1. The month that we are blessing — Av — is customarily known as Menachem Av. This is normally taken to mean that it is the month when the “father” (G‑d) comforts (“Menachem”) his children in exile. If this is the correct meaning, then the month should have been called “Av Menachem” (The comforting father). The actual name would seem to imply that we comfort the father)

The explanation: Concerning Tefilla (prayer) we are faced with two seemingly opposing interpretations. The Rambam (beginning of the Laws of Prayer) writes: “[Tefilla is primarily] beseeching G‑d for one’s necessities.” The Maggid of Mezrich writes (Or Torah 19:4): “Although one asks for one’s own requirements, one’s intentions should rather be that nothing should be lacking in the upper worlds.” These two insights can be reconciled in the following way: One can ask for one’s necessities not because one feels one is missing something but out of the realization that the body is the possession of G‑d. If one prays with this in mind, in effect the prayer is on behalf of (the possession of) G‑d.

Indeed, the body of a Jew is not merely the possession of G‑d; it is bound up with G‑d in perfect union so that the body’s necessities become the necessities of G‑d, so to speak.

In fact, the bond between G‑d and the Jewish body stems from G‑d’s bechirah — choice. In our daily prayers we say: “And You have chosen us from among all nations and tongues.” In Tanya, the Alter Rebbe, citing the above words, explains that the choice that G‑d made was in the “body which, in its corporeal aspects, is similar to the bodies of the gentiles of the world.”

“Bechirah” only applies when a choice must be made between two apparently equal things. In our case, this refers to the bodies of the people of the world, which, superficially, are similar in all respects. And the bechirah which G‑d makes, stems from his very essence, transcending all reason. For on any lower level, there is indeed no reason to choose one above the other.

No conscious bechirah is necessary, however, in the case of the soul, for it stands alone. So, in effect, the reinforcement present in the bond with the Jewish body — G‑d’s bechirah — is absent from that with the soul.

The superiority of the body is created only after the choice is made, since beforehand, there is in fact no difference. We discussed a similar concept during the last farbrengen. The mishnah in Pirkei Avos, in enumerating a number of things that come in groups of ten (The world was created with ten utterances; ten miracles occurred in the Bais Hamikdosh etc.) omits the Ten Commandments. This is because the number ten acquired its importance from the Ten Commandments themselves. Before G‑d saw fit to utter Ten Commandments and not nine or eleven, the number ten was not significant in any way. Only after the number ten became important by virtue of the Ten Commandments, can we enumerate other things which come in groups of ten — indicating their significance.

In a similar vein: It is explained in the Mechilta (beg. Parshas Bo): “All the lands were fit until Eretz Yisroel was chosen; all of Eretz Yisroel was fit until Jerusalem was chosen; all of Jerusalem was fit until the Temple mount was chosen.”

Returning to our topic, we see that the physical pain that the Jews experienced in the exile has an effect, so to speak, on G‑d himself. And when we assemble in Shul and bless the month of Menachem Av, praying that the Golus should come to an end, we comfort G‑d, as it were, for he is with us in our travail.

Why is it specifically the Jews (and not the angels or any other heavenly creatures) who have the power to “comfort” G‑d? It is because we are in fact one with G‑d — “truly part of G‑d above,” in the words of the Alter Rebbe. He continues to explain that as a son is truly a part of his father, so also are we part of G‑d. Our Sages tell us: “The power of the son is better than the power of the father.” This can be explained in two ways: 1) That the power of the son is better than that of the father (the simple explanation); 2) Mikoach HoAv can also mean from the power of the father — that many of the powers which are present but lie dormant in the father, come to the fore in the son.

Similarly with our topic. The power that the Jews have to comfort their Father in heaven, is actually mikoach HoAv, from the Father Himself, since we are “truly a part of Him.”

What is the lesson in all this? When a Jew is told that “Menachem Av” implies that the Jews have the ability to comfort G‑d, this draws his attention to two things:

1) Although “If you have sinned, what do you do against Him” (Job 35:6), G‑d has nevertheless chosen to unite with the Jewish people so that their sins, so to speak, have an effect on Him. “When the Jews were exiled to Edom the Shechinah (Divine Presence) accompanied them;” “The Divine Presence is in exile;” “In all their travails, He is with them.”

