When we were kids, my mother introduced us to the game “When I Went to Israel.” Especially effective on long car trips, the game was simultaneously a memory test, a bonding exercise, and a great time passer.

Starting with the phrase “When I went to Israel, I took…,” you’d name an object. The next child would repeat the whole sentence and then add another article to the mix. You’d go around the car, each participant repeating all the previouslyI hadn’t thought about the game in years mentioned objects and adding their own. The game would only finish when you would either over-tax your memory, lose interest, or reach your destination.

I hadn’t thought about the game in years, until I taught it to my own children, and it was only then that I realized that the name of the game was deliberate. My mother could just have easily introduced us to a game called “When I Went on Vacation” or “When I Went to Timbuktu,” and it would have been just as enjoyable. The reiteration of the word Israel was obviously meant to introduce the centrality of the land of Israel to our consciousness and reinforce the unstated assumption that when a Jew travels, his primary destination should be our ancestral homeland.

This week’s Torah portion contains a version of that game. But instead of all the weird and wonderful combinations of luggage we proposed on our road trips, the Torah completes the sentence as “When I went to Israel, I took wall panels of acacia wood.” Bet we never would have come up with that one.

Build Me a Temple

In this week’s Torah reading, the Jews were commanded to build a Tabernacle to accompany them on their journeys through the desert. Reading the list of supplies needed, you find gold, silver and assorted colored fabrics—all reasonably transportable or available for purchase from neighboring tribes. The only building materials that might have proved difficult to source were the hundreds of 5-meter-long planks of acacia wood for the Tabernacle walls. Where do you source tree trunks in the desert?

The rabbis explain that when our forefather Jacob first went to Egypt, he brought acacia saplings from Israel and transplanted them in Egyptian soil. In his final instructions before dying, he foretold the Exodus and the construction of theWhere do you source tree trunks in the desert? Tabernacle. Those trees were lovingly cared for throughout the period of slavery. Immediately prior to leaving Egypt, Jacob’s descendants chopped down the now mature trees and brought the planks with them into the desert.

Evidence of incredible foresight, sure, but you have to wonder: Why go to such bother and expense? I’ve heard of people packing the kitchen sink, but who takes wooden walls with them on their travels? Also, why spend hundreds of years nurturing trees when, surely, sufficient wood could have been procured in Egypt?

Because cultivating trees served a higher purpose. To a Hebrew slave in Egypt, those trees symbolized hope. Throughout the long decades of pain and hardship, they could look at that acacia grove and remind themselves that a better future lay ahead. Encapsulated in that wood was the spirit of Israel—a gift from a different time, the promise of a brighter future.

Just like my mother chose to subconsciously remind us of our birthright and heritage through the medium of a game, Jacob knew that the seedlings he left behind would inspire his descendants through the generations and connect them with the Promised Land. And when the time came, they would use those walls of faith to construct an eternal edifice for G‑d.