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Parashat Matos/Masei

The Springs and the Palm Trees

In this week's parashah, the 42 journeys of Benei Yisrael in the desert are counted. This corresponds to the number of letters in Hashem's holy name which we see in the abbreviations in the Tefilah "ana b'koach."

It says in the Gemara Kiddushin (Daf 71), "we don't teach the 42 letter name of Hashem to anyone who is not modest, humble, and middle-aged. Neither do we teach it to someone who gets easily angered, gets drunk, or inflexible. And anyone who knows the name but guards it in purity, is loved by Hashem and is loved by man, is feared by man, and inherits two worlds, this one and the next." We see how the secrets of the Torah are hidden in the Parasha! Even the names of the places where Benei Yisrael camped in their journeys reveal lofty spiritual secrets. The author of the "Yesod Ha'avodah" zs"l has written an entire work, based on the kabbalah, to explain the meaning of each encampment! Every word in the Torah has been written to learn from!

Now we will explain why the Torah only gives a list of the places where Benei Yisrael encamped as opposed to explaining what happened at each place. Given that only the encampments were listed, however, we must explain the following lengthy discussion in one of the verses: "and they traveled from Mara and came to Elim, and in Elim there were 12 springs of water and 70 date palms and they camped there." This information is also related in Parashat Beshalah, and our sages there wondered what significance there is in this story of the wells and the date trees.

Furthermore, what possible benefit could 70 trees give to 6 million people?

There is a Mechilta which explains the significance of this story - the springs represent the 12 tribes of Israel and the trees represent the 70 elders of Israel. What is the point of this mechilta, though? Is it simply coming to teach us that Israel has 12 tribes and 70 elders!? That is self evident! Rather, it must be teaching us something more.

In truth, there is a great lesson to be learned. When the twelve tribes left Egypt, they left as distinct units. Every tribe had its own place and its own flag. The Ari HaKadosh tells us that each tribe even had its own window in the sky for its prayers to pass through.

The potential surely existed for each tribe to separate from the others and declare itself a distinct and separate unit - this would cause the Torah, heaven forbid, to become 12 different Torot, and the nation to be split into 12 different nations! By the same token, the seventy elders were all men of stature and great wisdom, each with his own students and school. Each one also had his own distinct style of learning. The potential surely existed for each elder to declare that only he possessed the truth and the true interpretations of the Torah. This could have, heaven forbid, turn the Torah into seventy Torot. However, all of this did not happen, and it is symbolized by the wells and the palm trees.

There was significance of Benei Yisrael arriving at Elim. In Hebrew, the letters of this place stand for "Our father Jacob has not died."

One should know that to all of the tribes their was one father! His sprit was in all of them and served to connect them as a nation. All of the tribes declared to Jacob at the end of his life: "Hear, Israel, the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is one" It is true that each tribe is its own well, but it can not separate from the other wells. In Elim, all 12 springs were in the same place to show that the entire nation could partake of them! The date trees also were a symbol of unity. The roots of a date tree, our rabbis tell us, do not spread out, they are unified.

This symbolizes the unanimity of our sages when it comes to issues of Torah - even though there is the potential for disparity.

The lesson that we learn form here is extremely important for this time of year, during the time we mourn for the destruction of the temple which was destroyed because of senseless hatred between fellow Jews. The Netziv explains that part of the problem was that each group separated themselves from the next and thought that only they were right and everyone else was wrong. We must remember that the Mashiah will come to redeem the WHOLE nation - not just parts of it!!

Please, Our Master, Have Mercy On Us

We find ourselves once again in the time of "Bein Hameitzarim," the period between Shiv'ah Asar Be'Tamuz and Tisha Be'av. Another year has gone by in the bitter galut (exile). It is a galut which we do not even have the tools to understand. Nearly two thirds of all Jews living in exile have lost all touch with the Jewish people and the Jewish religion, and even the remaining third are still far from perfect observance of the Torah. Thank G-d that we are part of the small minority who attend synagogue steadfastly.

It is told that on this Shabbat, the shabbat in which we make the blessing of the new month of Av, there was a gathering in the city of Tzina in which the people's hearts were broken with words of Torah and Midrashim. The young students would sit on the ground in the middle of the synagogue and the Darshan would turn to them and say "Holy children, why are you quiet??!! Call out to you merciful Father in Heaven, maybe He will hear, open up your mouths, maybe He will listen!" Then the children opened up their mouths in crying and sighing, and with a bitter voice said, "Our Master, have mercy on us!"

This caused the walls of the synagogue to shake. If we, today, do not have the power to scream, let us at least whisper..."Our master, look at our travails, fight our wars, and speedily redeem us for Your name's sake."

