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        RABBI WAGENSBERG ON PARSHAS MATOS – MASEI

         26 Tammuz, 5780; July 18, 2020

     “Life is but a Corridor”


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RABBI WAGENSBERG ON PARSHAS MATOS – MASEI
                                       
“Life is but a Corridor”

The Gemara (Megillah, chap. 4, “B’nei Ha-ir”, pg. 31b, Rebbi Shimon ben Elazar) tells us that Ezra the Scribe arranged that the weekly Torah portions should be read at specific times on the Jewish calendar because of the relationship between those Torah portions to those specific dates.

Since the portions of Matos-Masei are always read during the Bein Hametzarim (dire straits, Eicha, 1:3; the three weeks in which we increase our mourning over the destruction of our Temples and subsequent exile), there must be a correlation between these parshiyos and this time of year.

The Koznitzer Maggid (Rabbi Yisrael Hopstien, 1737-1814, Poland) offers the following explanation in his Avodas Yisrael (Parshas Masei). He says that the journeys of the Jewish people in the midbar (wilderness) are mentioned in Parshas Masei, and Rashi (Parshas Masei, 33:1) points out that there were specifically 42 Masaos (journeys).

He also points out that the Three Weeks known as Bein Hametzarim consists of 21 days (see Rashi Yirmiya, 1:12, citing Medrash Aggadah). Each day of these 21 days can be divided into two parts: 1) the daylight hours and 2) the nighttime hours. Therefore, there is a sum total of 42 chunks of time during the Bein Hametzarim.

The 42 journeys or stations of the Jews in the midbar correspond to these 42 chunks of time, teaching us that these 42 chunks of time are a journey, similar to the journeys of the Jews in the midbar.

Although Bein Hametzarim is a time of increased mourning over Jewish tragedies throughout the ages, we must strengthen ourselves to serve Hashem in Torah study and mitzva performance with simcha (happiness and joy). When we do, we fix these 42 chunks of time.

In order to understand additional connections between the 42 Masaos of the Jews in the midbar and the 42 chunks of time during the Bein Hametzarim, we must add some more information.

Rabbi Nasan Nata Shapira (1585-1633, Cracow, Poland) says in his Megaleh Amukos (Parshas Matos-Masei) that the 42 journeys of the Jewish people in the midbar were the root and precursor of the Jewish people’s journeys throughout their exiles until the coming of Moshiach.

This sounds like he is saying that there are 42 stages of galus that the Jewish people were going to have to endure throughout their various exiles.

The Megaleh Amukos posits that there is a remez (hint) about the journeys of the Jewish people during their exiles at the very beginning of Parshas Masei. Parshas Masei begins with the words, “Eileh Masei B’nei Yisrael” (these are the journeys of the Children of Israel; 33:1). The acronym of these four words are: aleph, mem, beis, and yud. These four letters also serve as the acronym for four other words which are, “Edom, Madai, Bavel, and Yavan” (Roman Exile, Median Exile, Babylonian Exile, and Greek Exile).

Moreover, the very cantillations surrounding these four opening words of Parshas Masei also allude to the four exiles. The names of the four musical notes surrounding these four opening words are, “Azla, Geiresh, Munach, and Revii.” These are not just names of musical notes but rather they are also words which convey the following message.

Azla = In Aramaic this is a word which means “go.” This refers to the Jewish people who have “gone.” Where did they go? The answer is…

Geiresh = This is a word which means “driven out.” This refers to the Jewish people who have ‘gone’ and who have been “driven out” from one country after the other. Why did this happen? The answer is…

Munach = This word means “placed.” Meaning, it is because the Jews have been placed. Where have they been placed? The answer is…

Revii = This word means “four.” Meaning, the Jewish people have been “placed” in the “four” exiles. Which four exiles? The answer is…

In the four exiles which are hinted to in the acronym of “Eileh Masei B’nei Yisrael” = aleph, mem, beis yud = which stand for = Edom, Madai, Bavel, Yavan.

