Enjoy four short thoughts and a video adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe on Parshat Matot-Massei.

The Journey of Life

The journeys of the Israelites from Egypt serve as a warning against the two kinds of error into which a Jew can fall.

One is to believe that one has arrived. He may think: Having reached so far in my Judaism, I can rest content. But the truth is that the Jew was not created to stand still. There is always a new journey before him.

The other is to despair. He may feel: I know so little, I am capable of so little, that my religious efforts are in vain. But in truth, even a single journey is a liberation from some personal Egypt. And the direction in which one is traveling matters more than how far one is along the way.
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Cities of Refuge

On the spiritual plane, there exist six “cities of refuge” for the spiritual “murderer.” Life, in the true and ultimate sense, is connection with the Divine source of being and vitality; an act of transgression against the Divine will is a subtle form of “murder,” as it hinders the flow of vitality from G‑d to creation. The words of the Torah, say our sages, are the “cities of refuge” for the destroyer of spiritual life: if he flees into the Torah and immerses himself in it, the Torah will protect him from the adverse results of his deed.

There are six mitzvot—to believe in G‑d, to avow His oneness, to renounce idolatry, to love G‑d, to fear Him, and to avoid temptation to sin—that pertain to all times, to all individuals, to all places and in all circumstances, so that they are readily accessible to one who seeks refuge from his faults and failings, whomever he might be and wherever and whenever the desire to rectify his life might strike him. These are the six readily accessible spiritual “cities of refuge” for the errant soul.
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The Staff

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

The mateh is a shevet who has been uprooted from its tree, a Jew in galut (exile), a “child banished from his father’s table” to wander the cold and alien roads of exile. Deprived of its supernal moorings, the mateh 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 home.

It is significant that in the opening verse of this portion the tribes of Israel are referred to as matot, and that the entire Torah portion is so named. This Torah section is always read during the “Three Weeks” from 17 Tammuz to 9 Av, during which we mourn and re-experience the destruction of the Holy Temple and the onset of our exile.

Every stick yearns to return to its tree, yearns for the day that it will once again be a fresh and 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 mateh-maturity it gained sticking it out in the lone and rootless environment of galut.
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A Lesson in Leadership

Among the concepts taught in Parshat Massei is the commandment to set aside cities for the Levites. All of the other tribes were given a specific portion of land for them to populate. The Levites, by contrast, were given 48 cities that were dispersed throughout the entire Holy Land, several in the ancestral heritages of each of the other tribes.

Why this distinction? Because the Levites were given the mission to serve as teachers and spiritual leaders. Such a person must realize that he cannot fulfill his mission by remaining secluded in an ivory tower. Instead, he must become integrated with the people as a whole.

A teacher should not wait for a student to come to him. He must be willing to go out to the student and attract his interest. Moreover, his “going out” should not be an occasional visit, after which he retreats to his own spiritually secure community. Instead, he should be willing to make the investment to live permanently among his students and become involved with them in an ongoing manner.
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Little Things Count Big

Parshat Matot opens with the laws of “vows.” Here, the Rebbe draws a lesson from these laws, showing how this concept can fortify our daily service of G‑d: