I.

When the parshiyos Matos and Masei are joined together,1 they are read on the Shabbos when the month of Menachem Av is blessed or on the first Shabbos of Menachem Av. As is well known,2 all of the Torah readings share a connection to the time at which they are read. Thus it is evident that the parshiyos Matos and Masei share a connection, not only to the period of Bein HaMetzarim3 in general,4 but also (and primarily) to the month of Av.5

II.

(When blessing the month [of Av], it is Jewish custom — which is considered as Torah Law6 — to refer to it as Menachem Av. {This custom has halachic relevance with regard to the manner in which the name of the month iswrittenin a legal document. [A legal document is unacceptable if the name of the month is not written correctly. Nevertheless, such] a document is acceptable when dated Menachem Av. Indeed, even if one writes merely Menachem and not Av, the legal document is acceptable7 because it is well known that the month of Av is referred to as Menachem. In fact, there are those who follow the custom of using the term Menachem instead of the term Av in marriage contracts and other legal documents.8 }

This custom can be explained based on the following preface: Our Sages relate9 that the names of the months “ascended with them from Babylonia.” The commentaries10 explain that the names of all11 the months are not based on Lashon HaKodesh12 but are of Chaldean origin,13 (and are Persian names).14

This statement, however, is problematic, for we find that our Sages make several extrapolations15 based on the meaning of the names of the months in Hebrew.16 It is possible to explain that, at the outset, there is no difficulty. When our Sages say that the names of the months ascended with them from Babylonia, they mean the connec­tion between the names and the months originated in Babylonia and [the use of the term as the name of a month] was brought [to Eretz Yisrael] from there. The names of the months themselves are not, how­ever, Babylonian in origin.17

Even if one would say that some of the terms are of Babylonian origin, that certainly does not apply with regard to the name Av. Moreover — and this is of fundamental importance — since they are names employed18 by the Torah,19 it is evident that they are associated with the interpretation that they are given in Lashon HaKodesh.20 In particular, this applies with regard to (Menachem)Av. The term Av has the meaning “father,” just as the word is interpreted in Lashon HaKodesh.21

According to this, the meaning of the name Menachem Av is that we “comfort the father,” i.e., we are comforting our Father in Heaven, as it were. Were the month named Av Menachem, the intent would be that the father (our Father in Heaven) is comforting (the Jews).22 The term Menachem Av, by contrast, implies that the father is the one being comforted.23 {[In contrast,] the meaning of the term Menachem Tziyon (mentioned in the blessing Nacheim) is that Tziyon is being comforted (by G‑d).}

Our Sages state:24 “G‑d says, as it were: ‘What will be25 with a Father Who exiled His children?26 (Woe to the children who were exiled from their Father’s table.)’”27 [Since He is in distress,] we comfort Him, as it were.

III.

On this basis, we can understand the connection between the month of Menachem Av and the parshiyos of Matos and Masei. This concept — that a Jew appreciates that the comfort he is seeking in this month is not (only) comfort for himself, but (primarily) comfort for the Father, our Father in Heaven — is also emphasized in Parshas Matos and in Parshas Masei.28

Parshas Matos relates G‑d’s command to Moshe with regard to the war against Midian:29 “Take the revenge for the children of Israel from the Midianites.” When, however, Moshe communicated the com­mandment to the Jewish people, he spoke of: “tak[ing] the revenge for G‑d upon Midian.”30 The Sifri31 comments that Moshe told the Jews: “You are not taking vengeance on behalf of mortals. You are taking vengeance on behalf of He Who spoke and brought the world into being.”

We see a similar concept in Parshas Masei. It is written:32 “And you shall not defile the land... in which I dwell, because I, G‑d, dwell among the children of Israel.” The Sifri comments on that verse: “Cherished are the Jewish people. Even though they are impure, the Divine presence is among them33 .... Cherished are the Jewish people. Wherever they are exiled,34 the Divine presence accompanies them, and when they return, the Divine presence will accompany them.”

For exile does not affect the Jewish people alone; it affects G‑d as well. [When the Jewish people are in exile,] the Divine presence is [also] in exile. And the redemption of the Jewish people also involves the redemption of the Divine presence, as it were. Certainly, it is obvious that the redemption of the Divine presence is more important than the redemption of the Jewish people.

IV.

It is, however, necessary to understand [the following]: The name Menachem Avemphasizes only the comfort given the Father and does not mention at all the comfort given the Jewish people, the son. Nevertheless, this is the name with which all Jews refer to the month.35

It is thus problematic: Were we speaking about great tzaddikim whose Divine service is carried out for G‑d’s sake without any thought of their own selves, not even to cling to Him,36 we could understand that their perception of the exile involves feeling the exile of the Divine presence.

