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929: Matos-Masei

Devarim • Deutronomy

July 21, 2006 - 25 Tamuz, 5766

929: Matos-Masei

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  928: Pinchas930: Devarim  

Light and Air  |  Living with the Rebbe  |  A Slice of Life  |  What's New
The Rebbe Writes  |  Customs  |  A Word from the Director  |  Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened  |  Moshiach Matters

Light and Air

Imagine being able to actually change the air in your environment, not through an air purifier or the likes, but by allowing your Jewish soul to express itself!

Chasidic philosophy states that people have a G-d-given innate ability to change and improve even the most ethereal element of their surroundings, the air itself.

To understand this point properly, we have to pause to examine some Hebrew words. The word for "air" in Hebrew is avir, spelled aleph, vav, yud, reish. The word for "light" is spelled ohr - aleph, vav, reish. You'll notice that the only difference between the two words in spelling is the letter yud, which appears in the word avir, "air." In other words, in Hebrew, "air" is "light" with a yud.

And what, of course you'll ask, is a yud? A yud is the smallest letter, in a way no more than an essential point. As such, it represents the essential nature of the Jewish soul.

So, to summarize, in Hebrew, "air" is a combination of "light" and the soul's essence. Now, what does that mean, and what does it have to do with changing the atmosphere?

Even nature reveals this relationship between "light" and "air" - and how the Jewish soul connects them. For without air, a candle cannot burn. No matter the size of the flame or its source, "light" must have "air." If there is not enough air, or if the air is too thick, the candle will go out, or not be kindled at all.

Why is this so? Why does light near air? You probably know the physics, but you may not know the inner, spiritual reason:

Light, in the mystical tradition, enables us to see, and sight equates to wisdom. What we perceive, we comprehend. Furthermore, "seeing is believing," to borrow the clich้: When we know we're not seeing an illusion, what we see we believe to be true - so much so that we don't need arguments and can't be convinced with them. After all, we "saw it with our own two eyes." And what phrase do we use when finally understand a difficult concept? "Ah, I see it now."

Air, on the other hand, represents the more comprehensive, enveloping powers of the soul - will and desire. Just as the atmosphere surrounds us physically, so will and desire surround us spiritually, directing our other powers and abilities, intellectual or emotional. In a simple sense, we know this to be true: that which we desire we put our maximum intellectual (and emotional) effort into achieving. Other things, no more intellectually challenging, we don't work at and we don't succeed, not because we can't, but because we just don't want to.

And this brings us back to the yud, the essence of the Jewish soul, and the statement of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, that we have the ability to change the air of our environment.

The Jewish soul strives and longs for purity. When we allow our Jewish soul to illuminate our activities, we can change the external environment over which we seemingly have no control.

While we cannot "purify the air(waves)" ourselves, we can refuse to allow those elements that contaminate and defile into our "air space." And in so doing, we can extend and share the holiness of our atmosphere.

For innately, every Jew, every human being, wants and needs "light" and "air" - the "light" and "air" of Torah.

Based in part on an unedited talk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, 12 Tammuz 5723.

Living with the Rebbe

This week, we read two portions from the Torah, Matot and Masei. In the opening verses of Matot, we encounter the laws of making and annulling a vow. Whereas a person cannot release himself from his pledges, in certain cases, others can do it for him.

Masei begins with an account of the 42 journeys by which the Israelites left Egypt and came to the borders of the Chosen Land. The opening verse, however, suggests that all 42 of the journeys were an exodus from Egypt; whereas in fact only the first journey was, when the Jews literally left the land. To understand this seeming contradiction, we must recognize that Egypt is not only a place but also a state of mind. "Mitzrayim," the Hebrew word for Egypt, also means "confinement"; which is an obvious contrast with the land of Israel, which is called the "good and spacious land."

In fact, the entire time that the Israelites were not in their Land, they were in confinement; each journey was, in reality, leaving the "confinement" of Egypt. Yesterday's freedom can be confining today. A servant who is allowed to start work at 5:00 a.m. rather than 4:00 a.m. feels a sense of freedom. Tomorrow, however, or the next day, when he becomes used to the later hour, he will consider 5:00 a.m. to be early.

The Torah portions of Matot and Masei are always read during the period of the three weeks between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av. They are set in this time of bitter confinement, between the first breach in the walls of Jerusalem (the 17th of Tammuz) and the Temple's destruction (the 9th of Av, 70 CE).

