The middle bar inside the planks shall extend from end to end. Exodus 26:28
The Aramaic translation attributed to Yonatan ben Uzziel who lived at the turn of the last millennium, makes a rather obscure comment on this verse. He notes that the middle bar inside the planks which made up the walls of the Tabernacle was made from the wood of a tree planted by Abraham in Beersheva. This is documented in Genesis (21:33) “And Abraham planted a tree in Beersheva, and called there on the name of the Lord, the everlasting God.”
The word used for ‘tree’ in this verse is eshel as opposed to the more familiar eitz. The sages of the Gemara (Sotah 10a) disagree about the nature of the tree. Some held that it was an orchard that bore the fruits which Abraham served to his guests while others held that it was the inn where the guests stayed. The Midrash on Psalms explains that the word eishel stands for achila – food, shtiya – drink and levaya – escort. Either way, this tree represented the attribute of gemilut chsasdim – acts of kindness towards others, a trait which Abraham is perhaps most famous for.
The Mishnah in Pirkei Avot says that the world stands on three things; Torah, the service of God and on acts of kindness.
The Tabernacle contained Torah with the Ark of the Covenant and it contained the service of God through the offerings brought. Yet it was the wood from Abraham’s tree, representing acts of kindness towards others that held the entire structure together.
Torah learning and prayer are two pillars of Judaism and important ways to connect to God, but they are nothing without the acts of loving-kindness which help to connect us to one another.
A version of this article first appeared in the Jewish Chronicle.