This underscores the severity of our sins because of which we were exiled in the first place — “Because of our sins we were exiled from our land” (Festive Musaph Prayer) — the very Divine Presence is in exile with us!

2) On the other hand, he realizes that while in such a sorry state, he still has the capability to “comfort G‑d.” This is because of our intrinsic bond with our Creator, which remains in force, despite anything that seeks to destroy it.

[The above will throw light on the statement in Tanya: “[The term “Shechinah” denotes the presence of G‑d] in all the worlds, including this nethermost one.” Now, the “worlds” are not referred to explicitly in the word “Shechinah,” but when we realize the intrinsic bond between G‑d and the Jews, it becomes clear that the primary “resting place” of the Shechinah can only be in the created worlds and specifically in this nethermost world, where the Jews are.]

This causes us to seek to do more good deeds, knowing that this contributes to the emergence of the Shechinah from golus. In the words of the Rambam (Laws of Teshuvah ch. 3 para. 4): “With one mitzvah one can tip the balance favorably, thereby bringing about salvation” — saving not only the doer of the good deed but also the Shechinah from golus!

All this can be already worked upon today, Shabbos Mevorchim, when we bless the month of Menachem Av, so that by the time we come to Rosh Chodesh, the golus is broken and we will soon merit to the transformation of these days to festivals of joy and gladness with the coming of our righteous Moshiach, in the true and complete redemption.

2. The previous sicha spoke of a general lesson one can derive from all Shabbos Mevorchims of Menachem Av. We can now derive a lesson from the way Shabbos Mevorchim is fixed in this year’s calendar.

This year, two sedras — Mattos (“tribes”) and Massai (“journeys”) — are joined on Shabbos Mevorchim.

Mattos (literally “staff”) denotes strength and stability. A synonym, shevet (branch), refers to the staff while it still supple and connected to the tree. It is then subject to influences of the wind, swaying to and fro, while a mateh is firm and cannot be bent. In short a mateh denotes invulnerable, unchanging stability.

Massai (“journeys”) denotes quite the opposite — constant change from one place to the other, devoid of any stability. If the branch sways with the wind, at least it remains united at all times with its source. Massai, diametrically opposed to Mattos indicates constant, total flux.

Why then, are these two sedras combined?! And if there is some connection, one would expect Massai to be first, eventually settling down and adopting the stability of Mattos.

This difficulty is not at all diminished when we examine the significance of Mattos and Massai with regard to Torah study. Torah must be studied with the clear intent of bringing the discussion to a practical, halachic conclusion. Granted, this must be preceded with complex and involved argument and discussion. But ultimately, positions must be defined and the practical outcome distilled from all the hairsplitting pilpul.

[This is why the law is always in favor of the Talmud Bavli and not the Talmud Yerushalmi, for the former is replete with discussion and argument — the only way to arrive at a proper conclusion.]

Mattos, then, refers to the fixed halachah which can never be altered. “The word of G‑d — this is halachah; “The word of G‑d stands forever; I! this Torah will never be exchanged” — all these imply cast-iron stability. Massai, on the other hand, refers to the radical changes in reasoning that can, and should, take place prior to the conclusion. Should Mattos not be preceded by Massai instead of the other way around?

The explanation: The Talmud (Avodah Zorah 19b) casts aspersion on a “student who has acquired the ability to rule in matters of halachah and does not do so.” How can the Torah place such a stamp of certainty on the “student who has acquired the ability to decide the law?” A moment before his conclusion he was involved in the most turbulent discussion, incorporating completely opposing points of view. Now that he has reached his conclusion, how can the Torah be sure that he has chosen the correct school of thought, to the extent that he must not withhold his opinion’?

The answer is: In actuality the discussion (Massai) precedes the conclusion (mattos). But every Torah discussion is backed up by the certainty and stability (Mattos) of the neshamah of a Jew, who was present at Mount Sinai together with all the other souls, and heard every single Jewish law uttered, including the one under discussion.

In other words: The capability that this student has, to undertake the discussion (massai), stems from the prior strength that his neshamah, who already heard the halachah in its entirety, endows him.

This year there is an added dimension to the above concept: Not only does Mattos precede Massai, they are in fact combined.