The significance of this timing, especially that of Masei, is that these portions convey to us, at a time when we most need reminding of it, the concept of "destroying in order to rebuild." Destruction may be for the sake of replacing a building with a better and stronger one. The Baal Shem Tov taught that salvation is not something which simply follows trouble: it is an implicit component of it. Just as the portion of Masei combines two conflicting concepts; here, too, we find the fusion of two opposites - destroying and rebuilding, affliction and salvation - which comes only when we leave the confinements of human reasoning and journey towards the all-encompassing expanses of faith. At this level, everything is drawn into our faith.

Seen from the eyes of a son, punishment is an evil. In the eyes of his father, it is for his son's own good. Our goal is to see history through the eyes of G-d. And by so doing we are able to turn G-d's hidden mercy into open kindness, and change the darkness of exile into the light of the Time to Come.

From Torah Studies by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

A Slice of Life

With a Torah Scroll
by Tzvi Jacobs

It was a weekend in June of 1988. My brother Charles (Besalel) and I were spending the day of Shabbat together in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Our uncle had recently passed away and Charles was upset about the news. Uncannily, or as Chasidic teachings emphasize, by Divine Providence, the previous night, my wife Esther and I had enjoyed a Shabbat meal where our host shared a very insightful story. Usually one avoids bringing up the subject of death or other sad topics on Shabbat, a day to be celebrated with joy. Although sad, this story also uplifted those who heard it. Charles asked me to share it with him.

A doctor and his family had recently become ardent admirers of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The Rebbe's teachings and guidance brought much happiness and meaning into their lives; so, in gratitude, they commissioned the writing of a Torah scroll and made a celebration in their home to mark its completion. Many friends, including many colleagues, attending the affair. For almost all of them, it was the first time they had ever heard of such a celebration, let alone attend such an event.

The sofer, or scribe, sat with his quill and bottle of blank ink in front of the open Torah scroll. The scribe had spent nearly a year meticulously writing each letter of the Five Books of Moses onto the parchment. Now, a few lines remained unwritten. One by one, each guest approached the Torah and took the quill, and filled in a letter that the scribe had outlined.

The final word of the Torah was filled in by the doctor and his wife, two sons and daughter. The scribe rolled up the Torah, covered it with a velvet mantle and a silver crown, and the "wedding" began. Under the chupah, the wedding canopy, guests danced with the Torah, from between the pillars adorning the front of the doctor's home through their beautiful garden. A talented violinist danced in front of the canopy, fiddling away.

The festivities transformed the dreary, winter Sunday of this Midwestern city into an awe-inspiring holiday. Entering through the glass doors of their grand dining room, the guests were greeted with a catered feast. Just before dessert, the host and his wife stood together and eloquently told the heart-warming story of how they had met the rabbi and began attending his classes. Never before had the guests heard their brilliant friend, the renowned doctor, speak such moving words. Hearts were touched and tears were wiped.

The doctor signaled to the band and music resumed. Nary ten minutes later, there was commotion at a back table. "Call an ambulance!" A young woman, herself a doctor, was suffering a heart attack. Two doctors kneeled beside her, giving CPR. Within minutes an ambulance came but shortly after arriving at the hospital, she died.

The death of this young woman was very upsetting. "Is this how G-d rewards this woman, who was attending her first kosher affair ever?" the doctor later asked his wife. "We were trying to share the beauty and preciousness of the Torah. How do I explain this tragedy to my friends?"

The doctor wrote the question to the Rebbe, and the Rebbe wrote him back. Many had heard that the Rebbe's response was something like this:

No finite being can comprehend the ways of the Infinite Creator and only G-d determines the length of a person's life, nevertheless, a person may die in many different settings: at a hospital, receiving good medical care; on the highway, with no one around; or, in this case, at a joyous and kosher celebration, surrounded by friends and doctors. Perhaps, the whole reason for this celebration was so this person could leave this world surrounded by friends at a joyous, kosher event.

Charles and I had been taught that when the Rebbe said "perhaps" that it really meant "for sure." The Rebbe did not say or even more so, write "perhaps" unless that was actually the reason in Heaven. Charles liked the story; it comforted him.

