatan ben Uziel come to teach us? Why was the Mishkan as a whole built from the Patriarch Jacob's trees, while one piece, the Bariach-haTichon, was made from Abraham's lumber?

      To understand this we need to jump back to the very commandment of building the Mishkan as told by Hashem to Moses "And they shall make Me a sanctuary and I shall dwell in them," (Shemot 25:8).

      The famous lesson (which is brought down by many sources including the Holy Ashlich and the Shlah), derived from the fact that Hashem chose to say "I will dwell in them" and not "I will dwell in it," is that it is Hashem's desire to dwell in each and every person.

      Keeping this in mind we can begin to understand why the Mishkan was built by trees planted by the choicest of our fathers, who combined in himself the characteristics of his father Isaac and those of his grandfather Abraham – stringent judgment and loving kindness.

      The Torah is teaching us that in order for Hashem to “dwell in our souls,” as the Lubavitcher Rebbe explains in Vayera 5752, one must be like Jacob, following the middle path combining kindness and justice.  This is emphasized by the Rambam (Deot 1:4) "The straight path is the midpoint temperament of each and every trait that man possesses…”  A Jew who longs for the dwelling of Hashem, must (amongst other Requirements,) be well balanced in their personality traits and attributes!

      Therefore our reading (36:20) tells us that the acacia planks stood straight up, "And he made the planks for the Mishkan of acacia wood, standing."  This is not only a technical detail that the planks stood upright in the forming of the walls (Gemara Sukkah 45b), and did not lay one on top of another like in the building a boat (as the Me'am Loez distinguishes), but to also teach us about the cosmic role of the Mishkan. 

      Our forefathers were the three supporting pillars of the world.  As we learn in Ethcs of the Fathers, Pirkei Avot “The world is upheld by three things: by Torah, by spiritual service/ prayer and by loving kindness.  According to the holy Zohar (1: 146) this is an allusion to our forefathers.  Abraham held up the world with his loving kindness, Isaac, through his spiritual service/ prayer, and Jacob through his Torah.  And these three qualities on which the existence of the world depends were all embodies in the construction of the Mishkan!

      So, why was the Bariach haTichon prepared from Abraham's tree?

      Commenting on Hashems' blessing to Abraham (Bereishit 12:2) "that you will be a blessing" Rashi quotes the Talmud which explains that "that with you (Abraham) they will conclude" the Magen Avraham, the closing of the first blessing in the Silent Prayer.  Rebbe Yechezkel of Kuzmir expounds on this with a sweet idea (brought down by his great-grandson, Rebbe Shaul Yedidya Elazar of Modshitz in Parashiyot Chayei-Sara and Teruma).  "With you they will conclude" means, that the end of the exiles will be through your loving kindness. Therefore, explains the Modshitzer Rebbe, the tree of Abraham in whose shade he would host guests and serve them food (Rashi on Bereishit 21:33) was the tree from which the Bariach haTichon was made, the beam which went "from one end to the other end." This kindness is necessary to connect and unify all of the Jewish people and bring the final redemption.

      According to the Rebbe, the Mishkan combines all three attributes of loving kindness, spiritual service/ prayer and Torah.  Yet the attribute of loving kindness as exemplified in Abraham is the necessary attribute that connects all the others enabling the creation of a solid and unified dwelling place for Hashem!

      The first Jew, connects "from one end to the other end," beginning with his early acts of loving kindness and ending with our generation which also stands on kindness, an attribute, which the Modshitzer Rebbe points out "is one which also those who do not follow the Torah can merit and achieve. This will be our redemption."

      May we merit to integrate the balanced all-encompassing attributes of Jacob, with a strong emphasis on Abraham's kindness, thus meriting that the Briach HaTichon which he planted will connect from one end of the Mishkan and the two Temples, to the other end of the third Temple, the Beit HaMikdash!