ועשית את הקרשים למשכן, עצי שטים עומדים
And you shall make the planks for the Tabernacle, of acacia wood, standing upright.
Having concluded its instructions for crafting the vessels of the Tabernacle, the Torah finally arrives at the construction of the Tabernacle itself.
“You shall make the planks for the Tabernacle”, commands God, “of acacia wood”.
The verse’s wording seems difficult to understand. Why would the Torah presuppose the existence of these planks, and jump to telling us to make “the planks for the Tabernacle” of acacia wood, before instructing us to make them altogether? Why not simply state, “and you shall make planks for the Tabernacle of acacia wood”, which would be the shorter and more direct way of conveying the intended command?
Adressing this difficulty, Rashi explains that indeed, the planks being referenced were already known to the Israelites, for their forefather Yaakov had specifically planted acacia trees hundreds of years earlier to be used in their construction.
Simply understood, Yaakov’s intent was to enable his descendants to carry out God’s instructions by ensuring the availability of acacia wood.
Yet, one must wonder: Was it really necessary to plant trees hundreds of years in advance, and have them dragged along into the wilderness, simply to facilitate the building of the Tabernacle with the proper variety of wood? Wouldn’t it have been far more prudent to simply buy the lumber from one of the surrounding nations when the time came, much like the Israelites bought other materials necessary for the construction, which were likewise unavailable in the wilderness? Did Yaakov truly have no other recourse but to plant trees centuries in advance?
Rashi’s rendering of the verse is likewise problematic. Presumably, the verse is now to be understood as follows:
“You shall make the [known Yaakovite] planks, of acacia wood, standing upright”.
But wasn’t it the acacia trees that were known, rather than the planks? If so, shouldn’t the verse have stated, “Make the [known] acacia wood, into planks”, rather than vice versa, even according to Rashi?
Apparently not. The acacia trees, it seems, were, even in their pre-plank state, known more as planks than as trees.
Yaakov, you see, planted the acacia trees with the intent of reminding his offspring of the existence of a Tabernacle, even before it physically came into being. The idea was to convey that a dwelling place for the Godly presence already existed within the collective Jewish heart, and that the Tabernacle would merely give physical expression to that pre-existing domain of Godliness. The Jewish nation was thus to be regarded as the ever-existing Tabernacle which had yet to manifest itself physically, and the acacia trees as planks of that ever-existing Tabernacle which had simply yet to assume their final form.
From the fact that Yaakov felt it necessary to perpetuate this idea of the Tabernacle merely manifesting that which already existed, it is apparent that were it not understood as such, the Tabernacle could never have materialized, even if all the necessary materials were somehow amassed. The Godly presence cannot be beckoned by a building, and it was only because it already existed in the Jewish heart, that it was then possible to transplant it into a building which would concretize it in tangible fashion. Indeed, as the Torah commands, the wood was to remain in the same upright position it had stood throughout the exile, even as it was reincarnated as a physical plank of the Tabernacle, representing the fact that the material Tabernacle of today was merely a manifestation of the intangible Tabernacle of time immemorial.
The lesson is clear. We often seek to create external circumstances through which to invite God into our lives. We shop around frantically for the tallis that will send us soaring, the song that will get us roaring, the Shabbos candlesticks that will set our heart afire, or the super-spiritual attire. Yet God cannot be lured to put in an appearance whenever we set up shop for a state visit. Only one who forever intuits God’s presence can hope to palpably feel it when it is then expressed in tangible form.
Our first concern must therefore be, not that the Godly presence find expression without, but that it truly reside within, because that which lies within, can yet be brought to the fore, but that which does not, cannot be bought at any store.