As in all areas of existence, this Shabbos has several general aspects and themes, as well as a few individual and particular characteristics and facets: The general themes are Shabbos and Shabbos Mevorchim. The specific themes are Shabbos Mevorchim Menachem Av, in a leap year, when we read the portion of Mattos-Massai.
In this period of the "three weeks," when we commemorate the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh, the importance of positive action is more strongly accentuated. The difference between the golus time and the period when the Bais Hamikdosh stood is that then we could actually present our sacrifices to the altar -- while now we must be satisfied with words:
We will render the prayer of our lips in place of the sacrifices of bullocks. (Hoshea 14:3)
Therefore, when we enter the period of quasi-mourning, between the fast of the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av -- "between the days of distress" -- we must emphasize the value of action to correct and neutralize the destruction and vacuum caused by exile. And the directive for the action must be on a plain level so that even the five-year-old Chumash student will be able to comprehend what to do.
In seeking the lesson to be gleaned from the specific (vis-a-vis the general) details of this Shabbos we should keep in mind an important rule. In the realm of time, in the realm of Torah and in the area of human Divine service there are specifics and generalities which differ drastically from one extreme to the other. In each of these subjects the general and collective aspects are much loftier than the specific details. Nevertheless, in all of these areas -- G-d wanted the minute details as well as the broad generalities.
This will also apply in the case of an individual neshamah -- a Jewish soul. Consequently, when the average Jew involves himself in the Divine service of the period "between the days of distress," e.g. the specific Divine service of Shabbos Mevorchim Menachem Av and the portion of Mattos-Massai, his individual involvement is connected to the initial source of created time and the initial supernal thought, the loftiest of levels.
Thus, the first directive to every Jew:
It should be understood that the Holy One, Blessed be He, in all His glory, the Essential Essence, contracted and withdrew His infiniteness and created measured time, day and night, the days of the week and Shabbos; then, Shabbos Mevorchim, and Shabbos Mevorchim Menachem Av of the portion of Mattos Massai, in this year 5746. The purpose of this chain of creation is that this average Jew should be involved in the service of G-d as relating to this day. When this realization sinks in, you can imagine the great storm of enthusiasm that will be engendered in the personal Divine service of this Jew.
In this discussion it should be noted that the simple Jew accepts and internalizes these concepts in a simple and direct manner -- even more than the learned scholar.
Speak to a scholar about the creation of time, it will lead to a discussion and heated debate. You will have to convince him that Chassidus explains, in the name of the Great Maggid, that time is a created phenomenon. For, intellectually there is no definite proof that time is created (or even space -- as both are relative).
There were traditional Jewish philosophers who thought that time and space are primordial and eternal, not having been created. The sun, the moon and their orbits were, of course, created beings which, by their regular cycles, introduced measurements and regular segments to time -- days, months, years, etc. However, these were only changes in time -- but not the actual creation of time. Time always existed -- or so they reasoned.
The truth is that the human mind is not capable of understanding the nonexistence of time or space. Chassidus notes that the statements of the philosophy books that "beyond the ninth sphere the is no space," cannot be understood by the human mind, for the mind cannot perceive antispace. The reason: human intelligence is created, and functions only within the boundaries of temporal existence, of time and space, it therefore cannot grasp the concept of antitime or space; just as a blind man cannot conceive of color; if he never saw light (G-d forbid) he cannot know colors.
In dealing with antitime, the mind has no opinion and no presumption, it must only say that it has no idea of what antitime is.
This whole discussion pops up only when speaking with a scholar. The simple person has no difficulty in accepting time as a created thing, and since he has no knowledge of the supernal worlds, and spheres and attributes, he only knows that creation emanates from the Essence of G-d. He knows of the existence of the Holy One, Blessed be He, and he knows of his own existence. He knows that G-d created the world and all that exists in the world.
Therefore, he can accept that the Holy One, Blessed be He, contracted Himself and descended to create time, from the first instance of creation till this very day, so that he -- this average Jew -- will fulfill his daily responsibility. Today that obligation is: the Divine service of Shabbos Mevorchim Menachem Av -- and the Torah portion of Mattos Massai. This realization engenders enthusiasm and excitement in all his activities.
