When Jacob goes down to Egypt, he stops off in Beer Sheva, the last city in ארץ כנען before entering ארץ פלשתים on the way to Egypt:
And he specifically prays to אלקי יצחק, since it was Isaac’s altar that was there:
And he realized that this was the beginning of the exile that had been foretold, and he needed to prepare his family for what was coming:
Jacob needed to keep בני ישראל as בני ישראל. It would be too easy for them to be absorbed into Egyptian society, either from the good life they were about to lead as the family of the viceroy, or from the oppression of the slavery that Avraham saw in the ברית בין הבתרים.
I want to look at one aspect of that preparation, from the Midrash:
This is one of those “extreme” midrashim, that seem to have no connection to the text. What does it mean? The first thing that bothered me was the ארזים שנטע אברהם. ארז is a cedar, not the acacia wood that was used for the משכן. But the term ארז is more general than I thought:
And what did Avraham plant? An אשל.
Note that either way, the אשל was part of Avraham’s mission, his גמילות חסדים and his teaching יראת אלקים to the world.
And what is the connection to the עצי שטים of the משכן? The Maharal takes a symbolic approach:
But Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky takes this literally. Yaakov took cuttings of the trees of ארץ ישראל to plant in Egypt, so that his children would always have a reminder of where they came from and where they ultimately belong:
It’s an amazing image, of a grove of trees from the Holy Land growing in Egypt, ready for that moment when they would return home.
And it is specifically the trees of Beer Sheva, of the חסד of אברהם and the עבודה of יצחק, that they have with them. They symbolize what it means to be a Jew. I would argue that Jacob didn’t bring the עצי שטים because he knew that ה׳ would use them in the משכן; ה׳ made the משכן of עצי שטים because that’s what Jacob brought.
And this idea, that the “real” place of the mitzvot is in ארץ ישראל, is true even today (this is going to get very ציוני):
Now this should not be taken literally; we have to do the mitzvot even חוץ לארץ:
But there’s a higher level in ארץ ישראל:
Our parasha ends with
וַיֵּאָחֲזוּ בָהּ literally means “they were held by it [the land of Egypt]”. They became Egyptian and lost sight of the meaning of the עצי שטים and would be lost for two centuries more.