Plenty of us have had this experience. You’re setting up a new game or toy with (or for) a child. As you near the end, you realize that one of the important pieces is missing. The piece is most likely mixed in with another puzzle or toy and the chances of finding it are slim to none. Without this piece the game won’t work. It’s frustrating to be in this situation. If you take a piece from another game or toy to try and work out a solution, you know you’ll find yourself in a similar predicament the next time you go to use that toy. You have a choice to make: you can either risk the frustration you’ll feel later for the satisfaction you’ll feel now in completing the game, or you can try to come up with another creative solution that doesn’t take away from any other toys.
Parshat Terumah, the Torah portion this week, tells us of the thousand-piece puzzle the Israelites are building known as the Tabernacle. The text lists all the materials needed for the building, including gold, silver, copper, fabrics, dyes, and of course wood. Throughout the process it seems that the Israelites are generous with their gifts. If you read closely, you’ll note two odd materials. The first is the mention of dolphin skins in chapter 25, verse 5. The Israelites are in the middle of the desert, so finding dolphins is a bit of a stretch. Linguists tell us that the Hebrew word for dolphin actually used to refer to dyed sheep or goat leather.
The other odd material is acacia wood. These trees are not native to the Sinai wilderness and would have been difficult to find and schlep all this way. The Tanchuma, a 4th century collection of commentary, suggests that these were planted by Jacob on his way to Egypt, foreseeing that one day his grandchildren would need them. He did this act with no immediate benefit to himself, but for the future generations.
Furthermore, the acacia tree is not a fruit bearing tree. God’s commandment to use this wood meant that the immediate need of building the Ark would not destroy future fruit harvests. In building the Ark, the Israelites could have used the readily available wood of fruit trees, and the job would have been done. Instead of the easy way out, they were commanded to take the extra step and use a tree that would not cause harm to future generations.
The building of the Ark is a model for building our communities now. We have the choice daily to do what is best for only us and our immediate needs or to invest in the future. Like the Tabernacle we too are made up of many parts but form one harmonious community when we add our own piece of the puzzle. Parshat Terumah reminds us that we must look at the bigger picture and make decisions not based on instant gratification, but ones that will endow future generations with Jewish living, learning, and love.
THIS TOO IS TORAH: Acacia, which can help in land reclamation and erosion control, is known for its resilience. I can’t help but compare this plant family to the Jewish people, who survive and flourish through our resilience.