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Parshat Matot-Massei (5761)
This week's double portion means ‘Tribes-Journeys” and it always falls out in the "Three weeks of mourning" for the Holy Temple.
The Baal Shem Tov taught that from EVERYTHING we see or hear (especially if it's in the Torah) we can learn about how to "serve" G-d.
What lesson is to be learned from fact that "Tribes" (Matot) "Journeys" (Maasai) and this Time: (three weeks of mourning) come together?
I want to explain with a story that I heard from an old Russian Chassid called Rav Nechemia in Kfar Chabad over twenty five years ago.
Usually a very quiet man, he was so pleased one year when I helped him to build his Succa (special ‘tabernacle’ hut used for the holiday of Succot), that he told me the following story:
"I was born into a religious family, but like many young people in those days in Russia I was hot-blooded, restless and wanted freedom. I joined the Czar's army before WWI, served valiantly as a tank commander, and even earned several medals for bravery. When I finished the army I was considered a loyal citizen to the highest degree, but then came the Communist Revolution and turned everything upside down.
“It wasn't long before I received a summons to the "Peoples" Court, and innocently believing that my combat record and medals would prove my loyalty, I confidently strode into the courtroom only to be rudely introduced to the "New Order".
“After a ten-minute trial, I was sentenced to fifteen years of ‘Correctional Hard Labor in Siberia’ for the crime of ‘Maintaining Loyalty to the Old regime’!
“I was led completely bewildered from the courtroom, directly to prison, and waited there for several weeks to be shipped off to a Labor camp.
“But then came unexpected "better" news. The Government needed volunteers to work on an icebreaker ship that was going to forge its way into some obscure sub-zero territory in Siberia to build an army camp.
“The food was supposed to be much better (a full loaf of bread every day), the hours of work shorter, and as an additional incentive, each year there would count as three years of my sentence. So I jumped at the opportunity and signed up.
“Their plans were bold, well thought out, and optimistic. We really worked hard. But despite all this, the whole thing failed miserably. After five years, most of the crew died from disease or cold, the project had to be abandoned, and the few that were left, returned home.
“I don’t know how, but miraculously I was one of the lucky survivors, and to add to the good news, upon return from Siberia I was released.
“I should have been grateful...but something was bothering me; I couldn’t accept the fact that absolutely NOTHING resulted from all my work.
“I really should have just forgotten the whole thing, but I couldn’t take my mind off it. I kept thinking to myself, "There must be some reason, some mystery here why I was arrested, sentenced, sent to Siberia and worked for five years ….. all for nothing." I was sure of it! But I couldn’t figure what it was and little by little it became an obsession.
“It got to the point where I couldn't have a conversation without telling my story and asking for an answer. But no one had an answer. In fact, most people didn't even understand what I was talking about.
"Then late one Thursday night I was walking down some lonely street, when I heard singing. It was coming from a Shul (Synagogue) and I entered. A group of ten or so Chassidim of various ages were sitting together, a bottle of Vodka on the table, singing rapturously with eyes closed. Then they stopped, raised their small vodka glasses saying L'chiam, took a sip, and one of them began speaking, It was a story:"
"’Once there was an old, wealthy Polish Baron that had an eccentric idea. He wanted a statue of himself made from a certain rare type of semi-precious marble found only in the Far East to be placed on his front lawn until he died and then and he wanted it as a gravestone on his grave after he died.
“’He looked around till he found someone he felt he could trust, a Jewish dealer in precious stones, and gave him an unusually large sum of money to accomplish the task. The man was to travel to India buy a large block of this stone, and accompany it back to Poland where the Baron would commission a sculptor to do the job.
“’This Jew, being a Chassid of the Holy Rebbe Yisroel of Ruzin, first traveled to his Rebbe to ask if he should accept the offer. The Rebbe not only agreed, he warmly blessed him and encouraged the journey. So the Jew bought tickets and boarded ship, certain of success.
“’A month later he arrived in India, bought the stone, had it loaded on another ship and began his return voyage to Poland.
“’Then one night in the middle of the journey, he was asleep in his cabin when a noise awakened him. He tried to get out of bed, but his room was tilting so that his bunk was pointing upward. He managed to pull himself out of bed, force the cabin door open and climb up the slanting stairs to the deck. There was no doubt, the ship was sinking!