[Moreover, the use of such a name would be understandable] even if the Jews were not on the level where they perform their Divine service for G‑d’s sake, but they perceivethe exile of the Divine presence in terms of the spiritual destruction they face — “We are unable to ascend, see, and prostrate ourselves,”37 i.e., [they would feel discomfort from the fact that] G‑dliness is not shining in the world and they are lacking the revelation of G‑dliness in their souls,38 in their study of the Torah and observance of the mitzvos, and in particular in the Divine service of prayer (to prostrate themselves).

This could be considered somewhat parallel to the concept of “comforting the Father,” for one comforts the “part of G‑d from Above”39 found within oneself, i.e., the spark of the Father within oneself.

Can this, however, be said about every Jew, in every situation? There are times when we feel under stress, with pressure from the gentile powers, financial worries, and trying and vexing physical situations. We are lacking our physical needs with regard to [matters involving] our children, health, and sustenance, for they are not as abundant as is appropriate for the Jews. Every person knows that these are the concerns that cause us aggravation. How is it appropriate that even a person [with such concerns] refers to the month as Menachem Av, [putting the emphasis on comforting G‑d, and not on receiving his own needs]?

V.

The above concepts can be resolved by first explaining a similar con­cept that applies with regard to prayer. There is a well-known teaching of the Maggid [of Mezritch]40 based on our Sages’ statement:41 “One should stand in prayer only with an attitude of earnest reverence.” [The Maggid explains that] we must pray not for our own lacks and needs, but for the needs and lacks [felt] by the Divine presence, as it were. “Even if one asks for his own needs, his intent should be that nothing should be lacking Above, Heaven forbid. For42 the soul is an actual part of G‑d from Above; it is one of the limbs of the Divine presence. This is the essential request that should be fulfilled and that influence be generated Above.”43

In this as well, there is — as mentioned above — a conceptual difficulty. There are individuals who are on the level that their own needs are not important to them. Hence they do not feel their own lack — or at least they do not regard it as being of primary importance. Hence, their prayers are focused on the lack Above.

Most people, however, are concerned with their own bodies and physical needs. They feel the body’s lack and this distresses them and disturbs them from concentrating on the study of the Torah and the observance of the mitzvos.44 Hence it is a positive commandment to pray to G‑d and entreat Him to fulfill this lack.45 How can the teaching of the Maggid — that one should be concerned with the lack felt by G‑d as it were — be appropriate to such prayer?

VI.

According to nigleh (the revealed dimension of Torah Law), it is possible to offer (at least, a somewhat forced) explanation based on the ruling of the Alter Rebbe in his Shulchan Aruch:46 “A person does not have jurisdiction over his body at all.” For a person’s body is not his own. It is G‑d’s property.47

It thus follows that when a person lacks his material needs, this brings about sorrow, as it were, for G‑d, the true Owner of the body. Therefore there is no contradiction in praying for G‑d to satisfy the bodily needs that one feels and having the intent that “nothing should be lacking Above.” For his intent in praying that his bodily needs be fulfilled is {not that he (himself) should not feel a lack,} but that G‑d’s property should not suffer deficiency.

VII.

This explanation is not sufficient, however, [for several reasons]. {Firstly, the wording of the Maggid implies that one should have in mind the lack of “the Head of all heads,” [G‑d Himself,] and not the lack present within G‑d’s possessions.}

[More fundamentally, however,] as explained several times, nigleh, the Torah’s external, legal dimension, and nistar, its hidden mystic secrets, are one Torah. The Zohar48 describes them as “the soul of the Torah and the body of the Torah.” Thus it is impossible that there should be a contradiction between them.

It would appear [on the surface] that the intent of the concept of prayer as mandated by Torah Law is different from that expressed in the Maggid’s teaching cited above. In nigleh, it is stated49 that when a person feels that he is lacking something, he should pray to G‑d that He should fill that lack. According to this concept, when a person is on a level when he is bothered by only — or at least primarily — the lack he feels in his material needs, and at that moment he does not feel that his body is G‑d’s possession, there is a positive commandment for him to pray for the fulfillment of his needs.

Moreover, the meaning of the words of prayer [focuses on our physical necessities]. And praying according to the meaning of the words is a fundamental element of prayer. Those words should be interpreted according to their simple meaning. [Thus we are praying for material benefits, health, and wellbeing,] as explained by the commentaries to the prayers.50 Even those who interpret the prayers according to the intent of the AriZal emphasize that he spoke about subtle intents, allusions, and mystic secrets [and not the simple meaning of the prayers].

According to the teaching of the Maggid, by contrast, our Sages’ statement: “One should stand in prayer only with an attitude of earnest reverence,” implies that the entire concept of prayer should be only “that nothing should be lacking Above.”51 We are thus forced to say that even a person who at that moment is thinking only about his personal needs, is — in an inward way — praying for the lack felt Above.52

VIII.