"Put the ax to the log" -- the simple person knows what an ax is and what a log is and he knows that sometimes you must use the ax on the log. He also knows that there are times when he himself is like a "log" and needs a bit of softening up to receive the spiritual light.
However, there is also the peaceful way of Torah, as Chassidus explains that in the difficult time of the diaspora we prepare for the coming redemption through the study of Torah.
All of these aspects must be strengthened, especially as pertaining to the period of the "three weeks," with joy and glad hearts which will burst the restrictions of the golus and convert these sorrowful days to joyful and happy feasts. This will be our last journey, for we will come to the promised land -- with the true and complete redemption through our righteous Moshiach, speedily and truly in our time.
The lesson from this particular day may be derived from the Chumash, Tehillim and Tanya sections for this day. The study of these daily sections was suggested by the Previous Rebbe, the Nassi of our generation, and since the "Nassi is everything" (Rashi, Bemidbar 21:21), this means that everyone can and should study these lessons daily, and everyone can find instruction in them. The study of these basic books is especially designed to contribute to the spiritual life of the individual -- they are relevant to everyone.
There are those who abstain from studying Tanya and cloak their opposition in sanctity, saying, their fathers did not study Tanya so they should not and, furthermore, they have not yet reached the level where they truly "match" this study -- so they study other areas of Torah. They continue to reason that if they were to fool themselves and say that they understand Tanya they would transgress the Biblical prohibition:
Keep away from anything false, (Shemos 23:7)
and furthermore they would insult the Alter Rebbe! So, in their misguided way, they "protect" the honor of the Alter Rebbe and refuse to study Tanya!
The answer is that since in these generations:
It is permitted and a duty to reveal this science (Chassidus), (Iggeres Hakodesh ch. 26)
and in contemporary times, even moreso, for the wellsprings have already been spread to the outside! Therefore, all of their considerations will not change the fact that every single Jew can and should study Tanya, especially since the Nassi has established that it should be studied daily by everyone. The great power of Tanya is like the natural spring water, where the state of tumah can be purified even with just a bit of water -- so long as it covers the entire object. So, we must also learn from the Tanya section of today.
But first to Chumash.
The portion is called "Massai" which means travels from place to place: "These are the journeys of the Israelites, who had left Egypt..." until they reached the promised land.
Why did the Jews have to travel. It was not because the places they camped in were bad, they never camped in an undesirable site. The previous place was also good; the reason the Jews had to journey was to reach greater heights -- to "go from strength to strength."
This special lesson would apply directly to the guests who have come here for this Shabbos (from Toronto). On Shabbos every Jew likes to be in his/her own home, with all the comforts and conveniences. Nevertheless, these people left their homes and undertook the troubles of travel, in order to spend Shabbos in proximity to the precincts of the Nassi and to hear the review of Torah-words of the Nassi.
There is even a greater quality in this case, for they came as a group, many of them bringing along their families, men, women and children. So these Jews have carried out the lesson of Massai in a practical way, by travelling here. How appropriate that it was for the Shabbos when we read the portion of Massai! They could have remained at home, eaten "kugel," and rested on Shabbos afternoon. Instead, they took the trouble to travel, in order to hear words of Torah of the previous Rebbe, even though their parents may not have taught them the esoteric teachings of Torah.
So, when the local people sit next to these visitors, they also owe them a vote of thanks -- for they teach the locals how to fulfill the directives of Massai, to travel and rise to a higher level.
Happy is their lot and great is the merit of the visitors and those who arranged the trip [who did a great spiritual charity -- for which our righteous Moshiach should really come immediately -- in the midst of this Shabbos day.]
May G-d grant that their action will have an ongoing influence for themselves as well as their families, relatives and all who have ties with them, to influence them in all areas of Torah and mitzvos.
