The Torah portion Masei is always read during Bein HaMetzarim on or about Rosh Chodesh Menachem Av, the day of Aharon’s passing. The exact date of his demise is specifically recorded here in Masei,1 although the narrative of Aharon’s passing is previously related at length in the section of Chukas.2

There is always a connection between the Torah portions and the time of year in which they are read,3 but the connection is not always evident. The connection, however, between Masei and the time of year in which the portion is read — Rosh Chodesh Menachem Av, the day of Aharon’s passing — is patently obvious.

Moreover, the relationship between Rosh Chodesh Menachem Av and the day of Aharon’s demise goes far beyond a mere date; it also parallels the context of the major events that transpired at that time:

Menachem Avis the month when the First and Second Batei Mikdashos were destroyed, the “burning of our L‑rd’s house.” Our Sages also note that “The passing of tzaddikim (the righteous) is equivalent to the burning of our L‑rd’s house,”4 and that “The demise of tzaddikim is even more difficult for G‑d ... than the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash.5

Here, too, a similarity exists between the demise of tzaddikim and the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash:

With regard to the conduct surrounding the passing of the righteous we find two extremes. On the one hand, their passing requires the conduct of “crying and mourning” over their departure.6

On the other hand, the day a tzaddik’s demise —hisyartzeit is the most appropriate time to learn and derive lessons from the “deeds, Torah and spiritual service to which he devoted his entire life,” so that we may draw down and continue to follow the paths and lessons that he has taught us.7 Acting in this manner brings about the fruition of the saying of our Sages, that if “his children are alive” then “he, too, is alive.”8

These opposite extremes are also found with regard to the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. On the one hand, there is a Torah obligation9 to “mourn over Jerusalem10 during the days of Bein HaMetzarim.

Conversely, Bein HaMetzarim is specifically that period during the year which demands added inspiration and additional strengthening that we not fall — Heaven forfend — into a state of hopelessness over our exile. Rather, we must know — as stated in the closing words of the Haftorah of Masei11 — that “from now on you will call Me ‘My Father’... the Master of my youth.”

Thus Bein HaMetzarim in particular — especially during these dark and gloomy days at the very conclusion of exile — is the time to give courage and heart both to oneself as well as to others.

This is accomplished by strengthening oneself in the belief that “I await and anticipate his [Mashiach’s] arrival daily,” as well as through occupying oneself in the “form of the Temple and its design, its exits and its entrances, and all its forms and laws.”12

When we do so, G‑d fulfills His words to Yechezkel:13 “Reading about it [the Beis HaMikdash] in the Torah is as great as building it. Go and tell them that they should occupy themselves in reading about the form of the Beis HaMikdash as described in the Torah. As a reward for their doing so, I will consider it as if they occupied themselves in the building of the Beis HaMikdash.”

It is similar regarding the passing of tzaddikim: By following in their footsteps, then “they are alive.” In other words, the true life of the tzaddik — a life that “is not physical but spiritual; consisting of faith, awe and love [of G‑d]”14 — is drawn down and is “alive and thriving” in their “progeny,” their disciples and their disciples’ disciples.

One might be tempted to ask: What is the comparison between following in the footsteps of a tzaddik and studying the laws of Bein HaMetzarim?

With regard to the passing of tzaddikim, the expression is: “Just as his progeny are alive, so too, is he alive.” This is to say, by his disciples following along his path, the tzaddik is verily alive, inasmuch as his true life “is not physical but spiritual” — thus “he is alive.”

However, with regard to the physical Beis HaMikdash, speaking and learning about it is seemingly only “considered as if they occupied themselves in the building of the Beis HaMikdash” — these are mere words; no actual building comes about.

The fact of the matter is that since the Torah of Truth compares the two, they are truly of equal import. It is only that since the actual physical results of our study and speech regarding the Beis HaMikdash only comes about at a later time, the expression “as if” is used. In truth, even before the actual physical construction of the Beis HaMikdash, speaking and learning about it paves the way for its actual construction.

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XVIII, pp. 411-413.