All of these hints point in the direction that the 42 journeys of the Jewish people in the midbar were the root and the foretelling of the journeys of the Jewish people throughout their exiles.

The Sfas Emes (Rabbi Yehuda Arye Leib Alter, 2 nd Gerrer Rebbe, Poland, 1847-1905; Parshiyos Bamidbar, Pinchas, and Beha’alosecha) adds that the 42 stations of the Jews in the desert were meant to prepare the Jewish people for the 42 stages that they would have to go through during their exiles.

This means that the tests that we faced during our journeys in the midbar would reappear to test us during our galuyos. Not only that but if the 42 Masaos in the midbar affected the Jews throughout their 42 stages during their galuyos on the macro level, then the 42 stations of the Jews in the midbar would also affect the Jews during the 42 chunks of time during the Bein Hametzrim on the micro level.

This teaches us that during Bein Hametzarim we must strengthen ourselves in the positive things that we did during the 42 stations in the midbar, and during the Bein Hametzarim we must also fix the mistakes we made during the 42 stations in the midbar.

If we do this tikkun (repairing), then, just as we entered into Eretz Yisrael right after the 42 stations of the midbar, we will also enter into Eretz Yisrael right after the 42 chunks of time of the Bein Hametzarim (Shvilei Pinchas).

There is another set of 42 which deserves mentioning. That is, the 42 Arei Miklat (Levite Cities of Refuge into which an accidental murderer would flee to protect him from a relative of the deceased who would try avenge the deceased by killing the accidental murderer; see Parshas Mishpatim, 21:13) which are mentioned in Parshas Masei as well (35:6). These 42 cities are also connected to the 42 stations and to the 42 chunks of time. In order to appreciate this connection, let us share the following teaching.

The Arei Miklat were actually divided into two categories:

1) Six Arei Miklat that Moshe began to establish in the Trans-Jordan (Parshas Vaeschanan, 4:41). These 6 Arei Miklat protected an accidental murderer whether or not he had knowledge that they were Cities of Refuge (Makkos, chap. 2, “Eilu Hein Hagolin”, pg. 10a, Abaye).

2) 42 Arei Miklat that Yehoshua and the Jewish people established later on (Sefer Yehoshua, 20:1-9). These 42 Arei Miklat only protected an accidental murderer who had knowledge that they were indeed Cities of Refuge (Makkos, ibid).

It turns out that there were 48 Arei Miklat in all.

The Apter Rebbe (Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heshel of Apt, Poland, 1748-1825; Parshas Masei, 35:6) argues that the Arei Miklat must also have an application today because Torah is eternal. As such, there must be an eternal application of them. That application can be understood as follows.

In Biblical times the Arei Miklat absorbed an accidental murderer. Today, one who sins accidentally is also guilty of killing a piece of himself because one’s soul gets damaged from even accidental sins. Therefore, just as in days of old an accidental murderer would run away to the Arei Miklat to fix his soul, similarly today, an accidental sinner must run away to a modern-day City of Refuge. What are our modern-day Arei Miklat?

The answer is that the six words of the pasuk, “Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad” (Parshas Vaeschanan, 6:4) correspond to the six Arei Miklat, whereas the 42 words of the paragraph “V’ahavta Es Hashem Elokecha” (Parshas Vaeschanan, 6:5-10) correspond to the 42 Arei Miklat. 

Therefore, one who sins today accidentally must run to recite Shema and V’ahavta. When reciting Shema, one must keep in mind that he accepts upon himself the yoke of Heaven and be willing to give up his life and die Al Kiddush Hashem. If he does, then the recitation of the 6 words of Shema atones for him like the 6 Cities of Refuge did.

When reciting V’ahavta, one must keep in mind that he loves Hashem and His Torah. If he does, then the recitation of the 42 words of V’ahavta atones for him like the 42 Cities of Refuge used to.