May the Holy One, Blessed be He, give them His blessings in all their needs, as the Torah states:
If you follow My laws and are careful to keep My commandments, I will provide you with rain at the right time,...I will grant peace in the land...and lead you forth with your heads held high, (Vayikra 26:3-13)
with the true and complete redemption through our righteous Moshiach.
This will happen when a Jew adds even one mitzvah, as the Rambam rules. So may it be for us, truly and speedily in our time.
Today we read the double portion of Mattos-Massai. However, looking at today's study section which is Shevi'i, the seventh study section, we see at the top of the page only the word Massai. Where do we see at least a hint at the combination of the two portions in the section we learn today?
The answer is that the Chumash notes: "Shevi'i, when the two portions are read together." This hints at the combined portions. Well then, what about the lesson to be gleaned from the combination of Mattos and Massai?
The portion of Mattos has its own theme which we must analyze and then we will see what we learn from the combination.
"Mattos" has the same root as "matteh," a staff, which is usually made from the branch of a tree, by cutting it off the tree. The wood is then dried and hardened and it may then be used as a "rod of severity" (see Zechariah 11:7).
When the stick is still part of the branch it is referred to as a "shevet"; after it is dried and hardened it is called "matteh." This difference would also indicate that a "shevet" is pliable and can still grow and change, while the "matteh" is hard and will no longer grow or change.
Thus, "Mattos" reminds us that in areas of Torah and Yiddishkeit there must be a certain firmness analogous to the rod. This assures an unchanging strength which gives no quarter to compromise in Torah matters.
When Mattos and Massai are combined, it would appear that you have two opposing attributes, for the unchanging Mattos can only function when a person is at home in his own place. Only then can he stand staunchly by his principles. When that same person travels out and away from his home base -- as much as he would like to be staunch and firm, being on the road, it cannot be realized, and then "G-d only asks in accordance with their ability" (see Bemidbar Rabbah 12:3).
These two themes seem to be opposing, and there are many years in which the two portions are read on different weeks, which would eliminate any conflict -- for each week would foster its own theme.
However, when the two are read together, as this year, there is a special lesson to be gleaned, and G-d gives special powers to accomplish the specific goals.
When Mattos and Massai are together the message is that even when one is in a state of Massai -- travelling and not at home -- he must still project the firmness of Mattos, as if he were at home.
A Jew leaves his home and spends some time as a guest in the home of another Jew. It might seem difficult for him to adhere to all of the self-imposed restrictions or obligations that he normally follows at home. How can he impose on his host? How can he tell his host that he will only eat fish but not meat -- he will insult a Jew who is involved in the great mitzvah of hospitality!?
So Mattos joins Massai to teach us that even when you are a guest you must insist on your usual level of observance. What about your hosts feelings? Explain that you are not doing this capriciously and you are just as uncomfortable about your restrictions -- but you are simply following the commandment of the Torah as expressed in the juxtaposition of Mattos and Massai.
The host will then understand your feelings and be happy that he did not cause you to do something against your conscience. Your mutual respect and friendship will be enhanced.
At the same time there is a lesson which Massai brings to Mattos. When one stands strong and staunch in matters of Yiddishkeit, he must also remember that at the same time he must seek to rise from strength to strength -- loftier and stronger.
When we read Mattos-Massai during the "three weeks" there is an additional lesson.
Massai is symbolic of the journey of the diaspora when Jews are not in their homeland as:
The children who had to be banished from the table of their father, (Berachos 3a)
into the "wilderness of the peoples" (Yechezkel 20:35).
But we have to keep journeying until we leave the wilderness of the nations -- and we reach the good land, Eretz Yisroel.
In today's Torah reading, Mattos-Massai, there are several places where Rashi, in his commentary, mentions the name of the sage who authored the particular explanation.
Normally, Rashi does not tell us the names of the authors, because it usually does not add anything to the plain meaning of the verse.
- In the portion of Mattos on the verse:
Now kill every male child as well as every woman who has been involved intimately with a man, kill.
