Yaakov’s Trees, Miriam’s Tambourines and Super Bowl Dreams
Trumah (Exodus 25:1-27:19 )
You can glean a lot about a person from what they bring along with them. One person always has a pen. Another inevitably has a handkerchief. A third is perpetually in possession of stamps. My parents once hosted Shabbos guests who insisted on bringing their own noise machine(s) and their own coffee.
There’s always that traveler who insists on packing for all possible weather patterns – from arctic to tropic to everything in-between. Another voyager won’t leave home until his luggage resembles a pharmacy – packed to the gills with remedies, sprays, lotions and paraphernalia of all sorts. I recall one trip to North Carolina where each daughter insisted on bringing along their own doll (and carrying case) as a carry-on (guess who had the privilege of schlepping those dolls through the airport).
With that in mind, you can appreciate how I attended the home games of my (then) beloved New York Jets way back in 1982. That I donned their green-and-white jersey was obvious – just about everyone in the ballpark did so as well. I, however, opted to be extra-stringent and even chose to wear my own Jets helmet to the game. What was I thinking?
The answer lies in a dream. I used to dream that one-by-one the Jets were left without wide receivers. Wesley Walker went down. Johnny “Lam” Jones pulled a hamstring. Even the second and third-stringers got banged-up, thereby setting the stage for my dream come true. A squawky voice came over the stadium’s loudspeakers announcing: “If anyone is interested or available to substitute in as a wide receiver for the Jets in tonight’s game, please report to the 50-yard line. And you must have your own helmet. I repeat: you must have your own helmet.” I sauntered down to the 50-yard line, was picked for the squad, scored the winning touchdown, became a sports legend … and then woke-up in time to catch the bus to Mrs. Gelberg’s third grade home room.
“This is the portion you shall take from them: gold, and silver, and copper … and shittim wood” (25:5)
Rashi: “From where did they have wood in the desert? R. Tanchuma explained: Our forefather Yaakov foresaw through Divine inspiration that Israel was destined to build a Mishkan (Tabernacle) in the wilderness. He brought shittim trees to Egypt and planted them there, and he commanded his sons to take them with them when they would depart from Egypt.”
Rashi: “What is meant by the beams? From those which have been standing as designated for this purpose. Our father Yaakov planted shittim trees in Egypt, and when he was dying, he commanded his sons to take them up with them when they would depart from Egypt. He told them that Hashem would command them in the future to make a Mishkan of shittim word in the desert. So he said, ‘See to it that you should have them ready at hand.’” (26:15].
“Miriam the prophetess … took the tambourine in her hand and all the women went forth after her with tambourines …” (15:20)
Rashi: “The righteous women of the generation were certain that Hashem would perform miracles for them so they took tambourines out of Egypt.”
For 200-plus years, the Jewish People suffered personal and national persecution, prosecution, inhumane servitude and genocide under the regime of Pharaoh. For a Jew entrenched in such a protracted nightmare, what emotional response would be associated with viewing those trees? How about resentment? The bitter recollection of unfulfilled dreams? The painful reminder of their ancestors’ overly-optimistic wishful-thinking? A cruel joke?
In a similar vein, of what use were the tambourines when the Jews were (apparently) dying from thirst (before Hashem miraculously quenched that thirst at Marah)? What kind of cruel, ill-fitting prop were those instruments when Pharaoh’s infantry was barreling down on the helpless, defense-less Jews (before Hashem miraculously split the sea)?
In different contexts, Yaakov’s shittim trees and Miriam’s tambourines echoed similar notes – notes of hopefulness and optimism in an abyss completely devoid of hope and optimism. Reminders that a future existed regardless of how bleak the present seemed to be. Visual aids that would enable us “ordinary” Jews (as if there is such a thing) to tap into the wellspring of faith ever-present in our great leaders.
All too often dreams are abandoned in the “Get Real” labyrinth or forsaken somewhere along the path of “practicality.” Rabbi Noah Weinberg, zt’l use to teach: “When people say, ‘You'll grow up,’ what they really mean is, ‘You'll give up, like I did.’” Fitting that upon his death, one of Rav Weinberg’s students eulogized how: “[Rav Noach] dared to dream a dream that no one believed possible. A man of vision is not afraid to stand alone. For such a long time he was alone. Few encouraged him.”
In our life’s voyage we choose what to pack and what to discard (albeit some emotional baggage is harder to leave go than others). Hold tight to your dreams. For things often can shift during the flight of life – but an unquenchable hopefulness and optimism can always remain close at hand. Such is the legacy of Yaakov and Miriam. Such is the song of the trees and the tambourines.