It turns out that the recitation of Shema and V’ahavta serve as a form of teshuva which atones. When one does teshuva from fear, it turns an intentional sin into an accidental one. However, if one does teshuva from love, it turns an intentional sin into a merit. If teshuva from love can turn an intentional sin into a merit, then teshuva from love can certainly turn an accidental sin into a merit (Yoma, chap. 8, “Yom Hakkipurim”, pg. 86b, Reish Lakish).

Therefore, when one recites the 6 words of Shema and keeps in mind that he is willing to die Al Kiddush Hashem, it is like a teshuva from a place of fear which can turn an intentional sin into an accidental sin.

Then, when he recites the 42-word V’ahavta paragraph and keeps in mind that he loves Hashem and His Torah, it is like teshuva from a place of love which can transform that accidental sin into a merit.

It turns out that the 6 words of Shema and the 42 words of V’ahavta atone like the 6 Arei Miklat and like the 42 Arei Miklat. Just as an accidental murderer would receive atonement from the 6 and 42 Cities of Refuge, so does an accidental sinner receive atonement from the 6 and 42 words of Shema and V’ahavta.

At this point, let us get back to the journeys of the Jewish people in the midbar because we have already mentioned four sets of 42. They are:

1)      The 42 journeys of the Jewish people in the desert.
2)      The 42 Arei Miklat of the Leviim.
3)      The 42 words in the V’ahavta paragraph.
4)      The 42 chunks of time during the Bein Hametzarim.

The question is, “What is the connection between these four sets of 42?”

Moreover, in so far as Avodas Hashem is concerned, what is the meaning behind this distinction between the 6 Arei Miklat and the 42 Arei Miklat that the 6 protect even if the accidental murderer does not know that they are Cities of Refuge, whereas the 42 Arei Miklat protect only if the accidental murderer knows that they are Cities of Refuge?

It follows that the same distinction can be made with respect to the 6 words of Shema and the 42 words of V’ahavta, namely, that the 6 words of Shema atone even without the sinner’s knowledge, whereas the 42 words of V’ahavta atone for the sinner only if there was knowledge. The question is, “What does this mean?”

In order to begin addressing these issues, let us share a Rambam who talks about the importance of Sheivet Levi.

The Rambam (Hilchos Shmitta V’yovel, chap. 13, Hilchos 10-13) says that the Tribe of Levi did not receive a portion of land in Eretz Yisrael (Korach, 18:20). Sheivet Levi also did not receive the spoils of war together with the rest of the tribes (Parshas Shoftim, 18:1). This is because the Tribe of Levi were set aside to serve Hashem. Sheivet Levi were the teachers and poskim of the Jewish people (Parshas v’zos Habracha, 33:10). Therefore, they were set apart from the accepted norms of society. Therefore, the men from Sheivet Levi would not be drafted into the Jewish army because they were considered to be the soldiers of Hashem (Parshas V’zos Habracha, 33:11). The reason why Sheivet Levi does not receive a portion of land in Eretz Yisrael is because Hashem is their portion and inheritance (Parshas Korach, 18:20).

The Rambam continues to say that this does not only apply to people who were born into the Tribe of Levi. Rather, any person from any walk of life whose spirit motivates him to serve Hashem continually without distractions is considered to be kodesh kadashim (holy of holies). Hashem will be his portion and Hashem will see to it that he is provided for just as Hashem saw to it that the Tribe of Levi was provided for.

The underlying philosophy of Sheivet Levi will be understood with the following Mishna which will serve as our fundamental teaching.

The Mishna in Pirkei Avos (chap. 4, “Ben Zoma”, Mishna 16 or 21 depending on the numbering system) shares with us what Avodas Hashem is all about. Rebbi Ya’akov (ibid) says that we must realize that this world (Olam Hazeh) is merely a Prozdor (hallway) that leads to the Traklin (banquet-hall; palace) of Olam Haba. Therefore, we must prepare ourselves with as much Torah and Mitzvos as we can in this world so that we will be able to enter into the banquet-hall or palace of Olam Haba.