“’He didn’t see anyone on board, nor did he see any lifeboats. He reasoned that everyone must have abandoned ship. So he grabbed a lifesaver and jumped overboard into the black, warm, ominous sea. After a few minutes he saw a rowboat adrift with no one in it and he pulled himself up over its side. He yelled out a few times, and when he didn't hear anyone he curled up on its floor and went to sleep.
“’After a day or two he spotted an island in the distance. He rowed there and got out of the boat. He was saved! What happened to the other passengers he would never know.
“’He spent three years on that island. Luckily for him he grabbed his Tefillin and a small book of Psalms before leaving his cabin so he had something to do. Then one day he saw a ship in the distance. He signaled it, and in a few hours they sent a dinghy to take him from the island.
“’A month later he was back in Poland, but he was in for a strange surprise. He went to the Baron’s castle to tell him what had happened, but the Baron was nowhere to be found! His Castle had been sold, and then resold, and no one had any idea where he was.
“’There was no money, no marble, no statue, no Baron, no trace of anything. As though it was all a figment of his imagination!
“’So he went again to his Rebbe to ask for an explanation;
"’There were sparks of holiness on that island that you had to raise up" Said the Rebbe. No Jew had ever made a blessing or done a commandment on that island, and your three years there raised and purified all the sparks"
"I never heard such an explanation before," said Rab Nehemiah; "but I felt that this was what I was looking for, and I asked the Chassidim for an explanation.
“They told me to first sit down with them, take a small glass of vodka and make a ‘L’Chiam’.
"Then they took out a thick book called "Lekuti Torah" filled with wondrous essays from a Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Laidi, opened it (to this week’s section, Maasai) and began to explain:
“’The reason that the Jews had to suffer 210 years in Egypt and make 42 journeys in the desert was in order to raise the "sparks" or "ni/tzu/tzim" hidden there.
“’This process is called "Bee/rur" (clarify) and was begun by the first Jew, Avraham, five hundred years earlier.
“’Something like a jigsaw puzzle; each piece on its own is just a meaningless "piece", but when put in its proper place it "elevates" to become part of a "big ‘clear’ picture". That’s called clarifying.
‘Similarly, everything in the world; the money we earn, the clothes we wear, even the food we eat and the very air we breathe, seem to be meaningless separate entities: like the mixed pieces of the puzzle.
‘But when they are used according to Torah and their "sparks" (or real purpose) are "clarified", the truth is revealed; each is really a facet of the Oneness of G-d; suddenly each seemingly unrelated detail of life becomes part of an infinitely meaningful and clear "Big" picture.
‘That is why there are different types of Jews (Tribes), they are spread out throughout the world (Journeys), and it has taken so long (2000 years of exile).
"I had the explanation I was looking for", concluded Rav Nehemiah, "I was in Siberia raising "sparks"! I didn’t really understand it, but I decided to remain with the Chassidim and learn more."
And that is how Rav Nechemia became a Chabad Chassid.
But this is also the explanation we are looking for.
All the creation is in three categories that it is our job to ‘clarify’ and ‘elevate’:
[O’lom, Sh’ana, N’efesh hinted it the sentence "Har Sinai "OshN" –Shmot 19:18]
This week’s Torah Section, hints at all three; "Journeys" – because the sparks are spread throughout the world. Tribes"- everyone has a different soul and a different job raising the sparks: "Time" - the three weeks commemorating the destruction of the Temple, mark the beginning of our long 2,000 exile. And it is telling us, like the story of Rav Nechemia we just read that ALL the sparks in these three areas will be clarified.
This, however will be accomplished in a REVEALED WAY only by Moshiach (Jewish Messiah see last chapter of Rambam’s ‘Laws of Kings”)
Only he will make sense from all the horrors, confusion and frustrating disappointments of our 2,000-year exile.
And the Lubavitcher Rebbe assured us many times that "The Moshiach is already here, all we have to do is really want him. Just one more good deed, word or even thought can be the one that tilts the scales of ‘clarification’ and we will open our eyes to see"
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