Food For the Soul
The need for boundaries
Boundaries help us define ourselves, nurture our well-being and empower us to more accurately navigate our life’s journeys. Boundaries need regular maintenance, and there are times when we actively need to defend our boundaries against intrusion. This week, we read a double Torah portion: Matot and Massei. Matot has the double meaning of being a line or branch, as well as a tribe. Matot are those branches of wood that are cut off from the tree that have hardened. Similarly, matot also refer to the tribes who have developed into their own individual personalities. Matot begins with Moses speaking to the heads of the tribes. Massei, on the other hand, means journeys and recounts the journeys of the Jewish people from Egypt to the Promised Land.
Part of growing and maturing into your own independent self is finding your backbone, knowing your principles and parameters. We need to know where to draw our line, when to say a firm and unyielding, “No! This is not who I am or who I want to be.” We need to distinguish between what is helping us get closer to our “Promised Land,” and what is just serving as distractions or detours. The portions of Matot and Massei are always read during the Three Weeks, the time period from the 17th of Tammuz until the ninth of Av (Tisha B’Av), when we mourn the destruction of the Temple and the onset of our exile.
Exile is not only about being forced to leave our land. Exile is about being thrown into a world where values and morals are so spineless that they get swept with the wind, and change with every new whim or societal trend. This week’s double Torah portion reminds us that as we journey through our national exile—just as we search for direction along the path of our unique personal journey—we need to define resilient boundaries. When ethical and personal parameters keep blurring, it’s time for us to take out our metaphorical markers and draw definitive lines.
By Chana Weisberg
This Shabbat is Shabbat Mevarchim (“the Shabbat that blesses” the new month): a special prayer is recited blessing the Rosh Chodesh (“Head of the Month”) of the upcoming month Av (also called “Menachem Av”), which falls on Wednesday of next week. Prior to the blessing, we announce the precise time of the molad, the “birth” of the new moon. It is a Chabad custom to recite the entire book of Psalms before morning prayers, and to conduct farbrengens (chassidic gatherings) in the course of the Shabbat.
Mind Over Matter
Spiritual or ethical?
The question was once asked, “Which is more important –Torah precepts or ethical concepts?” The answer is: the one is included in the other. Torah observance must include ethical and moral behavior. Indeed, large sections of Jewish Law deal with fair practice, civil law, slander and libel, contracts, promises, and so much more. The Torah is our guidebook not just in “spiritual” and “G_dly” matters but in mundane, everyday matters. It is in our day-to-day material lives that we are specifically able to elevate our surroundings through adherence to the ethics of Sinai.
Adapted and condensed from an article by Rabbi Mordechai Wallenberg
A marriage of opposites
All the cosmos came to be because G‑d chose to invest His very essence into a great drama: the drama of a lowly world becoming the home of an infinite G‑d. A marriage of opposites, the fusion of finite and infinite, light and darkness, heaven and earth.
We are the players in that drama, the cosmic matchmakers. With our every action, we have the power to marry our mundane world to the Infinite and Unknowable.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Have I got a Story
See the potential!
I recently visited an apartment that was under construction. Tools were strewn about, nails were poking out from the floorboards, and doors were missing. It was a total mess. Despite the obvious rawness of the environment, I could not help but think about the potential this apartment had. In my mind’s eye, I placed the china closet against one wall, chose my favorite color to paint the dining-room walls and imagined how much more spacious it would look if one of the walls were moved over just a little bit.
I have seen mansions and castles, none of which fascinated me to this extent. I wondered what it was about this construction site that drew me so. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was the potential of its incompleteness that allowed me to use my creativity. The bareness was looking for a designer, and that designer could be me.
The three weeks between the 17th of Tammuz and the ninth of Av are a time when the Jewish people mourn the destruction of the Temple. The first nine days of the month of Av are an even more intense time, as we draw closer to the day when the devastating event took place. We abstain from listening to music, holding weddings and buying new clothes. We avoid things that will make us happy, so that we can truly absorb and integrate the loss of the Temple into our modern-day psyche. Interestingly, the Lubavitcher Rebbe also encouraged the learning of the laws of the service in the Temple during this period. While in exile, we pray instead of offering sacrifices. Wouldn’t it be more relevant to study laws that pertain to our present-day service?
The prophet Ezekiel felt similarly when G_d appeared to him during the Babylonian exile, following the destruction of the First Temple. G_d instructed him to tell the Jews about the building of the Second Temple. Ezekiel said to G_d: “Your children are in exile; they cannot build the Temple.” G_d responded: “Just because they are in exile, should the Temple not be built?”
Rabbi Akiva, a sage who lived during the time of the Second Temple, was able to see the destruction for what it really was, even while living in an intensely challenging time. He was once walking in Jerusalem with a group of fellow sages soon after the Temple was destroyed. They passed the Temple Mount and saw foxes roaming freely there. All the sages cried at the site of the desecration, but Rabbi Akiva laughed.
When confronted about his seemingly inappropriate reaction, he said: “Now that the prophecy of the destruction of the Temple has come true, surely the prophecies regarding the rebuilding of the Temple will come true, too.” He saw the destruction as an event in a sequence, allowing something even greater and more eternal to happen. He was able to celebrate destruction since he could envision a truer and even more beautiful reality. In his mind’s eye, the Temple was already being rebuilt.
Exile may seem to be our reality. We live in a construction site strewn with tools and nails. In this setting, however, there is both exile and redemption. In exile, we both mourn the destruction of the first two Temples and build the Third Temple. As we mourn the destruction, we acknowledge the beauty that has been lost –yet here we stand, on the threshold of a new reality. Let us celebrate destruction so that we can embrace our ability to build a greater future.
Condensed from an article by Chaya Strasberg