Terumah: The Power of the Palpable

February 9, 2021

Abraham planted cedars in Beer-Sheba, Jacob transplanted them to Egypt, and the Israelites took them along into the desert. Why were we dragging cedars for four-hundred years? And what does it tell us about “being Jewish at heart”?

Dedicated in honor of
Berel Raichik
for his upsherenish, 23 Adar


By his parents,
Rabbi Levi & Chanee Raichik
Athens, Ohio

A. Rashi’s Conundrum

In the opening verse of the Torah portion, G-d commands Moses to obtain acacia wood for the Tabernacle. Rashi explains that wood was available to them because Jacob had planted trees in Egypt and the Israelites had taken them along. The Midrash gives even broader context: those were trees originally planted by Abraham in Beer-Sheba.

In the Rebbe’s talk, he questions the premise of Rashi. Did Rashi choose the most forthright interpretation? Wasn’t wood available through merchants of surrounding nations? And why does he include the name of the rabbi who proposed this explanation? (Before we proceed to the Rebbe’s explanation, two segments from “Klolei Rashi” explain the premise of the Rebbe’s question).

The Rebbe explains that the terminology of the verse suggests that all the items were available within the Israelite encampment and needed only to be brought to Moses. Therefore, Rashi was compelled to choose an explanation in which the Israelites were not forced to purchase it elsewhere.

B. The Message of the Cedar Wood

The Rebbe asks further: Why did Jacob find it necessary to bring and plant cedars in Egypt for a Tabernacle which would be built 210 years later? The Rebbe explains that the answer lies in the name of the sage, Rabbi Tanchuma, which means comfort. Jacob wanted the trees to be a source of comfort which would remind the People of Israel about their future redemption.

To better understand this segment, we bring a quote from Klolei Rashi where the Rebbe explains that whenever Rashi states a name, it provides extra context and meaning to the teaching. The idea of learning from a name is based on a fascinating Talmudic story about Rabbi Meir.

C. Joseph’s Tomb in Egypt

When Jacob lay dying, he made Joseph swear that he would bury him in Israel. Yet when Joseph died, he was specifically buried in Egypt.

In a segment of a different Sicha, the Rebbe points out this contradiction and notes that the story of Joseph is the final line of Bireishit, after which we excitedly declare, “chazak…” The answer is similar to the previous Sicha: Joseph chose to be buried in Egypt to be a source of inspiration to his people throughout the two hundred ten years of exile and persecution.

D. Addendum: The Rebbe’s Approach to Rashi

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