This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Terumah (5763)
This week's section tells us about how the Jews in the desert donated the components for the building of the Tabernacle; altogether 15 different materials.
But seemingly the most important was 'Shittim' wood:
The Holy Ark, the Inner and Outer Altars, the 'Bread Table' and the very walls of the Tabernacle were all made primarily from Shittim wood (although some of these were also coated with gold). The Medrash even tells us (see Rashi 25:5) that one of the first things the Patriarch Jacob did when he entered Egypt was to plant Shittim trees for use in the Tabernacle over 200 years later when the Jews would leave!
But it's not so clear why this particular wood was chosen. It wasn't sturdier, more practical or even historically more important than other woods.
So what was so special about Shittim wood? Why does the Torah tell us about it? And what does it mean to us now?
To understand this here is a story.
The scene is some two hundred years ago in the large Chassidic Shul (Synagogue) of the Holy Rabbi Yisroel of Ruzin. The Chassidim were preparing for their morning prayers when a stranger burst in franticly, grabbed the first man he encountered and whispered short of breath from running, "D-d-d… did they pray yet? Are they finished?"
Before the Chassid could answer, the stranger wiped the sweat from his brow and continued, "I have YorTzite for my father! YorTzite today!! Did they davin (pray) yet??"
(Yor Tzite means the exact date that a loved one passed away. That day is very important in Judaism, especially for the passing of a parent, and a special prayer called 'Kaddish' is said)
A few of the other Chassidim approached the man and calmed him down. The fellow didn't have a covering on his head and clearly was not religious at all, he, and it was obvious that he would never have stepped foot in the place if not for his conscience bothering him.
He said his name was Yanush and he didn't believe in any of the Torah but he wanted to say Kaddish for his father who had been a religious man. Someone put a Yarmulke on Yanush's head. Someone else approached him with Tefillin (phylacteries) which he tried to refuse, unsuccessfully. Then someone brought him a prayer book and showed him where the 'Kaddish' prayer was, another draped a prayer shawl (Talit) on his shoulders and the prayers began.
At first he just wanted to forget the whole crazy thing and leave but something kept him there, maybe it was guilt or some other psychological thing, but on the other hand, maybe it was the soul of his father.
The Chassidim were patient with him and waited silently at each of his bumbling, time consuming attempts to say the Kaddish prayer. But finally, when the services were over he removed the Tefillin and Tallit said 'Thank you' and started for the door. But they stopped him.
"Hey!" they exclaimed, "You have to buy 'Kibbud'!!" (lit. 'Honor' i.e. cakes, liquor etc. to give 'honor' to the departed).
Poor Yanush was stuck, he had no choice but to agree. He was planning to give a donation anyway but the place made him uneasy, it was too Jewish. "I'll just buy this stuff and get out of here." He comforted himself.
Someone ran to the store and returned just moments later with all the delicacies Yanush paid him back and turned to the exit.
"No, NO!!" they all cried out. Someone grabbed his arm and another led him to the tables they had pushed together. "You must stay! For the sake of your father at least make a 'LeChiam.'" They pulled up chairs, sat down around the table and forced Yanush to sit with them.
But Yanush had had enough. He wanted out and he wanted it NOW! He angrily pushed his seat back and abruptly stood up. Suddenly the door of the Rebbe's study opened, a hush fell over the room and everyone stood at attention. It was the holy Rebbe of Ruzin in person! Even Yanush was surprised. He'd never imagined a human being could be so…. so real and holy!
"Why the commotion?" The Rebbe motioned with his hand.
No one answered they were paralyzed with awe.
"Ahh! Kibbud!" Said the Rebbe as he glanced at the food on the table. "Yor-Tzite for your father?" He looked Yanush deeply in the eyes.
The Rebbe pulled up a seat, sat at the table, and motioned for them all to follow.
"Here" Said the Rebbe as he filled a small shot glass with vodka and offered it to Yanush who was just sitting down.. "Make a blessing and say 'LeChiam'! (lit. To life)"
Yanush looked around, all eyes were on him. The surprise was wearing off, 'what am I doing here?' he thought to himself. 'This is insane and I'm leaving'. He reached out, took the glass, looked around again briefly and with a smirk on his face, silently tilted his head back, opened his mouth and downed the vodka in one gulp.
