This week's parsha
My Tree of Strength
I have a striking black-and-white picture of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, framed in dark rod iron, that sits atop my fireplace. “Is this rabbi your relative?” my friend Rachel asked me while visiting my home.
“No, he is the Rebbe, my spiritual master and guide.”
“And you hang pictures of him on your wall?” she said quizzically.
“Of course, he’s like the cedar tree in my personal sanctuary,” I said with a smile . . .
G‑d’s vision for His home is mapped out with meticulous detail in the final portions of the book of Exodus. The Tabernacle was built to be a portable dwelling place for the shechinah, the Divine presence. It stood for nearly 500 years, and was later replaced by the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Despite its relatively short lifespan (480 of the 3,300-plus years since the Torah was given), G‑d talks a lot about the Tabernacle.
With the Tabernacle, we made space for G‑d on earth. It was a work of art, pulling together wood, metal and human resources to create a whole that was much larger than the sum of its parts, a space that attracted the shechinah. So, although the Tabernacle stood for a relatively short time, its construction code is timeless, and holds the formula for creating a physical space that is enticing to G‑d. Every detail in the Tabernacle’s design holds instructions for effective use of our personal resources, as well as our home space, work space or recreational space, space that can transcend its material parameters.
In fact, at the very onset of the Tabernacle’s construction G‑d says: “Make for Me a sanctuary, so that I can dwell in them” (Exodus 25:8). Note that G‑d concludes His directive with the word “them,” referring to the many microcosmic sanctuaries that individuals create for Him.
Even the cedar wood that was used in the Tabernacle contained a code for creating a mini-sanctuary.
The Midrash explains how we had cedar in the middle of the Sinai Desert:
Our father Jacob prophetically foresaw that the Israelites were destined to build a Tabernacle in the desert, so he brought cedars to Egypt and planted them. He commanded his sons to take them along when they left Egypt.
Evidently, Jacob was good at thinking ahead -- more than two centuries ahead. He had replanted cedar trees from the Holy Land long before the Tabernacle’s construction.
Building the Tabernacle was an enormously challenging mission, not (only) because of the manual labor and financial strain, but because the desert was not really the optimal place to build G‑d’s dream home. Dry and lifeless, sandy and barren, it seemed like the least conducive setting to develop a spiritual oasis. Jacob knew that his children would need a powerful spiritual jump-start for their “mission impossible.” That’s why he planted these cedar trees.
The wood that they’d use to build its structure would be from outside of the desert and outside of Egypt -- they’d be from G‑d’s most treasured land, an intensely holy environment. These trees would not be jaded by Egyptian abuse or the emptiness of the Sinai Desert. These trees would stand distinctly pristine, energized with idealism. The pulse within their wood could stimulate even the most lifeless of environments, much like an engine that can enliven a metal frame with electricity. With the cedar trees at the Tabernacle’s core, even the lifeless desert would be infused with the vitality needed to build a home for G‑d.
Have you ever asked a wise friend for a fresh take on a tough challenge? Maybe you’ve approached a therapist or a spiritual mentor for help in creating meaning out of a dark time? As intelligent as you may be, it’s refreshing to get help from someone who’s not part of the problem. Like Jacob’s cedars that transcended the desert, these people’s insight can be a foundation for effective growth and transformation.
In fact, cedar trees are analogous to tzaddikim, righteous and uplifting people. King David writes: “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, grow tall like a cedar in Lebanon” (Psalms 92:13). Just as cedar trees are impressively tall, the holy tzaddikim stand above our nation, setting a standard of excellence and sensitivity. The tzaddik is not caught up in the material allure of life, and can easily bring G‑d into his or her space, and then give support and perspective for the average Jew who finds it challenging to transform a mundane life into a sanctuary for G‑d.
The tzaddik’s presence among us is a gift, inspiring transformation from ordinary living into extraordinary living. The tzaddik’s aura brings a spiritual edge to a material world. Like the Tabernacle’s cedars, the tzaddik hasn’t been jaded by exile, but remains above it all, and exudes pristine energy that provides the starter fuel for transformation.
Pictures of my cedar tree adorn my home, my space.
Like the cedar trees that Jacob transported from Israel, the Rebbe uplifts me and stirs me to make my space a space for G‑d.