The stick, it can be said, is one who has paid the price of leaving home. Indeed, one would hardly recognize it as the tender green shoot who departed the mother-tree: its supple spine stiffened into a column of inflexibility, its porous skin woodened into a core-deep hardness. The springy bough has become, well, a stick.

The stick, it can also be said, is one who has reaped the rewards of leaving home. The tender shoot gained backbone and stature. It has learned to stand its ground---no longer is it swayed by every passing wind and breeze. Its spell out in the cold has toughened it, made it a force to be reckoned with. The malleable sprig has solidified into the formidable staff.

The Torah has two names for the tribes of Israel: shevatim and mattot. A shevet is a branch or switch; matteh means stick and staff.

Both names express that the tribes of Israel are limbs of the tree of life, offshoots of the supreme source of all life and being. But each represents a different state in the Jews relationship to his roots. The shevet bespeaks a state of manifest connection to ones source: the branch is still fastened to the tree, or at least still has its life-juices coursing through its veins. The shevet is the Jew in a state of visible connection to his G‑d, sustained by an open divine involvement in his life.

The matteh is a shevet who has been uprooted from its tree. The matteh is the Jew in galut, a child banished from his fathers table to wander the cold and alien trails of exile. Deprived of its supernal moorings, the matteh is compelled to develop its own resistance to the storms of life; to look to its own frail heart for the strength to hold its own, far from the ancestral forest.

Every stick yearns to return to its tree, yearns for the day that it will once again be a fresh, vital branch, united with its siblings and nourished by its progenitor. When that day comes, it will bring with it its hard-earned solidity, the matteh-maturity it gained sticking it out in the lone and rootless environment of galut.

Based on the talks of the Lubavitcher Rebbe (Likkutei Sichot, vol. XVII pp. 382-384); adapted by Yanki Tauber