On the following Monday, Charles moved into the yeshiva dormitory in Crown Heights; he was studying part-time in the yeshiva and looking for work. A terrible heat wave hit the New York area. My wife and I lived in Morristown, New Jersey and thank G-d, we had air-conditioners. Charles' dorm room in the yeshiva in Brooklyn, however, was not air conditioned. He called to say that he couldn't take the heat; his excess weight and constant smoking did not help either. On Thursday night, I gave Charles the number of someone who could give him a ride to our apartment in Morristown. Charles called later and said the ride hadn't worked out; his room was too hot so he pulled a lounge chair into the hallway and was going to sing himself to sleep.

On the following Friday morning, I received the call that Charles had suffered a massive heart attack. He could not be saved. I couldn't believe it. Gone. It was impossible. It was not part of the plan.

I had believed that the story that I told Charles was for him to make peace with our uncle's death; now I saw that the story was also, or primarily, for me. I tried in vain to find a copy of the Rebbe's letter or find out who the doctor was, but all my efforts were in vain.

A few years ago, a student published an article in a newsletter for a summer yeshiva camp in Morristown. Even though almost 17 years had passed since I had told the story to my brother, I knew that I had finally found the letter. (See "The Rebbe Writes")

May we all be reunited with all of our departed loved ones very soon with the coming of Moshiach, when the dead will arise.

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The Rebbe Writes

Freely translated letter

The following letter is a response to someone who had informed the Rebbe that they had hosted the dedication of a new Torah scroll in their home. Amidst the jubilant atmosphere, a young woman suffered a heart attack and was immediately taken to hospital. She ended up dying there a short while later.

"How is it, that at such a momentous time, such a dreadful misfortune could occur?" the letter writer asked. " What rational could be given to explain G-d's ways in this most mystifying story? And what wrongdoing could we have done to warrant such a severe punishment for ourselves?" The Rebbe's answer follows:

In response to your letter, in which you express your astonishment at the events that transpired in your home, and your bewilderment as to your apparent wrongdoing, I would like to respond and share with you my thoughts on the matter. To begin, if I may, I will first preface with several key facts:

It is logically understood that it is impossible for a finite and limited creation to comprehend all the ways of his infinite Creator. In truth, even grasping any minute way of his would be utterly unattainable if not for the fact that G-d, in his abundance of kindness, allowed us a meek glimpse into some of them.

There is a Torah-based fact that no harm can befall a person directly from the Torah or her Mitzvos (it goes without saying, therefore, that one cannot be afflicted from an actual Torah scroll itself). Rather, quite the contrary, Torah is the book which is known to prevent any bad or evil.

Each individual is created with a predetermined lifespan. No person's life is randomly ended at any given time, but it is rather prearranged from above as to the exact time his life has been completed. (However, it is possible to shorten ones life-span though self-imposed wrongdoings.)

Bearing the abovementioned points in mind, we may deduce, that were it not for your kindheartedness of inviting this woman to the celebration, then she may have suffered her 'preordained' heart attack in much different (or much worse) surroun-dings. She could have been in a stranger's home, or going for a walk in the street, and consequently would not have collapsed in the assisting presence of her doctors, friends or family. In addition, she would have never received any encouraging or soothing words from the onlookers passing by, nor would she have had the support from seeing familiar and caring faces. Could you imagine the significant difference between these two scenarios?

Furthermore, it is a common occurrence for one to experience their whole life flashing by them in such desperate times. Now, try and visualize the difference between such a saga when surrounded by strangers and unfamiliar people to when one is being comforted by friends?! How lucky she really was.

Perhaps we may add: Based on the famous teaching of the Besht that everything that occurs is guided by Divine Providence, it is reasonable to suggest that one of the reasons you were initially inspired to donate a Sefer Torah was so that that particular day be chosen to host the celebrations, in order that the passing of this woman (which was also intended to occur on that same day) should be amidst inner serenity and in a Jewish atmosphere. Moreover, that the passing should take place in a home decorated with a mezuzah, which contains the holy verse from the Bible, "Hear 0 Israel, G-d is our G-d, Hashem is one."

In regards to your query as to your obvious guilt that deserved this 'punishment', I would like to disagree with your whole notion and pose a different question back to you: What great fortune do you have that justifies such an opportunity of such an awesome Mitzvah to be granted to you, viz, a) minimizing the pain of an individual in her last moments, b) a deceased person that doesn't have any family to care for them is rendered in the Torah as a "mes mitzvah." The great merit in dealing with the body is evident in the fact that even a Kohen Gadol, whilst serving in the Holy-of-Holies on the day of Yom Kippur is obligated to depart from his duties and to care for the deceased. It seems that such was the circumstances in your home (at least until the ambulance came).