The Talmud (Shabbos 138b) expounds the verse in Amos (8:11): “Behold days are coming ... when I will send famine in the land, not a famine for bread, nor a thirst for water, but for hearing the words of G‑d.”

Says the Talmud: “The word of G‑d — this is halachah; the word of G‑d this the [one heralding the] end of the exile.”

“Halachah” corresponds to Mattos, as above. “The end of the exile” refers to Massai, since the last stop on the journey (massai) of the Jewish people was Yardein Yereicho. This symbolizes the coming redemption, as explained by the Alter Rebbe (Likkutei Torah Massai 89a).

The combination of Mattos and Massai tells us: Now that we are at the end of our exile, there is no time to wait. We learn Torah, resolve matters of Halachah and the end of the golus is upon us, may it happen soon.

The lesson from Mattos Massai in our personal service of G‑d:

Massai refers to the journey of man through life, constantly striving to reach new levels, until the ultimate goal — Yardein Yereicho — the peak of stability (Mattos).

But he must always remember that the power that he has to undertake such an arduous journey comes from his readiness to be firm in his convictions. In the words of our Sages: “Be bold as a leopard — do not be affected by the scoffers.”

This is why Mattos is before Massai. Only with the fortitude of Mattos (as a leopard) can one hope to ever reach one’s final destination on the journey to Yardein Yereicho.

3. The particular date upon which Shabbos Mevorchim falls this year, is the 26th of Tammuz. What is the lesson from this?

In today’s portion of Tehillim we read (119:97): “ how I love Your Torah, I talk of it all the day.”

At the end of the portion we read (119:176): “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek out Your servant, for I do not forget Your mitzvos.”

It is evident that two things are emphasized in today’s Tehillim portion. Torah study (“how I love Your Torah”) and Tzedakah (charity), which is termed simply as “mitzvah” (“for I do not forget Your mitzvos”) by the Talmud Yerushalmi (see Tanya ch. 37).

The lesson for these days is clear. We must intensify our performance of these two things since they will bring the redemption as we are told (Isaiah 1:27): “Zion will be redeemed with judgment (referring to Torah) and those that return to her with Tzedakah.”

Let us examine a little more closely the last verse of today’s Tehillim portion. “I have gone astray like a lost sheep” refers to the exile. But we ask of G‑d: “Seek out Your servant” and annul the golus. Why? Because “I do not forget Your commandments.” Wouldn’t it have been more appropriate to say “for I have fulfilled Your commandments?” Is it enough merely not to forget?’

The answer is: We use the terms “remember” and “forget” only regarding something which is not with us. For example: The Torah tells us: “Then I will remember My covenant with Jacob; also My covenant with Isaac, and also My covenant with Abraham will I remember.” Note that there is no mention of “remembering” by Isaac. On this the Rabbis state: “The ash of Isaac is constantly visible on the altar before Him.” Therefore, the commandments that King David refers to, can only be those reserved for fulfillment in Eretz Yisroel and can only be remembered in the exile.

This is what the Jewish people are pleading: “We have not forgotten those mitzvos which we cannot fulfill.” Even in golus, when we cannot offer the sacrifices, we can still study the pertinent laws. And since “One who studies the laws of the sacrifices, it is as if he himself offered the sacrifice,” we can actually build the Bais Hamikdosh by studying the manner in which it is to be built.

[Incidentally: There is another interpretation of the verse “I do not forget Your commandments.” It refers to that time of the day when we are going about our mundane pursuits and are not actively involved in Torah. It is then that we must remember the mitzvos and allow them to permeate our actions. This refers to mitzvos in general, but more particularly, the verse talks of those mitzvos that we will fulfill in Eretz Yisroel.]

The above underscores the necessity, especially during these three weeks, of giving charity and studying Torah — particularly the laws concerning the Bais Hamikdosh.

Similarly we must intensify our love of our fellow Jew, thereby rectifying one of the reasons for this exile — baseless hate.

One campaign leads to another and from the Ahavas Yisroel campaign we come to the Chinuch (education) campaign — self education as well as that of others.

.. Bringing us to the rest of the campaigns — Torah Study, Tefillin, Mezuzah, Charity, Holy Books, Shabbos Candles, Kosher food and Family Purity.