...Kill -- why does it say this word again (after having used it in the first half of the sentence)? It is to show where the pause comes in the paragraph. So is the opinion of R. Yishmael. For if I omit the second word "kill" and read [kill every male child...every woman who has been involved...and all the little ones among the women...keep alive] I would not know whether to kill the women or to keep them alive with the little ones.
(Rashi, loc. cit.)
- On the verse:
Whoever killed a person. (Ibid.:19)
R. Meir said: Scripture is speaking of one who killed a person with a weapon receptive of tumah.
(Rashi, loc. cit.)
Likewise in the portion of Massai on the verse:
There they camped along the Jordan from Bais Hayeshi-mos to Avel Shittim in the west plains of Moav.
Here again Rashi cites the author:
Here it tells you that the extent of Israel's camp was twelve miles, for Rabbah bar bar Chonah said, "I myself have seen that place etc., and it is three parasangs (12 miles) square (Eruvin 55b)." (Rashi, loc. cit.)
It remains to be seen what added understanding we gain from being told the authors' names in these three verses.
Regarding the last example, where Rashi cites Rabbah bar bar Chonah, it has been noted that this Rashi was discussed in previous years. However, a perusal of the unedited transcription of that sicha (5736) reveals several mistakes as well as a leaning towards an explanation that is not really in keeping with the plain meaning of the verse. It is therefore necessary to further elucidate this Rashi in accordance with the plain meaning.
When Rashi states, "Here it tells you that the extent of Israel's camp was twelve miles," his intention is not to say that the plain meaning of the verse "...they camped along the Jordan from..." is the measurement of the size of the Jewish encampment. The simple meaning must be only to inform us of the place where the Jews camped, as in all the previous encampments. The size of the camp is not part of the plain meaning. And that is why the Torah itself did not mention the measurement of the area.
Rashi however, realized that Scripture changed its usual description of the campsites of the Jewish people. Whereas, in all other places we are told the name of the place where they camped (usually some settled place in the wilderness where they could trade with caravans) here we are told that they camped between two places. And why should they camp in a desolate area between two settled places? From this Rashi tells us we may deduce an additional point, that the Torah also wishes to tell us the size of the Jewish encampment.
Now we are troubled by a different question. Why did the Torah wait till the end of the 40 years to give us this information? And why did Rashi wait. In the portion of Chukas, Rashi had mentioned that Og, King of Bashan, lifted a mountain the size of three parasangs to drop on the Jewish camp, which measured three parasangs. Why did not Rashi state there that the size of the Jewish encampment was in fact 12 miles (three parasangs).
When Rashi tells us, "Here it tells you the extent of Israel's camp...," he wishes to emphasize that specifically now, at the end of the journey in the wilderness, the Torah had to indicate the size of the Jewish camp, for this is relevant in matters of Halachah. The Rambam rules in the restriction of walking beyond the allowed limit on Shabbos:
The dimensions of this limit...interpreted as being twelve miles, corresponding to the size of the Israelite camp in the wilderness. (Laws of Shabbos, 27:1)
So long as the Jewish people were in the wilderness they remained within the limits of their camp and did not have to know the size of the camp. As Moshe was there -- they could also ask him. But at the end of their journeys, when they were about to enter into Eretz Yisroel, where they would no longer live together as one camp, but settle all over the land, it was now necessary to teach the limit of the distance one could walk on Shabbos.
It is also obvious why Rashi does not mention this in the portion of Chukas. There the emphasis was on Og's superpowers -- not the size of the camp -- and there it was not the right time to teach something which would only apply later.
We can also explain the different use of terms. In Chukas Rashi says the mountain was three parasangs, because when one wishes to emphasize great size he uses a larger unit of measurement, so three parasangs sounds bigger than 12 miles. But here, when Rashi is teaching us the laws of travel limitation on Shabbos, he uses miles, because the distance limits are always measured in miles.
Now, the five-year-old Chumash student asks how Rashi actually knew the size of the distance between these two cities in the plans of Moav? Rashi lived thousands of years later, in France, did he ever see that place, or did he have some tradition?