I would like to conclude by saying that in Judaism, no privilege is given from G-d without a responsibility alongside it as well. Therefore, it would not be proper for you to just sit back and enjoy the great opportunity bestowed upon you, but rather you must endeavor to enlighten others who questioned the same way as you did, thus ensuring that the true account be known and appreciated.

Translated by Eli Wolf


Why do we read the Torah on Shabbat, Monday and Thursday?

Moses decreed that three days should not pass without the Jewish people reading the Torah. While in the desert, the Jews "went three days in the wilderness and found no water" (Ex. 15:22) and became quarrelsome. Water is an allusion to Torah. Since the Jews had gone for three days without their "spiritual nourishment" they became weary and quarrelsome. Monday and Thursday were specifically chosen, according to one source, because Moses went up to Mt. Sinai to receive the tablets with the Ten Commandments on a Thursday and came down with them on a Monday. Shabbat, then, is the only other day on which the Torah can be read and not go three days without reading the Torah.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

The rebuilding of the Third Holy Temple is central to the Redemption. Maimonides states that the rebuilding of the Temple will actually confirm that the Redemption has begun.

There are two differences of opinion as to who will build the Temple. According to the Zohar, G-d Himself will build the Temple. The Midrash (Vayikra Rabba and Midrash Rabba) states that man will build the eternal Holy Temple.

Maimonides' ruling agrees with the Midrash, saying that rebuilding the Temple is a commandment incumbent upon the Jewish people.

Although these opinions may seem at variance, they are, in fact, not contradictory.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that the Jewish people will build part of the Temple, as commanded, and that the Divine features of the Temple - those aspects which will ensure its eternity - will be built by G-d Himself.

Maimonides does not mention Divine participation because his work is a work of halacha, Jewish law; he writes only about that which is incumbent upon the Jewish people.

The man-made and the G-dly components will be combined in the Holy Temple.

Chasidic thought teaches that this combination of man's effort "from below," united with G-d's effort "from above," is the true meaning of Redemption.

For, with the Redemption, the material and the spiritual will be eternally and fully bound.

One explanation of how they will be com-bined is brought from the verse in Lamentations, "Her gates sank into the ground..."

The Midrash asserts that the gates of the Holy Temple are buried on the Temple Mount. When the Third Temple descends from heaven, the gates will rise up - but only with man's help. As the one who fixes the gates is considered to have built entire house, so too, in this case, the Jews will thus fulfill the commandment to build the Holy Temple by fixing its gates in place.

May it happen in the immediate future.

Thoughts that Count


The word matot, which means tribes, also means staffs. Staffs symbolize stability and permanence, like a staff which is hard and strong. Masei means "journeys," and alludes to a changing and non-permanent situation. The fact that the two Torah portions of Matot and Masei are read together teaches us that even when we are traveling on a journey, for vacation or business, we must be as vigilant and unchanging in our religious observance as when we are at home.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

To execute the vengeance of G-d on Midian (Num. 31:3)

The name Midian comes from the root madon, meaning quarrel and strife. Midian symbolizes contention and unwarranted hatred. Therefore, the war against Midian is truly "the vengeance of G-d." For, there is nothing as opposed to G-d as dissention and needless hatred.

(Sefer HaMaamarim)

These are the journeys of the Israelites (Num. 33:1)

Why does the Torah mention all 42 stops during the Jews' 40 year sojourn in the desert? To later generations it might seem beyond belief that millions of Jews survived 40 years in the desert. They might say the Jews traveled through habitable regions, sustaining themselves - like nomadic tribes - with regional water and vegetation. The Torah repeatedly describes the deserts, most completely uninhabitable, where the people could never have survived. This, therefore, would firmly implant in our hearts the belief that G-d Himself miraculously sustained us and led our people through the wilderness.


It Once Happened

Reb Leib Sarah's, one of the greatest of the Baal Shem Tov's disciples, had long desired to live in the Holy Land. After years of struggle, of wandering, of perfecting himself to the utmost of his ability, his deepest desire was to settle in the Holy Land, there to be able to attain spiritual achievements unreachable elsewhere.

