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The Patriarchs and the Tabernacle

Trumah (Exodus 25:1-27:19 )

by Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen

Shemos, 26:28: The center crossbar shall go through the middle of the beams, from one end to the other.
Targum Yonasan, Shemos, 26:28: “…from the tree that Avraham planted in Be’er Sheva.”
Midrash Tanchuma, Pekudei, Os 11: “…The Holy One, Blessed is He planned to mix the simcha of the Mishkan with the simcha of the day that Yitzchak was born, because he was born on the first of Nissan.”
Shemos, 26:15: “And you will make the planks for the Tabernacle of standing cedar trees.”
Rashi, Shemos, 26:15, Dh: V’asisa: “…Our father, Yaakov planted cedar trees in Egypt and when he died, he commanded his sons to bring them with them when they left Egypt and he told them that in the future, the Holy One, Blessed is He, would command them to make a Tabernacle in the desert from cedar trees, ‘see that they will be ready in your hands’…”

In the Torah Portion, the instructions for the building of the Tabernacle were given. The Ramban1 makes an interesting point – he writes that the Tabernacle existed in the world in a different form in the time of the Patriarchs. He explains that with the building of the Tabernacle, the Jewish people reached the level of the Patriarchs whose tents were equivalent to the Tabernacle. Rashi2 also makes this point – he writes that a cloud representing the Divine Presence was permanently attached to the tents of Avraham and Yitzchak in the form. Based on these ideas, the Chikrei Lev3 asserts that in order for the Tabernacle to be able to dwell in this world, it was necessary for it to have the characteristics of each of the Avos.

He then outlines how the Tabernacle is connected to each Patriarch:4 He begins with Avraham – the Targum Yonasan5 teaches that the central beam in the Tabernacle was made from the tree known as Eishel Avraham in Be’er Sheva where Avraham would offer food and shelter to guests and bring them to recognition of God. How did this beam reach the Jews in the desert? The Targum Yonasan relates that when the Jews crossed the Sea, Angels cut the tree and threw it into the sea and it was floating on the water. An Angel then announced that this was the tree that Avraham planted in Be’er Sheva. The Jewish people took the wood and made it into the central beam of the Tabernacle. It miraculously fit into the Tabernacle by folding like a snake and when the Tabernacle was taken down it would unfold. The Chikrei Lev explains that it was through that tree that Avraham unified humanity with God in this world, and therefore the wood of that tree was the central plank of the Tabernacle that served as a unifying point to serve God.

The connection between the Tabernacle and Yitzchak takes a different form. The Midrash Tanchuma notes that the Tabernacle was deliberately established on the day that Yitzchak was born. Yitzchak was the pillar of service of God, therefore the Tabernacle, the central focus of service of God had to draw from his merit.

With regard to Yaakov, Rashi cites the Midrash that brings that Yaakov planted Cedar trees in Egypt so that the Jewish people would bring them with them to use them for the beams of the Egypt. Yaakov represents Truth and the Tabernacle taught about the truth of God’s existence and presence in the world.

We have seen how the Patriarchs do not just provide the foundation for the Jewish people, but that they also provide the foundation of the Tabernacle through their varying contributions to bringing God into the world. One interesting point that emerges from here is the emphasis, with regard to Avraham of his role increasing God’s honor in the world as opposed to his more commonly discussed trait of kindness. This teaches that in truth, the source of all his kindness and efforts to bring mankind closer to God emanated from a love of God more than even his great love of others.

One rabbi involved in outreach once noted that people think that outreach is primarily in the realm of inter-personal relationships in that it helps the person spiritually. However, Rabbi Noah Weinberg used to stress more the aspect of the relationship between man and God and how God is in such pain at the fact that millions of Jews have no connection to their Father in Heaven.6 This is why Avraham’s contribution to the Tabernacle was rooted in his relationship with God as much as the other Patriarchs.

We have seen how the Patriarchs brought awareness of God into the world and that this was the foundation to the Tabernacle. May we merit to emulate them.

  1. Hakdama to Shemos.
  2. Rashi, Bereishis, 24:67.
  3. Chikrei Lev, p.163. The basis of much of this Dvar Torah are from his Maamar, ‘The Avos and Imahos establish the Mishkan’, pp.163-165.
  4. He also outlines how the Mishkan is connected to the Imahos as well.
  5. Targum Yonasan, Shemos, 26:28.
  6. See Chizuk HaDas of the Chofetz Chaim where he gives four broad reasons for the obligation to bring Jews closer – the first of them is in the realm of Bein Adam L’Makom.


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