Terumah – A Lesson in Leadership

This week’s Torah portion of Terumah discusses the preparations for building the Mishkan (Tabernacle). The Torah, when discussing the walls around the Mishkan, says: “And you shall make the planks for the Mishkan of acacia wood upright” (Shemos 26:15).
The Medrish Rabba asks why Hashem used acacia wood. It answers that Hashem is teaching proper manners for all generations; if a person wants to build his house out of fruit trees, tell him: ‘Just as The King Of All Kings which everything is His, but when He said to make the Mishkan He said only to make it out of trees that do not bear fruit, all the more so [you should do the same]’ (Shemos Rabba 35:2).

The Maharz”u, a commentary on the Medrish, explains the Medrish’s question and answer by saying that for many mitzvos, Hashem commands us to spend and essentially lose money –  for example the sacrifices. So why by the Mishkan did Hashem ask strictly for acacia wood which does not bear fruit? To this question the Medrish answers that Hashem was teaching a lesson when building normal buildings.

The Yafeh Toar takes the Medrish’s message a step further. He says that the Medrish was asking that since there are seven types of cedar wood why did Hashem specifically choose acacia wood instead of one of the types of cedar. The answer is because acacia wood does not produce fruit at all; therefore Hashem chose it to teach a lesson in manners to all mankind. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

As The King Of All Kings, King of the Universe and Beyond, we say in our davening three times a week from the beginning of Tehillim chapter 93: “Hashem will have reigned, He will have donned grandeur…” The Medrish Shochar Tov (as quoted in the Artscroll siddur, page 169) expounds that “the concept of grandeur represents Hashem’s revelation as mightier than any force in nature. In man, grandeur, or arrogance, is a contemptible trait, because man’s power is limited at best. But to Hashem grandeur is becoming because all forces owe their existence to Him while He is dependent on nothing.” Indeed, Hashem deserves the best of the best for His dwelling on earth, but for the sake of teaching a lesson to mankind He felt it was worth diminishing His natural honor to teach us this lesson.

It would seem from the Yafeh Toar that cedar wood would have been the ideal type of wood to be used for the Mishkan. It would also seem that cedars don’t really produce a fruit normally eaten by people, but since it has some type of fruit as opposed to the acacia wood, Hashem, all knowing and understanding of Human psychology, made sure to show by using extreme example of something which does not bear fruits at all. We learn from here that when someone wants to teach a lesson he has to be as clear as possible. And a leader should even lower his honor to be sure the lesson is clearly brought across. On the contrary, understanding the message and applying it will give more honor to Hashem in this case.

What is interesting to note is that we see in this week’s haftorah that cedar wood was used in the building of the Beis HaMikdash (the Holy Temple): “And he built the house, and finished it, and he covered the house with paneling and joined planks of cedar. And he built the chambers against all the house, each five cubits; and he covered the house with timber of cedar” (Melachim Alef 6:9, 10). Is Hashem, G-d forbid a hypocrite? How can He use cedar wood for the Beis HaMikdash, His permanent dwelling place on earth, but use acacia wood for the Mishkan to teach mankind not to use wood from fruit bearing trees? The answer, obviously, is  that once Hashem already taught His lesson to mankind in the times of the Mishkan, He of course then deserves and demands the best wood for the Beis HaMikdash.

Leaders at any level are messengers of Hashem to guide their followers, whoever they may be. Hopefully they will be stirred to the right path of service of Hashem. Though the Ramban says in his famous letter to his son: “And now know and see my son, for one who is haughty in his heart towards people is rebelling against The Kingdom of Heaven, for he is glorifying himself with the heavenly majestic clothes as it says “Hashem will have reigned, He will have donned grandeur…” however a leader is still a leader and must be treated with proper respect. A leader, in whatever position of leadership, knowing himself and his responsibility to the people he leads, can also expect to a certain extent the proper respect in order to be a successful leader. However it makes sense that at times he might have to lower or change his standards to send a message across to his people but then he goes back to his normal standards and that is not hypocritical, because teaching lessons and making sure people abide by them is part of his responsibility. People recognizing that and abiding by his word is the ultimate honor.