Although he was himself a person of renown, he was also a chasid, and so, he went to his rebbe, the Baal Shem Tov, to ask his permission and blessing for the trip. "Rebbe," he asked, "I request your permission to settle in the Holy Land, which is my heart's desire." But, to his surprise, the Besht's reply was negative. The next year Leib Sarah's again went to his rebbe with the same petition. But, again, the Besht denied his request, without even an explanation. This scenario repeated itself year after year for several years, and Leib Sarah's was deeply disappointed.

One year he decided that he wouldn't go to his rebbe at all; he just wouldn't ask. The desire to travel and settle in the Holy Land had become so strong within him, that he could no longer deny it. So, Leib Sarah's sat down with his wife and then with his children and discussed the question of moving to the Holy Land, there to perfect his soul in the service of his Maker. His wife and children were all agreeable, and so it was decided to go. Wasting no time, he sold all of his worldly goods save the barest necessities, and gathering all of his money, he bought tickets for himself, his wife and children for the long journey to the Land of Israel.

When everything was in order, Reb Leib Sarah's packed up his belongings and set off with his family through Russia toward Turkey, whence he would travel to Israel. It was a slow and arduous journey overland with many stops in the small towns and villages through which they had to travel. One day they came to a small town and noticed some sort of excitement in the town. Leib Sarah's inquired of the villagers, and was shocked when he heard their reply. For none other than the famous Baal Shem Tov was unexpectedly visiting the town, and the people were overwhelmed by the great honor of receiving such a personage.

Leib Sarah's was even more overwhelmed by his own dilemma. He thought of the possibility of not going to greet his rebbe, thereby avoiding any embarrassment because of his disobedience, but how could he not acknowledge the presence of his great rebbe and teacher? He sat in his wagon deliberating, when suddenly he had no choice, for the Baal Shem Tov's carriage pulled up next to his own. Reb Leib Sarah's dismounted and approached the rebbe. The Besht appeared to be surprised and asked, "What are you doing here?"

"Rebbe, please forgive me for not heeding your words, but I am now on my way to settle in the Holy Land."

The Besht replied, "Well, if your wish to go is so strong, then go. But now, where are you going to spend the Shabbat?"

"I am just now searching for a place, but it's difficult since I spent all of my money on the tickets for the journey," replied Reb Leib. The Baal Shem Tov offered to host Reb Leib and his family for the whole Shabbat. When they were in their rooms preparing for the arrival of the holy day, the Besht knocked on Reb Leib's door, asking if he had immersed in the mikva yet. "No," he replied, "I have no money remaining, so I will forego the mikva this week." To this, the Baal Shem Tov replied that he would pay the entrance fee for him, and they should go together to the mikva. Reb Leib Sarah's joy was unbounded, for he understood the profound meaning of the immersion and was relieved not to miss his usual ritual.

Upon arriving at the mikva the Besht said, "Reb Leib, you go first." But, he refused, saying, "Please, Rebbe, you go; you are my teacher, after all." The Besht was adamant, and Reb Leib immersed first. After the proscribed immersions were completed, he rose from the water, turned to his rebbe and said, "I have changed my mind. I will not go to the Holy Land. I will return to Medzibozh, to you. Let me tell you what I saw in the mikva during my immersions. As I entered the water I saw a continent. As I looked closely I saw the Holy Land, and as I looked even more closely I saw Jerusalem. As I narrowed my focus still more, I could see all the parts of the Temple Mount, even the Holy Temple itself. Then I looked inside and saw the Holy of Holies, but though I strained my eyes as hard as I could, I couldn't see the Holy Ark, the Tablets of the Law, or the Divine Presence. In my anguish I cried out, "Where are the Tablets? Where is the Divine Presence? But a Heavenly Voice answered me, saying, 'They are found in Medzibozh.' Therefore, I am following you back to Medzibozh to fulfill my Divine Service. I now see that during the exile, the Divine Presence dwells with the leader of the generation."

Moshiach Matters

The Talmud states: "The son of David (i.e., Moshiach) will come b'hesech hadaat - when the attention is diverted." Hesech hadaat is a very high level of waiting for Moshiach. We are required to await Moshiach, not on the basis of our own personal understanding of how good it will be for us when Moshiach comes. We must divert our attention from all of our thoughts of the material and spiritual good in the Messianic Era; our thoughts need to be on one thing only - that the Divine purpose of the creation of the world will finally be realized - that there will be a dwelling place for G-dliness in this world."

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

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