The Wonders of the Creator: The Liver

When we consider the largest organ of our body, the liver, we realize the deep, infinite, Godly wisdom that is intrinsic to this organ which is so varied in function. Just like every kitchen has a refrigerator, whose purpose is to preserve the freshness of food until it needed, so too, is the liver's function. One of the most interesting functions of the liver is that it stores important biological materials, such as glycogen, which has the uniqueness of being able to be converted into sugar at the body's demand. The liver also stores fats, absorbed from the intestines. Some of these fats are converted into fatty acids that are gathered in the vascular system.

These fatty acids collect in the liver until the moment that the body needs them. In addition, the livers produces certain vitamins and clotting factors, without which the body would not be able to function. These vitamins are absorbed from the food that was given to us by the Creator of the Universe, and are stored in the liver and later transferred to the blood when needed. Another vital product collected in the liver, is iron. For as we know, anemic people are advised to eat liver due to its iron richness. Man must learn a lesson from this, and sustain in his nefesh (soul) collections of wisdom and ethical values in order that he may protect his soul from the flood of evil waters.

The Golden Column: Rabbi Yis'hak Luria zs"l

The fifth of Av marks 425 years since the pasing of the Ari Hakadosh, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria. The great gift that the Ari gave us was to convey the secrets of Kabbalah and to give us a taste of the depth and the light of the Zohar and the midrashim.

Once, on a Friday, the Ari went out to an apple orchard with his best students to greet the Shabbat outside of Tzefat. He asked his students, "would you like to quickly go to Jerusalem and greet the Shabbat there? The students were joyous about the idea, but asked, "what would be with our families? What would they think when we would not return to say the Kiddush?

Wouldn't they be worried?" They told the Ari that they would just go tell their families and then come back. At that point, the Ari raised his hands to heaven and cried," If we would have gone right away to Jerusalem in joy without hesitation, we would have merited the redemption! Now we have lost our chance. Who knows how much longer and how much more pain will come before it is possible for the redemption to come again."

There is a tremendous lesson to be learned from this story. We all pray for the redemption, but if the Mashiah came today and said "here I am" would we be ready to accept him? We would probably have something else to do, to finish something or take care of something first. This is not the proper path. We must be ready to abandon everything and go up to the mountain of Hashem!

From the Wellsprings of the Parashah

"These are the journeys of Israel"

The Rambam, zs"l writes (in Moreh Nevuchim), that the Torah points out in detail all the travels of Israel in the desert so that it would not be thought that even though Benei Yisrael came out of Misraim and conquered Eres Cena'an, and they arrived in Israel via an easy and close route from Misraim. On the contrary, the Torah lists all the different travels in the dessert, "in a land not harvested, without water and food," to teach that in such an environment three million people traveled for forty years, sustained only by open miracles - by the falling of "man" from the sky, the flowing of water from the rock, that served to provide drink for the multitude of people for decades!

"That came out of Misraim in multitude"

The Hida, z"sl writes "Asher" in gematria is equal to "Dezach, Adash, Beachav," the abbreviation for the 10 plagues. One can ask, how did the Jews leave after 210 years, wasn't there a decree that they should be there for 400 years? the answer to this is the word "multitiude." They came out of Egypt in great numbers, and this compensated for the lack of time spent there so they were able to leave early.

"And Moshe wrote their goings out"

In the beginning of the verse it states that Moshe wrote "their goings out according to their journeys" and later in the verse it is reversed - "their journeys according to their going out." What is the reason for the switch in the order? It has been explained that the 42 journeys of Benei Yisrael correlate to the 42 letters in Hashem's name. This is what it means by saying, "And Moshe wrote their going out to their journeys according to the word of Hashem" - i.e., the source of all of their journeys (the directions for their journeys) was from Hashem. Not only this, but Hashem was also the destination of their journeys they traveled towards the source of everything - Hashem!

The Wellsprings of Education

"There is no wiser man than he who has passed a test of life"

For how many years has the mandatory education system been established in the Western World? Barely 100 years! Unlike Israel, whose educational system has been running for over 1000 years. Therefore, when dignified educators invite investigators like these to decide on different methods of teaching, we smile. Because in a system 1000 years old, all the methods have been tested! We've already found all the ways and learned our lessons. And the Torah system of education has proven itself over the generations. We see the fruits of the secular system of education, and what problems are created by it. As opposed to the Torah way of education, which has no discipline problems, no drugs... It instills honor and respect to our tradition and inheritance, and respect to parents and teachers. Whoever wants a glorified son, a modest and educated daughter, should send their children for a Torah education. The pride is promised for this world and the world to come. But there are those who say: "these things are true for elementary education, but afterward, why learn in yeshiva? Let a person go out into the real world, and learn from shiurim." The answer to this is in Parashat Hashavuah.

