This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Matot-Massei (5769)
This week’s double Torah portion contains many details; the laws of vows, the war with Midian and an interesting list of the 42 journeys the Jews made in the desert, to name a few. In addition, this week is one of the Three Weeks of Mourning for the destruction of the Holy Temple and the beginning of the ‘Exile’ of the Jews some 2,000 years ago.
But because all these are united under ‘Matot – Masai’ they must have something in common.
Matot means ‘staffs’ and Masai means journeys. Both imply separation. Matot are sticks that have been separated from the tree so long they become hard, and journeys are only taken when one is far from home.
But the Torah is not just a book of religion or history, it’s every word is a lesson from the Creator on how to put meaning into and how to get the most out of life. If so, what is the meaning here?
To understand this, here are two stories I just read about the Lubavitcher Rebbe. (Sipurim M’Chader HaRebbe pg. 54-55)
Once, shortly after Shabbat, the telephone rang in the home of one of the Rebbe’s secretaries, Rabbi Leibel Groner. On the other end of the line was a frantic Jew, one of the Rebbe’s Chassidim (followers) from a different state on the east coast, with a life and death message. Shortly after his wife lit the Shabbat candles, she suddenly lost consciousness, passed out cold on the floor and had to be rushed to the hospital.
The doctors all said the situation was very grave, and the entire Shabbat he did exactly as they said; he went home and prayed. He would have called the Rebbe’s office on Shabbat but he knew no one would be there and in any case no one would lift the phone. So now, at the first possible opportunity after Shabbat he called Rabbi Groner’s house.
He explained that he knew the Rebbe wouldn’t arrive in his office until the morning but the reason he was calling now was he was so desperate that he was going crazy. He needed the Rebbe’s blessings and prayers; the doctors said that his wife was still in serious condition. He was almost in tears. It was an emergency! He needed help! He wanted Rabbi Groner to call the Rebbe at his home and tell him.
Rabbi Groner calmed the man down, assured him that he would call the Rebbe immediately. As soon as he hung up he called the Rebbe at his home and informed him. But when the Rebbe heard the news he didn’t respond at all.
The next morning when the Rebbe arrived at his headquarters (770 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn) he told his secretaries that one of them should telephone the man and ask him what happened at 5:00 a.m. on Shabbat morning.
Rabbi Groner, without asking questions, called and did as he was told.
The answer was startling! “Yes! The Chassid answered. In fact my wife’s situation got worse and worse on Shabbat until, sometime after three or four a.m. my phone rang. Although it was Shabbat we were all on edge and no one was asleep. I told one of the children to answer and sure enough, it was what we all feared; the doctor. He said that my wife had only a short time to live and if we wanted to part from her we should come as soon as possible.
“We ran to the hospital, hoping to get there before it was too late but when we arrived we got a surprise; the doctor greeted us with a smile and told us that there had been a change. He said that at five a.m. she suddenly regained consciousness and was out of immediate danger!”
Rabbi Groner related what the Chassid said to the Rebbe and the Rebbe replied in a way which was very unlike his usual, extremely modest way. “Call him back and tell him that I was aware of his wife’s situation before he called to tell me about it. Also tell him that the reason she got better on Shabbat was not because of the doctors but because I thought of her. And the only reason I am telling him this is so that he shouldn’t think that he can hide from me.”
The second story is about a religious family from Hungary that lived near the Rebbe’s headquarters and decided to send their son to learn in the Rebbe’s yeshiva in Brooklyn. The boy learned there for a few years and when he reached marriageable age and suggestions began coming in, he finally agreed to meet one of them. They found favor in one another’s eyes and after a few meeting decided to write to the Rebbe and ask for his blessing to marry. The Rebbe gave his blessing and everything was going wonderfully until the young man told his parents.
As soon as they heard a few details they immediately rejected the entire idea and gave all sorts of reasons for their decision. But their son, being that he had become a firm follower of the Rebbe and had his blessing, and also because he could find nothing wrong with the girl and didn’t want to break off the match, wrote again to the Rebbe and told him of his predicament.
The Rebbe replied that according to the Torah one must give honor to his parents in all matters save two; matters of Torah and getting married.
The young man informed his parents that he was going ahead with his plans, whereupon they informed him that not only would they not attend the wedding but they were cutting him off forever! Not only that, but one day his mother showed up in the Rebbe’s Synagogue where he and some one hundred other young men were learning Torah, walked angrily up to her son and gave him a stingingly loud slap in the face!
Seeing that things had gotten totally out of control, one of the other pupils in the yeshiva approached the woman and tried to reason with here. He told her that she and her husband certainly were aware that when they put their son into this Yeshiva that he would become a Chassid of the Rebbe and would listen only to the Rebbe’s advice. If they had arguments or complaints they should take them to the Rebbe, who was a very reasonable and intelligent man, and talk it over with him.
The words hit home and the next evening after all the arrangements were made they entered the Rebbe’s office with fire in their eyes, for a ‘showdown’!
But just moments later they came out of the office smiling and beaming and announced that the wedding was….ON.
The same pupil approached them again and asked the obvious question; what did the Rebbe do or say in such a short time that turned them completely around?!
The woman explained. “When we entered the Rebbe was very cordial. He apologized for the misunderstanding and explained that when our son first asked for his agreement to the marriage he didn’t agree without first going up into the ‘upper worlds’ and checking the ‘books’ to see if the marriage would work. And only when he saw there was no opposition did he give his blessing. Then when he heard of our negative reaction he said he thought that perhaps he had missed one of the ‘books’ so he went ‘up’ again. But when he saw that, in fact, he had missed nothing he just repeated the blessing.”
The woman looked at the young man and concluded. “If a holy Tzaddik like the Rebbe said that he went up into the heavens and looked at the books, then who are we to disagree?”
Both of these stories come to show the same thing; there is a great Jewish leader whose job in this world is to re-attach Jews to their source.
When one is attached to the Creator there can be no sickness or doubt. And that is exactly what the Rebbe did in these two stories. And he even advertised it in order that the people would know that, just as Moses took the Jews from Egypt, so today the Rebbe takes Jews from their problems and so tomorrow will Moshiach take the entire world from it’s confusion and strife.
And that is the message of hope for the Three Weeks: Moshiach certainly is 'just behind the door' and he will re-unite all creation with the Creator.
Then all the Mattot, the ‘separated and dried up’ Jews will be re-connecte to their source and the ‘Masai’ wandering Jews will all return home to the Third Holy Temple which he will build in Jerusalem.
All of the ‘separated’ topics of this Shabbat will be transformed to joy and laughter. It all depends on us to do even one more good deed and bring….
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