This means that a person should relate to this world in the same fashion as he relates to a Succa. Just as a Succa is his temporary abode for the seven days of Succos (Meseches Succa, chap. 1, “Succa”, pg. 2a, Rava), similarly, a person should live his seventy years of life (Tehillim, 90:10) with the thought that this world is temporary and that he is just passing through (Shvilei Pinchas).

Once a person realizes that this world is temporary, he will begin to live life differently. He will preoccupy himself with packing his spiritual suitcases with as much Torah and Mitzvos as he can for his eternal journey into Olam Haba.    

The Shvilei Pinchas says that in fact the root of all sin stems from not internalizing this truth. When a person forgets about the transience of this world, he begins to think of this world as the permanent one. As a result of this, he begins the pursuit of materialism for its own sake which could lead to some serious sins.

Perhaps we could suggest the following analogy that will help us clarify our situation. We must try to remember that this world is like an elevator. We hope to get off at the top floor. As such, would we get busy with vacuuming the elevator’s carpeting? Would we start windexing the elevator’s mirror? No, because we realize that we are getting off in just a few moments. Rather, we would spend that elevator time preparing for the banquet-hall in which we will be feasting when we get off at the top floor.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that this outlook will explain the secret behind galus. When the Jewish people began to immerse themselves in the materialism of Eretz Yisrael as is expressed by the verse, “And Yeshurun became fat and kicked” (rebelled; Parshas Ha’azinu, 32:15), they began to think of Olam Hazeh in terms of permanence. Therefore, Hashem basically said, “You leave Me with no other choice.” Hashem sent them into galus which was a rude awakening about the transience of this world. With exile, Hashem basically said to us, “Do you see how fragile, delicate, and fleeting this world is? In just one moment your entire life’s work can be taken away from you.”

The message was clear. We were being told that we must relate to this world in a way which is consonant with what this world actually is. We must realize that this world is short, brief, and passing. Once we firmly plant this truth into our minds, hearts, and souls, we will live life more responsibly by being involved in as much Torah, Mitzvos, Tefilla, and Chesed as possible, because this is what we will be taking with us for the eternal journey in Olam Haba.

Originally, Hashem brought us into Eretz Yisrael in order to tap into its kedusha so that we would realize that this world is simply a bridge which is meant to bring us to our permanent destination.

We can see this from the text of the Al Hamichya blessing which is recited after consuming certain types of foods and beverages. One sentence in the text of the Al Hamichya reads, “V’le’ehchol Mipirya V’lisboah Mituva” (to eat of its fruit and to be satiated with its goodness).

The Tur (Rabbenu Ya’akov ben Rabbenu Asher, 1269 Germany – 1343 Toledo Spain; Orach Chaim, chap. 208, subchapter 9) cites the Sefer Hamitzvos who says that we should omit those words because we should not desire Eretz Yisrael for its fruit, but rather in order to fulfil the Mitzvos which are dependent on the Land of Israel.

However, Rabbi Yoel Sirkis (1561-1640, Lublin Poland) responds to this in his commentary on the Tur called the Bach (Bayis Chadash, ibid) by pointing out that Eretz Yisrael below receives its kedusha from the Eretz Yisrael Above and nurses its kedusha from the Shechina (Divine Presence) which dwells in Eetz Yisrael. Therefore, we should say the words, “V’le’ehchol Mipirya V’lisboah Mituva” because with its recitation we are being reminded that when we consume the fruits of Eretz Yisrael, we are not just feeding our bodies but we are also feeding our souls with this kedusha.  

But, the Shvilei Pinchas points out, that not everybody in Eretz Yisrael eats of its fruits with these lofty thoughts. Some people get caught up in that physicality of Eretz Yisrael. Therefore, Hashem commanded us to give Terumos and Ma’asros from the fruits and grains of Eretz Yisrael. This is because Terumos and Ma’asros are given to the Kohanim and Leviim. When we give these donations to Sheivet Levi (Kohanim are also from Sheivet Levi) we are supposed to be reminded about the hashkafa (outlook) of Sheivet Levi, which is that Olam Hazeh is transient. We see this hashkafa from the fact that the Leviim do not have a portion of land in Eretz Yisrael because they chose God to be their portion. This means that Sheivet Levi live with the concept of the transience of this world to such a degree that they don’t even have a share of property in this world.