For this reason Rashi goes on to tell us that Rabbah bar bar Chonah saw the place and gave us the tradition. He went there and measured the area.
The five-year-old Chumash student continues to question -- Rabbah bar bar Chonah was an Amora who lived many years after the Jews entered Eretz Yisroel, did they wait for him to inform them of the size of the area -- they needed to know this information to rule on the laws of Shabbos as soon as they entered the land!?
Now, Rashi hints at the answer to this question by telling us the name of the author. We find several stories in the Talmud about Rabbah bar bar Chonah, who travelled to strange and exotic places and brought back reports to the sages. He told of seeing the place where Korach was swallowed in the earth and the burial places of those who had died in the wilderness. His purpose and intention was to give eyewitness reports on the oral traditions of the Jewish people. True, they knew that the area between Bais Hayeshimos and Avel Shittim was 12 miles, but Rabbah bar bar Chonah wanted to measure it himself, to bring empirical proof to the words of the sages.
On Rashi's explanation for the repetition of the word "kill" we had asked why it was necessary to mention Rabbi Yishmael.
The point that Rashi makes about the word "kill" is truly fundamental. The Torah lists three categories, the first to be put to death, and the third to be left alive. Obviously, if the fate of the middle group would not be specifically stated we would waver between killing and saving. So Rashi tells us this is the reason for the repetition of the word "kill," to clarify the fate of the adult women.
However, we might think that perhaps there is some rule of deduction which would eliminate the need for the extra word, and by which we could deduce what to do with the adult women. For this reason Rashi tells us that it was R. Yishmael who taught us this explanation. He is the famous author of the "13 rules by which the Torah is expounded" and if he tells us that the word "kill" must be repeated, we can be sure that there was no other way for us to figure out what to do.
As for the Rashi which quotes R. Meir we will leave that question for the listeners to seek an answer. "Give instruction to a wise man and he will be yet wiser" (Mishlei 9:9).
In today's Rambam section we study the laws of the Bais Hamikdosh and a question is raised why the Rambam does not explain the details of building the Holy Ark -- as he does in the case of the other vessels and utensils (Menorah, Table, Altar, etc.).
An explanation has previously been given (see Likkutei Sichos, vol. 4, p. 1346, fn. 26) that there is a debate between the Rambam and Ramban whether the utensils of the building the Bais Hamikdosh or not. The Ramban holds that the utensils were counted as a separate mitzvah. The Rambam is of the opinion that the utensils were included in the mitzvah of building a
House unto the L-rd, designed for the offering of sacrifices.... (Laws of the Temple 1:1)
It follows that the vessels and utensils which were part of the regular service in the Bais Hamikdosh had to be built in a certain way, and the Rambam had to tell us about them. But the Ark was not used in the daily service, in fact, during the Second Temple there was no ark with the Tablets in the Holy of Holies! The existence and presence of the Ark in the Bais Hamikdosh would only add holiness (for then the purpose of "I will commune with you there" could be realized) but was not necessary for the service in the Temple, hence the Rambam did not explain its construction.
There is a rule in Rambam that the Rambam often cites verses not quoted in the Gemara to better explain some rule. And this rule is true even in cases where it will not make a practical difference (see Yad Malachi, rule #4).
Now, all agree that the Ark had to be built, and in the Torah there are many verses which deal with its construction. If so, following the Rambam's own rule he should have mentioned the details of the Ark, since it had to be made even though it did not matter to the service in the Temple.
Ultimately, we must come to the conclusion which the Rogatchover Gaon reaches, that "the Holy Ark was not considered one of the vessels of service in the Bais Hamikdosh." True, it adds holiness to the Sanctuary, but its existence was not for the Temple. For this reason the Rambam does not explain its construction among the laws of the Bais Hamikdosh and its vessels.
There is a moral lesson to be gleaned from this. The purpose of the Ark was Torah. Torah's quality is so great that "The Torah and the Holy One, Blessed be He, are one" (Zohar). So Torah does not exist for something else, not even for the Bais Hamik-dosh or the Holy of Holies.