The explanation of these concepts is as follows:53 There is a fundamental difference between a Jew’s soul and his body. A Jew’s soul is “an actual part of G‑d from Above.”54 The material make-up of his body, by contrast, resembles the bodies of the gentiles.”55 Therefore the Alter Rebbe writes that G‑d’s choice [of the Jewish people] is as they are enclothed in a body.56

The rationale is as follows: The term “choice” is appropriate when speaking about two subjects that resemble each other (in the matter under concern). When subjects do not share any common factors and have no shared traits, the concept of choice is not appropriate. [In such a case, one merely selects] what one desires.

Therefore the true concept of choice applies in relation to the body which “in its material being resembles the bodies of the gentiles.” With regard to the soul, by contrast, the concept of choice is not appropriate, [since the differences are distinct].

This itself, however, reflects an advantage that a Jew’s body possesses over his soul. For it is the body, as it were, that has a connection to G‑d’s essence.57 The soul (in and of itself) relates to the qualities of light and revelation. The body and its material dimensions, which G‑d chose, are connected with G‑d’s very essence.

For the concept of choice applies only with regard to G‑d’s essence, which has no prior cause or antecedent,58 Heaven forbid. (All the levels other than His essence, by contrast,59 even the most sublime levels of G‑dly light [follow a different motif]. For light is [characterized by] a tendency60 — and thus there is something resembling compulsion to follow the tendency — [toward revelation]. As such, the true concept of free choice is not relevant at that level.)61

Although the concept of choice is totally dependent on the initiative of the One Who chooses and does not stem from the object chosen (i.e., the body) at all, since it is G‑d’s essence that is choosing, that choice defines the body’s identity. For when G‑d’s essence is drawn down,62 it is not possible that there will remain the possibility of there being [even in the abstract] anything other than Him.63

IX.

Based on the above, it is understandable that even when a Jew prays and petitions G‑d for his bodily needs (and their material dimensions), this is not a contradiction to the Maggid’s teaching that one should pray for the lack felt Above. On the contrary, when there is a lack in a Jew’s bodily [needs], this affects {not only the revealed levels of G‑dliness (as is true when there is a lack in the spiritual needs of the soul,) but also} (the true) “Head of all heads,” in G‑d’s very essence, as it were. [For that is the source of] the choice of a Jew’s physical body.

Thus when a Jew feels a lack in his bodily needs that brings him to pray to G‑d, the true inner [dimension of his prayer] stems64 from the fact that inside he feels his true being — the choice of G‑d’s essence which is focused on the physical body.

Therefore every Jew is given the directive: “One should stand in prayer only with an attitude of earnest reverence.” It is possible for him — and therefore it is necessary for him — to have the apparent intent65 that his requests for his material needs are being made because of the lack in his source Above, in the dimension of G‑d’s essence that relates to him, as it were.

X.

On this basis, we can understand the intent of the name Menachem Av,“comforting the Father.”66 Every Jew is G‑d’s son, [as it were]. And the choice of G‑d’s essence is focused on [a Jew’s] body. Hence the inner dimension of a Jew’s feeling in exile, (even) [because of a lack] in physical matters that concern his body, is the fact that the Divine presence is in exile.

The exile of G‑dliness, as it were, does not involve only the Shechinah, [the aspect of G‑dliness that] “rests within and enclothes itself in the midst of the worlds to grant them vitality and to maintain them,”67 but instead affects “the Father,” even His essence, as it were. When a Jew lacks his physical needs, [since] the choice of G‑d’s essence is focused upon them, this brings about a condition of exile for (the Father), as it were,68 [affecting] the very essence of G‑dliness.69

XI.

On this basis, we can also understand a relevant passage in the Sifri.70 Afterstating: “Wherever (Israel) is exiled, the Divine presence accompanies them... and when they return, the Divine presence will accompany them” and citing relevant prooftexts, the Sifri continues:

Rebbi states: “To cite an analogy, it is like a King who tells his servant: ‘If you seek me,71 I am with my son. Whenever you look for me, I will be with my son.’ This is [implied by] the phrase:72 ‘...Who dwells among them in the midst of their impurity.’”

This passage is seemingly problematic: What does Rebbi add to the preceding statements in the Sifri made by Rabbi Nassan who states: “Cherished are the Jewish people. Wherever they are exiled, the Divine presence accompanies them, and when they return, the Divine presence will accompany them”? That statement also implies that G‑d is always together with the Jewish people in all places.

The difference between these two quotes can be explained as follows: When saying, “Cherished are the Jewish people. Wherever they are exiled, the Divine presence accompanies them,” Rabbi Nassan is speaking about the aspect of the Jews’ souls that is connected with a dimension that arouses cherished feelings. This is not the essence of the soul, but a revealed level related to feeling. On this level, it is manifest that the Jewish people are “cherished” and thus distinguished from the other nations of the world. With regard to this level of the soul, we say: “Wherever [the Jews] are exiled, the Divine presence accompanies them.”

