The Mysteries of the Acacia wood

We read in the Parsha  (Torah portion) the following:

They shall make an ark of acacia wood ( Atzei Shittim), two and a half cubits its length, a cubit and a half its width, and a cubit and a half its height.. And you shall overlay it with pure gold; from inside and from outside you shall overlay it, and you shall make upon it a golden crown all around.( Exodus 25:10-11)

The people were being commanded to place the most precious item in the world into this vessel they were to create. The very words of G-d carved into stone were to be placed into an ark made of acacia wood lined with gold. On the one hand the menorah representing   G-d’s light was to be made of pure gold (ibid 25:31) and on the other these precious tablets were to be placed in an ark made of  wood that was simply lined with gold.

Furthermore the  choice of using Atzei Shittim seemed to have been predestined and predetermined. The  midrash  ( quoted by Rashi ibid  25:5) tells us that that one of the first things the Patriarch Yaacov did when he entered Egypt was to plant Shittim trees for use in the Tabernacle over 200 years later. The use of this specific type of wood was clearly not to be a choice of happenstance.

More perplexing is the fact that this type of tree called Atzei Shittim whispers of another more difficult chapter in the history of this newly formed people”

“Israel settled in Shittim, and the people began to commit harlotry with the daughters of Moav . They invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and prostrated themselves to their gods.”( Numbers 25:1-2)

The area and the fountain it contained were called Shittim because of the abundance of Shittim trees in the area. The Midrash Rabba declares “the fountain of Shittim was a place of harlotry and it was the one that watered Sodom.” It was that sense of moral lowness that leads to the idol worship. Rabbi Kook describes the process of idolatry that occurred in Shittim and the idolatry of Peor in the following way .

“The source of idolatry’s appeal is in fact a holy one – an impassioned desire for closeness to God. Ignorance and moral turpitude, however, prevent this closeness, blocking the divine light from the soul. … Instead of correcting one’s flaws, these spiritual yearnings are distorted into cravings for idolatry. The unholy alliance of spiritual yearnings together with immoral and decadent behavior produces the intrinsic foulness of idolatry. “( Shemoneh Kvatzim)

One is left wondering why it was these specific  trees from this specific location that were used to create the ark.
Our sages teach  that G-d always “prepares the remedy before the illness.”  The use of the Atzei Shittim was in fact the cure for the moral failures of the people in Shittim.

We have a way of losing our way when we begin to feel unworthy and impure. Bilaam the prophet of the nations realized that he could not curse the people of Israel Instead at Shittim he tried to debase them into a sense of moral unworthiness and in that lowered state they fell into idolatry.

The ark of the covenant and the tabernacle was going to be a constant reminder of G-d resting within their midst. The ark built of those same trees would reinforce the understanding that moral turpitude was not a function of trees, or springs of water but a matter of choice.The use of the same wood would be a tikkun ( a spiritual repairing) of the sins related to these trees.

The verse in the book of Numbers (25:1) reads  “And Israel resided (vayeishev) in Shittim”  The Gemara in Sanhedrin (106a) asserts that every time the word vayeishev is used in Tanach it foretells of difficulty and pain. VaYeshev  usually refers to a lack of growth and movement. They become used to where they were both spiritually and physically. A person can never remain standing and thereby  become stuck or stagnant. Either he is progressing or he ends up regressing.

The people and the land of Israel in our time are undergoing the same dilemma and battle. There are those amongst our people who have lost the vision to grow and progress. Generations of exile mentality has taken its toll. Yet there are others that hear the call of destiny and struggle forward in answer to that call.

Rabbi Eliyahu Mali in his book “Orot Mitzion” points to the Midrash Rabba’s deeper connection. The prophets Zechariah, Joel and Ezekiel describe of the  healing waters coming from the Temple mount and healing the bitter waters ”  Then said he unto me: ‘These waters issue forth toward the eastern region, and shall go down into the Aravah; and when they shall enter into the sea, into the sea of the putrid waters, the waters shall be healed(Ezekiel 47:8)

It is in the merit of those that will  not “settle” but will constantly move forward  and grow, that the prophecy of Joel regarding this healing river of water will also be fulfilled. Waters that will heal the plague of unworthiness experienced at Shittim

“And a fountain shall come forth of the house of G-d, and shall water the valley of Shittim.”  (Joel 4:18):

19 thoughts on “The Mysteries of the Acacia wood”

  1. I am studying Exodus and am presently in ch 36. I understand when the Israelites left, their Egyptian neighbors were compelled to give gold & silver. Here’s where I am questioning: How much did they get and how did they transport all of it?

    It seems they must have used a fair amount of gold making the Golden Calf and now in ch 36 they are covering items with silver, gold and bronze. It seems there must have been a tremendous amount. If G-d did not let their dough rise and they carried it on their shoulders, how did they carry this amount of precious metal out of Egypt in haste?

    Thank you for any insight on this question,


  2. we have no idea how much they took out…you can imagine that the payment for hundreds of years of slavery was a sizable amount…that was the basis of the gold they took out…they carried the matza on their shoulder because of its spiritual significance..the rest was taken on oxen and wagons

  3. A good post on “atzei shittim.” You show that the Torah understanding of what this wood was, and why it was chosen by Ha-Shem for use in the Mishkan, goes beyond its botanical or physical qualities alone (without negating them). One might say that there’s Torah in the wood itself!

  4. “For My peopledo Not KNOW the Manna nor the WATER Ihave brought forth”

    Hardship Is due to are ownership of walking away from HIS WAY

  5. Very interesting and insightful. One question tho.’ Wasn’t the Tabernacle built more like 400 years after Jacob entered Egypt?

  6. God has put it one my heart to study a bit in my old journals and was looking up Acacia Wood when I came across your article very informational and learned a lot however I do not understand why when God is in your text it is G-d could you explain? GOD is how I spell it . Thank you

  7. It is only a custom that we have adapted to remind us that we have not just written any name but rather the name of the Allmighty. In reality it is a translation of His name but nevertheless we do do a s an act of respect…much like some english translations write the LORD

  8. Thank you for the explanation of the shittim tree. It brought richness to my understanding of the use of this tree since I was reading Exodus 37. Thank you also for including the pictures of the tree and the ark.

  9. Great article what’s also interesting is that the Arcadia tree deposits waste products in its heartwood, this makes it unpalatable for insects and due to this density resistant to water penitration. So G-d uses our past weaknesses many times as future strengths, the sins in this part of the land turned into strengths……only He can do this.

  10. Is acacia wood a lighter wood (as opposed to a heavy oak or hickory)? It occurs to me as I read Exodus that weight would be important to portability, especially since it’s covered with gold.

  11. To Moshe Kempinski,
    I’m so grateful for the writing of this message. Presently, my husband and I are walking through a desert time, and God kept giving me the Scripture in Isaiah 41:17-20.
    I kept hearing to focus on the trees in the verses, and I’m so thankful I have. I found this writing by you that has been such a blessing and inspiration to me. It has lifted my spirits, immensely. Thank you for being obedient to the Spirit, and sharing this with everyone. I appreciate it.
    Melissa Green.

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