Got Acacia Wood?

Double Mitzvah Jewrotica Parsha

Written by Sender Rozesz. Sender Rozesz is a practicing attorney with a background in Jewish pluralistic education for adults. Sender Rozesz is Jewrotica’s resident Double Mitzvah columnist. The views reflected in his writing represent his own personal views, and are not intended to reflect the views of any organizations, institutes or associations with whom he may be affiliated.

This week, last year, we discussed several erotic features of the Tabernacle that G-d commanded the Israelites to build in the desert, which were also present in the Holy Temple that replaced it in the Land of Israel.

Two years ago, also Parshat Terumah, I shared an anecdote from the Talmud suggesting that the very purpose of the desert Tabernacle was a reflection of G-d’s lust for the Jewish people; a hunger that He could not contain until the Israelites were settled in the Promised Land.

Continuing in this theme, let us examine yet another message built in to the Tabernacle; this one reflective of G-d’s jealousy for our attention, and the symbolism in the materials that He commanded be used for the construction of our spiritual wedding chamber.

And you shall make the planks for the Tabernacle of acacia wood, upright.[1]

The Hebrew words are important here. “Planks” are “K’rashim,” each one a “Keresh,” spelled “קרש.” “Acacia” is “Shittim,” or “שטים.”

According to Kaballah, these words are derivatives of words that represent our struggle with the temptations offered by the world around us.

The word Shittim (שטים) comes from the same root as the word Shtut (שְׁטוּת), meaning folly. As we discussed here, folly is what the Torah deems ultimately responsible for sin. An adulterous woman is called a Sotah, which comes from the Hebrew word to “go astray,” and which shares the same root as both Shittim and Shtut. Thus, the Talmud concludes that “[a] person does not commit a sin unless a spirit of folly, of Shtut (שְׁטוּת) enters him.”[2]

But is this simply a case of name-calling? How does blaming sin on a “spirit of folly” add to our understanding of the nature of sin?

Folly is a state that is uniquely human, insomuch as it requires the presence of intellect and rational thought — and then the abandonment of that rational thought. Folly is sub-rational; we know better, but we do it anyway, as folly operates at a level below our intellect. Indeed, folly is the dense fog that rolls in and interrupts the link between our intellect and our emotions, so that our feelings and urges run wild, without our better judgment reining them in.

Folly rejects our intellect in favor of a lower, more primitive form of decision-making. It is lower even than that of animals; for animals are creatures of instinct — they don’t have the higher intellect that humans have, and so they follow the preprogrammed course charted for them in their genes. Humans, on the other hand, were created to be intellectual creatures; when we abandon our intellect, when the parents are away, then the children run amok.

And without our intellect reporting the truth about our existence and purpose, our very sense of reality becomes corrupted; right and wrong becomes reversed, good becomes bad, and bad becomes good. We become, as the prophet Isaiah described it: “those who say of the evil that it is good and of the good that it is evil; who present darkness as light and light as darkness, who present bitter as sweet and sweet as bitter.”[3]

It is false; or, in Hebrew, “Sheker” — “שקר.”

You may have noticed that the letters that comprise the word Sheker — false — are identical to those that make up the word Keresh — plank. They are just rearranged. This is not by accident. If you look closely, you’ll see that the bottom of the letter Shin (ש) tapers to a point, with the bulk of the letter to the right. If you tried to stand a three-dimensional Shin on its base, it would topple over to the right. The letter Kuf (ק) is similarly unstable. It has a very long left leg which would not permit it to remain upright on its own. The third letter, the Resh  (ר) is the same: one leg, the bulk of its weight on the left.

Left on its own, the word Sheker (שקר) would fall, down and apart, fragmented, much like the falsehood that it represents, which has no stability and does not endure.

When you rearrange the letters, however, so that the Sheker (שקר) is now Keresh (קרש), the Kuf, Shin and Resh use each other for support, and the result is a stable word, one that stands on its own.

G-d specifically commanded that (1) planks (K’rashim) (2) of Acacia (Shittim) be used in the construction of the Tabernacle. His message was this: “If a spirit of folly, Shtut, has taken hold of you, and caused you to perceive only falsehood, Sheker, on a sub-rational level; if you are unable to resist the temptations surrounding you because they appear to be so desirable and worthy — this is what I want you to do.”

“In the place of the sub-rational — instead of indulging your base impulses that are below your higher thought — deploy your super-rational. Go higher than your intellect. Be silly and irrational in a way that transcends your mind.”

We’ve all been there before; those moments of sheer joy and giddiness where we might behave a bit silly or out of character. Or those times when we believe in something that we can’t explain, that does not seem to make any logical sense; yet we make important life decisions based upon that higher sense of intuition and faith.

Then, rather than succumbing to the falsehood of a meaningless existence, we pull away its curtains and cobwebs and reveal the higher-than-nature reality of our universe, and the omnipresence of our super-rational Creator. And we create a structure, a Tabernacle, for us to regularly experience G-dliness and transcendence within our own reality.

Shittim instead of Shtut.

Keresh instead of Sheker.

Folly gets transformed into faith; and the falseness of the world gives way to an everlasting edifice of truth and a supernatural reality.

Shabbat Shalom!

[1] Exodus, 26:15.

[2] Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 3a. See also Midrash Tanchuma, Naso 5.

[3] Isaiah, 5:20.