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Parshat Matot-Massei (5766)
This week's double Torah portion finishes the book of Numbers. It falls in the second of the 'Three Weeks' of mourning for the destruction of the Temple and contains many stories, commandments and lessons in life.
But perhaps its most important message is found in its double name: "Staffs and Journeys".
The Baal Shem Tov taught that G-d creates everything in the world constantly and with a purpose. There are no accidents and every detail in creation has a secret message…. especially when that detail is in the Torah; the blueprint of creation.
Here is an example.
The word Mattot means 'Staffs' and the word Massei means 'Journeys'. This teaches us about two ways of serving the Creator.
To understand this, here is a story. (Sipuri Chassidim L'noar. Vol. 1 pg 160)
Doctor Lieberman was a bit of an anomaly. He was an expert doctor, one of the best known in the immense city of Vi'tebsk, and a wealthy man. But he was also a devoutly religious Jew; a rare combination some one hundred years ago when Jews were opting out of Judaism for success in the gentile world.
In fact his high reputation as a doctor was almost overshadowed by the stories of his meticulous observance of the Torah commandments. Especially the Holy Shabbat.
He almost never treated patients on Shabbat but rather tried to push them off till afterward. And when he had to travel on Shabbat to a patient he would go by foot rather than use a wagon. And he would never carry or write on Shabbat no matter how severe the case. A gentile or two carried his bags of tools and medicines and they would write prescriptions on empty blanks that he had signed before the Shabbat.
This was his custom and this is how it would have continued if it weren't for the dream.
It so happened that one Shabbat after he returned to his plush home from the Shabbat Morning Prayers and finished the Shabbat Meal, that he laid down for a few minutes to rest and had a dream.
He dreamt that a bearded Jew with a kind face appeared before him and stood there. He had never seen this but before he could ask his name his visitor smiled and said,
"You know, doctor, it's not right that you refrain from visiting sick people on Shabbat just because they live far away. After all, it could be that might be saving a life. In which case the Torah forbids us to delay because of the Shabbat."
With that the Doctor woke up. "Strange dream" He thought as he came to himself. "That Jew made a strong impression on me although I'm sure I've never seen him before."
Suddenly there was a knock on the door. Still strongly under the influence of the dream he walked to the door, opened up and there stood before him a simple middle-aged Jew that looked as though he had come a long way.
"Shabbat Shalom!" the doctor greeted his guest opening the door wide, "Please, come in. Would you like something to drink? Can I help you? Please come in and sit down." The doctor said as he tried to show his guest in.
But he didn't enter, "Doctor Lieberman?" he asked almost desperately, lines of worry appearing on his face. When the doctor shook his head 'yes' he looked relived and continued.
"I live about two hours drive from here. Listen, It's my daughter. She's very sick. I need you to come urgently."
The doctor showed him in, sat him down, gave him a glass of water and listened.
The man anxiously leaned forward and continued, "A few weeks ago she fell ill. We called a doctor and he gave some medicine. It worked for a while but yesterday, Friday, things got worse. Doctor I'm worried. Please come with me and see what you can do. Here, see? My wagon and horses are right here in front of your house."
Normally Doctor Lieberman would not have gone. He would have tried to put it off till Sunday or at least till after the Shabbat. Not only that but it didn't sound so serious. The girl had been sick for a while and it could wait. Maybe her father was exaggerating or overly tense. But the dream had confused and softened him up.
"Let's go!" He said as he grabbed his bags and yelled to his wife that he was leaving.
Two hours later he was at the Jew's house and indeed it was very serious. If it wasn't for that dream he almost certainly would have been too late. It was too weird. He felt as though he was playing his part in some strange déjà vu. It wasn't really him… or was it?
He immediately gave her some medicine, prescribed treatments and waited till the Shabbat was over; he wanted to see how the medicine affected her and he didn't want to travel before making the after-Shabbat 'Havdala' prayer.
Before returning home he made sure the family understood what treatments he prescribed and promised he would return in two days to visit to see how she was doing.
