Parshas Terumah details how the Mishkan (a sanctuary in which would G-d’s presence would be most felt on Earth) would be constructed and what materials were needed for its construction. The Torah tells us that shitim (cedar or acacia wood) would be needed for the beams of the Mishkan. Rashi tells us that the Jewish people had been already been carrying the wood with them in the desert when given this commandment. In other words, they brought the wood with them from Egypt. Rashi bases his interpretation on a Midrash that states that Yaakov brought trees from eretz Canaan (Israel) and planted them in Egypt after prophetically seeing that the Jewish people would one day use the wood of these trees in constructing the Mishkan. What was so special about these trees and why did Yaakov have to bring them from Israel? Moreover, why did the Jewish people have to use these specific trees and carry them into the desert?
The Lubavitcher Rebbe points out that it is noteworthy that Rashi cites Midrash Tanchuma in his explanation. Rashi rarely cites his sources, expecting us to find them ourselves, but in this case he felt it necessary. The word, ‘tanchuma’ means comfort. Rashi therefore cites the title of this source in order to teach us that the trees were to serve as a reminder to the Jewish people living in the Egyptian golus (exile) that one day they would being going out from Egypt. Their unhappy situation was not going to last forever. The sight of the trees comforted them that one day they would be free and would use the trees for a holy purpose (building the Mishkan).
But why did the trees have to be from Israel? The answer is that Yaakov wanted trees that were totally uncorrupted by the golus. They had to be ‘rooted,’ so to speak, in the kedusha (holiness) of the land of Israel. Not only would the trees remind the Jewish people of better times to come, but they would remind them that the trees were implanted into the lowly golus from a higher place.
Finally, we see that Rashi refers to the shitimas ‘arazim’ (cedars). The Rebbe cites Keli Yakaras stating that tzaddikim (righteous people) are frequently likened to cedar trees because the trees stand tall and strong. Like the cedar trees, righteous people are uncorrupted by the golus. They have broken free from its snare and have risen above it. They are truly free.
In our own generation, the golus is overwhelming and it often seems like Moshiach (the final redemption in which G-d and his creation will be united in the most revealed way) is not coming anytime soon (G-d forbid!). The trees used in the Mishkan are not around to help us emotionally get through the spiritual trials and tribulations of our times. Instead, we must take comfort in our tzaddikim – the righteous Jewish leaders of the generation – by studying their Torah teachings and applying them to our lives. G-d mercifully plants tzaddikim into each generation. They tower above the golus and give us the strength to transcend it. Their encouragement will enable us to break free from our spiritually low situation, may it happen speedily and in our days!