In the parasha there are 42 travel stops mentioned in the desert, "And they traveled from Refidim and camped in Midbar Sinai, and they traveled from Midbar Sinai to the Graves of Desire." Not one word on the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai! There is a simple answer to this: in "they traveled and camped", there is no "giving of Torah". man cannot acquire an understanding and taste of the Holy Torah when he is weighed down and busy, running to bring home money. One needs years of calm study in order to acquire the fundamentals of Torah and to acquire expertise in Gemara and halacha to be a Ben Torah. Afterwards, one can go out into the business world and will remain pure. This is the way that has been tested successfully for 1000's of years by our fathers and forefathers. This is the path that we will pass on to our children for their happiness and ours.

Asking and Expounding
Based on the ruling of Hacham Ovadia Yossef Shlit"a

The Laws of the Week of Tishah Be'av
1) It is forbidden by the Rabbis to take a haircut or shave during the week that Tisha Be'av falls in.
2) It is also forbidden to wash one's clothes during this week. This prohibition even includes towels. It is also forbidden to wash children's clothes during this time, although we are more lenient when it comes to baby's clothing, but it is best to do this in private, and small amounts at a time.
3) It is furthermore forbidden to even wear a freshly laundered garment during this time, even if it was washed before the week in which Tisha Be'av falls actually starts. If there is a need to wear such clothing (if one lives in a warm place and needs to change clothing often because of the sweat), one should make sure to wear the garment for an hour the week before.
4) The minhag of Sefaradim is to not wash all of one's body in warm water during the week which Tisha Be'av falls in, but with cool water it is permitted even with soap. The exception to this rule is someone who needs to wash in warm water for medical reasons. The same applies to a woman who has just given birth.
5) It is the minhag of Jerusalem not to eat meat fromIuntil the tenth day of Av (including the tenth day). This includes chicken and meat but not fish. One can even cook in a pot which had been used for meat that day. One may feed meat to young children who do not understand the meaning of the destruction of the temple.
6) The Rabbis have forbidden to eat two cooked dishes during the meal before the fast. One can not even eat one egg fried and one egg boiled, even though its the same food.
7) It is permitted, during the last meal, to eat a few different types of fruits or vegetables. Pickled vegetables are considered cooked. One who is stringent and does not eat salad during this meal is praiseworthy. Cheese is permitted (unless it has been cooked).
8) Some opinions say that tea and coffee are cooked foods and therefore should not be eaten in the last meal. It is good to be stringent.
9) It is customary to sit on the floor during the final meal, but one should not actually sit on the ground, but rather on a carpet or rug.
10) More than two people should not sit together during this meal, so they will not be obligated to make a zimun. If three people sit together accidentally, they should still NOT make a zimun.
11) Our Rabbis have said that Rabbi Yehuda Be'rebi Ilai had a custom to eat dry bread with salt and would sit in a dirty place in the house, drink a bit of water and imagine that a dead relative was in front of him. One should try to imitate such behavior and should try to eat as little as possible to sustain one's self through the fast.

Sing You Righteous...
by: Rabbi Avigdor Miller

More examples

Four phenomena are pointed out: "The dead body putrefies (RSHI: otherwise, his kin would keep it, and would forever see their bereavement), the dead one is forgotten from the mind (the marvelous power of the mind, which is able to forget), grain rots away (RSHI: else it would be hoarded and a famine would result), and coins are accepted (in exchange for merchandise)" (Pesachim 54b). The putrefaction of the human body is more offensive than that of any creature, and one of the reasons for this is as RSHI explains. In addition is the important reason of protecting the dignity of Man from the results of viewing the disintegrating remains. By this fearful sight, men might be unduly impressed by the idea of Man's transitoriness and would forget that the soul is imperishable; and therefore the insufferable odor forces them to inter the body while it is yet intact. Moreover, they noted the powerful impression created by death, when it seemed that the kin would never recover from the blow of the tragedy; but the Sages pointed out the Creator's providence that the survivors should be able to forget: "He heals the broken-hearted and binds up there wounds" (Tehillim 147:3). Thus they recognized that the seemingly negative phenomena (putrefaction: forgetfulness) are actually important positive provisions. The apparently harmful phenomenon of the rotting of the grain was recognized by the Sages as a great benison; for the rich would hoard their produce and refuse to sell it unless their price was given, and the poor would starve. But now the fear of imminent decay forces the hoarders to part with their grain at a fair price. In the phenomenon of coins the Sages discerned G-d's kindness that He caused men to be willing to exchange valuable things for useless pieces of metal which have no intrinsic worth. If not for the providential agreement among men to esteem gold and silver (despite their uselessness), men would be forced to pay a wagon-load of wheat for a coat; no commerce could be maintained ant there would be none of the relationships between men which are possible because of currency.

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