Since the soul in its own right is “an actual part of G‑d from Above” and this is revealed, it is sufficient that “the Divine presence accompany them” for the exile not to have an effect on them.

Rebbi adds that [the relationship between G‑d and the Jewish people encompasses] the body as well. Therefore he refers to the analogy of:

a king who tells his servant: “If you seek me, I am with my son. Whenever you look for me, I will be with my son.” This is [implied by] the phrase: “...Who dwells among them in the midst of their impurity.”

This does not refer to a matter that is associated with cherished feelings or revealed levels. Instead, it is an essential matter involving the [fundamental] connection between a father and a son. This is connected with the body upon which the choice of G‑d’s essence is focused,73 as explained above.74

Accordingly, Rebbi:

a) emphasizes that [the connection continues] “Whenever you look for me.” Since there is a bond with G‑d’s essence, the concepts of variation and change do not apply.75

b) quotes the phrase: “Who dwells among them in the midst of their impurity,” which relates to the body and its related matters and not to the soul76 and its related matters. [For with regard to the latter, our Sages teach]77 that (even) “The words of the Torah do not contract ritual impurity.”

XII.

According to the above explanation of the name Menachem Av, we can resolve another related question: Comfort applies in a situation where an undesirable event occurred to a person and the lack that he suffered cannot be rectified. Through words or through deeds, a colleague who did not suffer a similar loss is able to comfort the one who did.

In the instance at hand, how is it possible for the Jews to comfort G‑d,78 as it were, when they themselves are in exile? On the contrary, the Jewish people suffer the primary element of the exile. G‑d is in exile only as a result of the fact that He is together with the Jews.

The concept can be explained as follows: With regard to a father and son, our Sages state:79 “A son’s potential surpasses that of his father.” As is well known, the statement has two implications: [the obvious one,] that a son possesses an advantage over his father, but also, that this very advantage is an outgrowth of his father’s potential. Since the son has his source in his father’s essence, it is possible that his potential will surpass the revealed powers possessed by his father.80 Implied is that the essential connection between a father and his son becomes manifest in the fact that the son’s potential surpasses that of the father.

Every concept on the earthly plane has its source [— and reflects —] the spiritual plane. Similarly, with regard to the concept at hand, the fact that a son’s potential exceeds that of his father stems from the fact that the same relationship exists between G‑d and the Jewish people, as it were.

Since G‑d’s essence is invested in the Jewish people as they exist on the material plane, that essence is revealed [to a greater extent] than it is revealed in the spiritual realms, even on the highest levels of G‑dliness. Therefore the Jewish people as they exist on the earthly plane — where the greatness of the son’s potential, [which in turn manifests] the power of G‑d’s essence, is revealed — have the potential to comfort their Father in Heaven, as it were.81 We see a similar concept in nigleh. Our Sages relate82 that G‑d declares: “You have vanquished Me, My son. You have vanquished Me.”

XIII.

Since the entire month is called Menachem Av, it follows that the concept of comfort begins (not only after Tishah BeAv, when the seven weeks of comfort begin, but) from the very beginning of the month. For the comfort for the exile is dependent on the conduct of the Jewish people. The only reason for the exile is our sins. Conducting ourselves in the opposite manner [brings about comfort].

This is particularly true with regard to the practices performed in the beginning of the month of Av that are associated with the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. Through these activities we comfort the Father, weakening [the influence of] the destruction and bringing closer the rebuilding [of the Beis HaMikdash].

In general, during these days we should endeavor to increase our observance of the Torah and its mitzvos to the greatest degree possible. In particular, this applies with regard to those laws and practices observed at the present time. [Our Sages teach]83 that in these days, we should reduce [those activities that lead to material satisfaction and happiness,] and increase our involvement in the Torah about which it is said:84 “The precepts of G‑d are just, gladdening the heart.” In particular, this applies to the custom followed in several places of concluding Talmudic tractates85 during these days at which time “a celebration86 is made for the sages.”87

In general, this applies to energetic study of all aspects of the Torah, for this [study] brings happiness. In particular, it applies to the study of the laws of the construction of the Beis HaMikdash. For the Midrash88 relates that through such study, “the construction of the Beis HaMikdash is not nullified” and G‑d considers it as if one is involved89 in the actual construction of the Beis HaMikdash.

Through these deeds and this Divine service, we comfort our Father in Heaven. And then He will have regret90 and He will take the Jews out of exile and build the Third Beis HaMikdash, “the Sanctuary of G‑d, established by Your hands.”91 May this take place speedily, in our days.

(Adapted from the Sichos of Shabbos Parshas Matos-Masei, 5742,
and Shabbos Parshas Emor, 5737)