"LeChiam U'L'movet!!" (To life and to death!) he said loudly as he looked challengingly at the Chassidim, the vodka began taking effect and his smile widened.
"Oy Oy!" yelled the Rebbe holding his head in his hands! "Oy! What have you done to your father?! What have you done!!?"
This unexpected outburst sobered Yanush up, the Rebbe was really serious. He again looked Yanush deeply in the eyes. "What have you done!!?” Yanush started to really feel afraid, although he didn’t know of what.
"Listen to me my friend! I knew your father. His name was Shlomo, right? Well, when he died several years ago his soul rose to the heavenly court and stood trial. It was decided that because he had a bad son like you and it was partially his fault he had return to this world; a gilgul (reincarnation).
"His soul descended and was incarnated in a grain of wheat. Yes, a grain of wheat. That grain waited in the field until it was finally harvested. Then it was bundled and shipped to a large distillery where it was put in a huge vat until it fermented. Then it was distilled, aged, bottled and finally distributed.
"That bottle found its way to our local grocery store and finally this morning it was purchased and is now sitting here on our table before us.
"Yanush! Your father's soul was in that glass of vodka I just gave you. If you would have just made that blessing you would have rectified it. But you didn't. You wrecked the entire process! What have you done to your father?!"
Yanush's head was spinning. The story was ridiculous, insane, crazy but when the Rebbe told it, it was clearly true.
He sat speechless, his eyes filled with tears and he began trembling uncontrollably. "What can I do? Is there any way to…?" he whispered.
"Yes" answered the Rebbe. "But it means changing your life to become the Jew your father wants you to be." Yanush just nodded in agreement.
Now this story is a bit fantastic, right? How can a human soul be contained in a piece of grain? Seems crazy?
Well, it's nowhere near as fantastic and crazy as what we read in this week’s Torah portion about the Tabernacle!
In that structure of Shittim wood not just a human soul but the very Infinite ESSENCE OF G-D was contained the Holy of Holies!!
And the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe explains (in his last discourse, 'Bati L'Gani') that EVERY Jew has the potential to duplicate this; every Jew is a Holy Temple. But one necessary ingredient was Shittim wood: the word Shittim implies ‘Shtus’ i.e. to be ‘crazy’ for the truth.
The perfect example is the first Jew, Abraham. He did not reckon with the Creation, only with the will the Creator. And because of his 'craziness' he merited G-d's eternal covenant. So it was with Issac, Jacob, Josef and all the holy Jews thereafter.
Without this 'Shtoot'; i.e. when Jews tried to act 'normally', tragedy after tragedy occurred: They worshiped the Golden Calf at Mt. Sinai, refused to listen to Moses, rebelled against David and all the prophets and caused the destruction of two Temples putting us in exile for almost 2,000 years.
But with it, with this ‘craziness’ G-d's presence rests in the world.
And that is the lesson that Shittim wood teaches us:
'Craziness' is at the essence of Judaism. Only through our 'Shtoot' for holiness will Moshiach arrive, the Third Temple be built and G-d be revealed in this world as He was at Mt. Sinai. (See the end of Rambam's Yad HaChazaka).
But it all depends on us. We must go a bit 'crazy' and become interested ONLY revealing Moshiach. (See how in the last chapter of our Moshiach essay at www.ohrtmimim.org/torah)
Then we will see a 'crazy' world where there is no hatred, war disease or suffering only Meaning, Blessing, Joy and Truth.
It all depends on us: one more good deed, word or even thought can tilt the scales and bring…….
P.S. The Lubavitcher Rebbe pointed out one interesting example of the reluctance of Jews to be 'crazy' for the truth. How they persist, even in Synagogues, in portraying the Menorah with rounded arms and the Ten Commandments with rounded tops although there is ABSOLUTELY NO Torah proof for either. According to most opinions the Menorah arms were straight and according to ALL opinions the Tablets were square. Certainly Moshiach will change all this.
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