Why is this week's Torah portion called "Matot", meaning "tribes", a relatively uncommon term when compared to the more conventional word "shvatim"? "Matot" also means staffs of wood, which are hard and strong, and are separated from the tree, their source. On the other hand, the word "shevatim" refers to soft and supple branches which are still attached to the tree.

The Torah reminds us that we need boundaries….

The Tzemach Tzedek explains this with the fact that much of the portion speaks about oaths. A person could swear to refrain from something physical in order to set up extra boundaries between himself and the world. This was not done lightly, rather only when required in order to sanctify and separate the person even from things that are generally permissible. The Torah reminds us that we need boundaries. We live in a time when not just boundaries between countries are falling down, but also boundaries between people, and even the boundaries between good and bad. For this aspect of divine service, a special strength and adamant total focus is required. Parashat Matot allows us to draw on this special dimension in our relation to the world.

We must continuously be moving upward spiritually from one level to the next….

This week's second portion called "Masai", meaning "journeys"? The Lubavitcher Rebbe writes that every Jewish person must know that he or she is constantly required to be on a journey. We must continuously be moving upward spiritually from one level to the next, higher level. The name is in the plural, "journeys" to remind us that there is not just the soul but the body also, and that both must make the journey.

In fact, this is the challenge. The soul must convince the body that it is in the body's best interests to stay on the proper track. Sound impossible? It is told that Rebbe Shalom Dov Ber of Lubavitch was once asked to specify the Torah source for a certain practice he did. The Rebbe answered that at that moment he did not remember the source, but he was certain that there was a source because he had long educated his body to accomplish its needs only according to what is allowed in the code of Jewish law. It is not easy, but if we make the effort we will succeed.

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We arrive at the level where we join both advantages together….

This week is not only Shabbat Mevorchim, in which we bless the upcoming new Hebrew month (called "Av"), it is also Shabbat Chazak, on which we finish the 4th book of the Torah, Numbers. In a certain sense, we will celebrate finishing the entire Torah this week because the 5th book, Deuteronomy, is known as "Mishneh Torah", the reverberation of the Torah; this is because it is primarily a review of parts of the previous books (Megilla 32b). In synagogue on Shabbat morning, upon concluding Matot and Massai, we will together proclaim, "chazak chazak v'nitchazek!" - word "chazak", meaning "strength", three times, to remind ourselves that there is something more than the unbending strength of Matot, and the visionary power of Massai: we arrive at the level where we join both advantages together. This is the message of the entire Torah: to be resolute, in relation to the world, and yet to always continue the journey.

Shabbat Shalom!

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