As such the Ark was not considered a "vessel of service" in the Sanctuary, for Torah does not "serve" anything else, and although it did add holiness to the Sanctuary, it did not exist for that purpose.
In fact, as the Rambam explains, that the essence of the Sanctuary was to provide a place for the Shechinah on the Ark -- this means that the purpose of the whole Temple was because of the Ark -- the Torah!
This week we begin once again the study cycle of Avos and we learn chapter one.
Moshe received the Torah from Sinai and passed it on to Yehoshua.... (Avos 1:1)
This is the order of transmission of the Tradition of Torah, from Moshe till the Men of the Great Assembly and Shimon the Righteous, one of the last of the Men of the Great Assembly.
Is it not strange that through all the generations from Moshe, Yehoshua, etc., no teachings were transmitted that would be in the category of Avos, "words of great piety"? Was it only after the Men of Great Assembly that such teachings were transmitted?!
The purpose of "words of piety" is to help create "a fence around the Torah" so as not to approach actual sins. At a time when the fence is not necessary it is not put up.
In the generation of Moshe no fences were needed, anyone who saw Moshe could never sin! So too, in the times of Yehoshua, the Elders, Prophets and so on, till the generation of the Men of the Great Assembly, when the power of the generations diminished and it became necessary to set up fences for Torah. Therefore, from that generation on, the sages taught "words of greater piety" -- the fences for Torah, to protect the people, and later on these words were compiled in the tractate Avos.
This however raises a question. In all those earlier generations there were sinful people. In fact, there were generations that were completely sinful, as we read in Tenach. The Torah speaks to sinners as well as those who act inadvertently, and even to the righteous, so why did the earlier sages not teach words of greater piety and build fences for the Torah?
The answer is, that in those periods of non-observance the fences would not have helped. If seeing Moshe's face did not help, how much more so the fence made by his disciple would not help.
Chassidus explains the phenomenon, that in the early generations one who was good was on the level of a great tzaddik or a prophet, one who was sinful was truly evil, a real rasha! In later generations the extremes were modified and there are no great tzaddikim and no extremely evil sinners.
So, in the early years, the righteous did not need the fence and the wicked would not heed the fence. As time went on and the generations changed, the extremes were modified, and by the generation of the Men of the Great Assembly the majority of people were on the level where they would benefit from fences, and the fences would help, because they were no longer so evil.
May it be G-d's will that we soon merit the time when we no longer need "fences." As our sages say:
In the future time, if a man goes out to pick a fig on Shabbos, the fig will scream, "Today is Shabbos!"
(Midrash Tehillim 73:14)
It is appropriate now to mention that we are approaching the year of Shemittah in Eretz Yisroel (the seventh year in which the land lies fallow) and preparation should be made to properly observe the Shemittah year. It is of the "guardians of the seventh year" that this verse was said:
...armed with strength that fulfill His word, to obey the voice of His word. (Tehillim 103:20)
In many places preparations have already been made, may they be blessed with much success, including those who rely on the lenient interpretations, although it is better when the Shemittah is observed in its basic plain interpretation.
This subject is also connected to the period of the "three weeks," for "exile is brought about because of the neglect of Shemittah" (Avos 5:9). As is clear from the words of Scripture:
And then...the land will enjoy its Sabbaths.... The land will rest and enjoy its Sabbatical years...that you would not give it when you lived there. (Vayikra 26:34-35)
Thus, by observing the laws of Shemittah properly, we will nullify the reason of the golus and the golus will be eliminated.
It is likewise important to see that children are enrolled in proper Torah summer camps and those who are not should be transferred to proper camps.
Practice is essential. Everyone should increase all areas of Yiddishkeit, Torah and mitzvos. Begin with set times for Torah study, Chumash Tehillim, Tanya, Rambam and other such studies, as well as the special studies of this period of the "three weeks."
May G-d grant that our good resolutions will bring the reward, the true and complete redemption through our righteous Moshiach, immediately, and we will hear the "words which Moshe spoke" truly in our time.