Sure enough, when he returned and examined her two days later there was a remarkable improvement, she was almost completely healed thanks to his fast work… or rather thanks to the dream, or the coincidence.
The entire episode left a big question mark in his life. Up to now he had been a practical, down to earth man and nothing like this had ever happened to him. Now his world was upside-down.
A few months later he was invited to the town of Lubavitch, just an hour's drive from Vi'tebsk, to visit a patient. His visit was successful and in the course of the conversation with the patient it was suggested that perhaps the doctor would like to see the Lubavitcher Rebbe; Rebbe Shalom Dovber (nicknamed the Rebbe 'Reshab') the fifth Chabad Rebbe.
He, like the four Chabad Rebbes before him (and the two after him) was a holy Torah genius, a mystic and a prophet. But most importantly, he had the impossible reputation for caring for each and every Jew in the world.
So it wasn't much of a surprise that Doctor Lieberman, although he was not a Chassid at all, agreed. Especially because he saw an opportunity to ask the Rebbe about the incident that was weighing on his mind.
An appointment was arranged that very day.
He prepared himself to enter, nervously straightened his tie and opened the door.
The Rebbe had a friendly smile on his lips. But the doctor took one look and almost stumbled over his feet approaching the Rebbe's desk. He couldn't take his eyes off the Rebbe's face to the point that he wasn't looking where he was going.
Still transfixed on the Rebbe's face, he finally made it to the chair, sat heavily down and tried unsuccessfully to return the Rebbe's smile. The Rebbe gave the doctor a chance to come to himself. It wasn't the first time that people visiting him were overcome with emotion.
Finally Dr. Lieberman began to speak and hesitatingly, thoroughly confused, told the Rebbe about his dream and what followed.
"I understand," said the Rebbe when the doctor finished, "but is anything wrong?"
"Rebbe," The doctor said…examining the Rebbe's face for some sign of acknowledgment. "That man, the one that I saw in my dream was…. You! Rebbe, how did you do it?! You saved the girl's life!!"
The Rebbe answered calmly. "I don't know anything about being in your dream but regarding the girl I certainly do know. Her father came to me with the story of his daughter's illness that Friday and I gave him your name. After all, you are a well known doctor. But it was you that saved her life."
Suddenly Doctor Lieberman realized that the Rebbe had used all his mystical powers just to heal a girl he had never seen through a doctor he had never seen… with no benefit to himself. A Rebbe is complete self-sacrifice for every Jew. And he inspires it in others as well!
This is the message behind. "Staffs and Journeys"
A 'Staff' is a branch broken and separated from a tree.
So also every person, the moment they are born becomes 'separated' from their spiritual source. Especially every Jew; after the destruction of the Temple we became 'separated' from the revelation of G-d in the Temple.
Similarly the 'Journeys' spoken of here are the forty two trips the Jews took as they wandered in the desert for forty years due of the sin of the spies.... separated from the Holy Land. (In fact this is the theme of the book of 'Numbers' that we are now ending).
Also, each person upon birth finds himself in the G-dless 'desert' of this world and begins a Journey to re-unite with his source.
But on the other hand, both these terms can (must and certainly will) be TRANSFORMED to good:
A Staff means power and authority and Journeys imply movement away from the past and toward new levels of holiness … toward the Holy Land.
Like in our story. The Rebbe caused the doctor to utilize his powers (staff) in a new way by taking him out of his selfish, albeit spiritual, concept of Shabbat to a higher level. (Journey)
And it will be precisely this type of inspiration that Moshiach will have on all mankind.
He will bring all humanity to awaken new soul powers and strive only for entering the Holy Land; namely making the entire world a dwelling for the Creator (Israel is destined to spread over the entire world). That will finish the wandering in the desert, just as this week's portion finishes the book of Numbers.
This is the message of this week's Torah portion… to transform these days of mourning to Joy and Happiness with the building of the Third Temple and filling the world with the Joy, Power and blessing of…
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