When we give Terumos and Ma’asros to the Leviim and think of how they choose to lead their lives, we are supposed to be reminded about the fleeting nature of this world. When we are reminded of this fact, we can at least eat our fruits and grains for the right reasons, namely to connect with the kedusha of the Land and not just for materialistic reasons. When we eat of the fruits of Eretz Yisrael for the purpose of nursing its kedusha, we are involved in an activity which prepares us in this Prozdor for our ultimate destination in the Traklin.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that now we can begin to understand the connection between the 42 journeys of the Jews in the midbar and the 42 Arei Miklat of the Leviim. The Megaleh Amukos above said that the 42 journeys of the Jews in the midbar served as the root of the 42 stages of galus that the Jewish people would have to endure throughout their exiles. As such, the 42 journeys of the Jews in the midbar represents galus. After all, the Jews were wandering from place to place in the desert as if they were in exile. Therefore, those 42 journeys represent the transience of this world because, as we mentioned earlier, the whole point of galus was to teach us that this world is not the permanent one.

This message of transience is precisely the message of the 42 Arei Miklat of the Leviim. The Levites were never given any land in Eretz Yisrael by Hashem, let alone those 42 cities of Arei Miklat. But since Sheivet Levi practically needed a place to sleep at night, the other tribes donated those 42 cities to them. The 42 cities were gifts. It was as though Sheivet Levi lived on other people’s property.

This was all because of the fact that Sheivet Levi understood the temporality of this world and chose God to be their portion. Levi realized that this world is but a corridor to the palace above. Therefore, Sheivet Levi did not want a portion of land which could mislead them into thinking that Olam Hazeh is the place of permanence. Therefore, the 42 Arei Miklat of the Leviim share a commonality with the 42 journeys of the Jews in the midbar. Both represent the fleeting nature of Olam Hazeh.

This explains why accidental murderers were sent to those Arei Miklat. It is because Hashem wanted them to learn “hands-on” from Sheivet Levi. Hashem wanted them to see the Leviim up close to learn from their behavior about the briefness of this world. When they absorb this teaching, they will be motivated to do teshuva for their sins and thus receive atonement.

This also ties into the 42 words in the V’ahavta paragraph. The 42 words of V’ahavta teach us about loving God with all of our hearts. One who indeed loves God with all of his heart will certainly live life by the hashkafa that this world is for Hashem, not for himself. Such a person will realize that Olam Hazeh is transient. He will constantly serve Hashem when he sits at home, goes on the way, when he lies down to go to sleep, and when he rises in the morning (Parshas Vaeschanan, 6:7). Such an individual will try to fill his life with as much Torah and Mitzvos as possible because he understands that he must pack his spiritual bags for the eternal journey in Olam Haba (Shvilei Pinchas).

This also ties into the 42 chunks of time during the Bein Hametzarim. It is during the Three Weeks that we increase our mourning over destruction and subsequent exile. By the very fact that we focus on galus at this time of year more than we do throughout the rest of the year shows us that we are concentrating on the temporality of this world more now than at other times. As such, we should be motivated to spend as much time as we can in Torah and Mitzvos to prepare for what’s coming (Shvilei Pinchas).

Before we conclude, we just have to explain the difference, Al Pi Avodas Hashem, between the 6 cities of the Arei Miklat which is connected to the 6 words of Shema Yisrael, and the 42 cities of Arei Miklat which are connected to the 42 words of the V’ahavta.

The 6 cities absorb and protect a person who realizes that they are Arei Miklat, and the 6 cities even protect a person who does not know that they are Cities of Refuge. What does it mean that the person does not know that they are Cities of Refuge? The answer is that even if he is clueless about the message of Arei Miklat that this world is transient, he will still be protected in them because the Shema (which is connected to the 6 cities) carries within it the idea of Mesirus Nefesh (the willingness to give up one’s life to die Al Kiddush Hashem). That willingness itself demonstrates a hashkafa about the transience of this world because he is willing to give up this world for the afterlife. So, a “Shema person” will be protected by the 6 (cities/words) no matter what.

However, the 42 only absorb and protect a person who knows that they are Cities of Refuge. What does it mean that he knows that they are Arei Miklat? The answer is that he understands the message behind Arei Miklat which teaches us about the transience of Olam Hazeh. If the person shares the same hashkafa as Sheivet Levi and recognizes the temporality of this world, then those 42 cities will protect him. This is because those 42 cities correspond to the 42 words of V’ahavta which teaches us to love Hashem. If a person truly loves Hashem (V’ahavta), he will live his life for Hashem, and not for himself. For such a person, the paragraph of V’ahavta (which is connected to the 42 Arei Miklat) will protect him. But if he does not have this recognition, then the 42 cities and V’ahavta will not protect him. Such a person must fall back on the 6 words of Shema.

A practical application of this teaching would be the following. When we recite the Shema, let us remember that its 6 words correspond to the 6 Levite Cities of Refuge which itself represents that the Levites gave up this temporary world for Hashem. Let this motivate us to try to live life a little bit more according to this hashkafa.

Additionally, when we recite the V’ahavta paragraph, let us remember that its 42 words correspond to the 42 Arei Miklat of the Leviim. Let us be reminded about how Sheivet Levi gave up everything in this world to be reminded of its transience in order to connect with Hashem. Let this also motivate us to further live life accordingly.

Also, when we recite the Al Hamichya blessing and say the words, “Le’echol Mipirya V’lisboah Mituva,” let us pause for a moment and think about how we must give Terumos and Ma’asros to the Leviim from the fruits and grains of Eretz Yisrael. Let this thought remind us about how Sheivet Levi lead their lives, and let that thought trigger another thought about eating the holy fruits of Eretz Yisrael, not just to satisfy our bodies, but also in order to connect with its kedusha so that we live a life of holiness which is defined as a life dedicated to the service of Hashem so that we can become eternally close to Him in the banquet-hall of Olam Haba.

So, may we all be blessed 48 times over with the understanding of the Leviim that this world is only temporary, and thus let us live life to the fullest by filling it with as much meaningful and eternal activities as we can, in order that God rescue us during this Bein Hametzarim from the prozdor of our galus, and take us into His traklin which is the Succas Beis Hamikdash in the Messianic Era, speedily in our days.


     Good Shabbos, warmest wishes, Aba Wagensberg


VEDIO

PARSHAS MATOS - MASEI

"A Sparkling Personality"



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Parshas Chukas - June 27 - open

Parshas Balak - July 4 - open

Parshas Pinchas - July 11 - Sponsored by Dr. Mark Nusbaum

Parshas Matos - Masei - July 18 -  Sponsored by Lawton and Robin Cooper, also sponsored by Michoel and Chana Simpson

Parshas Devarim - Shabbos Chazon - Tisha B'Av July 25 - open

Parshas Va-eschanan - Shabbos Nachamu - August 1 - open

Parshas Eikev - August 8 -  Sponsored by Lawton and Robin Cooper

Parshas Re'eh - August 15 - open

Parshas Shoftim - August 22-  Sponsored by Meir and Shandee Fuchs

Parshas Ki-Seitzei - August - 29 - open

Parshas Ki-Savo - September 5 - open

Parshas Nitzavim/Vayeilech - September 12 - open

Rosh Hashana - September 19 - open

Parshas Ha'Azinu - Yom Kippur - September 26 - open

Succos - October 3 - open

Shmini Atzeres - Simchas Torah - Parshas V'Zos Habracha - October 10 - open