May we very soon merit the “sprinkling of purifying waters upon us” as we joyfully welcome Moshiach with joy.

4. On the subject of the laws of the Bais Hamikdosh:

The Rambam calls the laws of the Bais Hamikdosh “the Laws of the Bais Habechirah” (“Chosen House”). This is based on the expression in the Torah: “the place that G‑d will choose.”

We must try to understand why the Rambam rejected the regularly used term, “Bais Hamikdosh,” in favor of “Bais Habechirah”, especially since he always terms it “Bais Hamikdosh” in his discussion of the laws.

In chapter two the Rambam writes: “The previously determined location of the altar is significant and it may never be moved, for it was there that Abraham built an altar to sacrifice Isaac; there that Noach offered a sacrifice upon emerging from the ark; there that Cain and Hevel brought their sacrifices; there that Adam brought a sacrifice when he was created; and indeed it was from there that he was created.”

The question might be asked: why is the Bais Hamikdosh described as “the place chosen by G‑d?” Since the altar must be in the Bais Hamikdosh and it cannot be moved, it follows that the Bais Hamikdosh cannot be built anywhere else!

However, the explanation is, very simply, that the reason that this location attained such significance in the first place, to the extent that all those people brought sacrifices there, is as a result of the G‑d choosing that place, for reasons known only to Him. The order must not be confused. First G‑d chose this location; therefore, all the sacrifices were brought there; therefore the altar was built there and therefore the Bais Hamikdosh was located there.

This is what the Rambam emphasizes: The importance of location stems from the choice made by G‑d (“The Chosen House”). Only then does the Rambam, in discussing the various laws, use the halachic term, Bais Hamikdosh — the Sacred House. This refers to the halachah that all its vessels must always be kept in a holy state; one can only enter the Bais Hamikdosh in a holy state, and so on.

This concept — that the desire of G‑d is the underlying factor is found in many areas of Torah.

The only cause for the creation of the world is the desire of G‑d, transcending all reason. After the world is created, we delve into the various good things which have resulted from the creation.

The basic underlying factor in the choice of the Jewish people is, once again, the sublime desire of G‑d. After the choice is made, we can then delve into the manifold virtues of the Jew’s soul.

Similarly with Torah. Although many mitzvos in the Torah can be understood rationally, the basic cause for their existence remains the desire of G‑d. And even if one mitzvah seems to be the natural extension of another (e.g. the mitzvah of charity stems from the mitzvah of Ahavas Yisroel — love of a fellow Jew), the basic driving force behind it is still the Divine Will.

In other words: The fulfillment of a seemingly minor detail of a certain mitzvah is no less a manifestation of Divine Will than the performance of an apparently good deed. The bond (“Tzavta” — derived from the same root as “Mitzvah”) which is thereby created between man and G‑d is identical.

5. There is a well-known dispute between Rashi and his grandson Rabbeinu Tam concerning the order in which the passages in the Tefillin must be written.

There would be no point in opening the tefillin of Rashi’s grandfather to ascertain the correct order, since the dispute was in existence for many generations before Rashi so that some put on tefillin according to the one order and some according to the other. (Of course, at the time of Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam, the halachah was decided in favor of Rashi).

Incidentally, the same can be said of tefillin which have been recently discovered in caverns near the Jordan River. The fact that they have proven to be that of Rabbeinu Tam’s, means only that they have might have belonged to those following Rabbeinu Tam’s custom. Besides, these Tefillin could have been invalid to begin with, hence their burial in the caverns. The same with various scrolls which have been discovered, and contain discrepancies with our Torah. They were probably buried in the first place because of the discrepancies and nothing therefore can be deduced with regard to our version of the Torah.

However: When did the divergence of opinion occur? In other words: What order did the tefillin of Moshe Rabbeinu himself follow?

There is a story told of the Reb Hillel Paritcher (a chosid of the Tzemach Tzedek). He was once involved in a dispute with other exponents of the Tzemach Tzedek’s teachings, on a fine point of one of the Rebbe’s ma’amarim (discourses). They eventually asked the Tzemach Tzedek himself and he decided against Reb Hillel. To which the latter replied: “When a Rebbe says a ma’amar, it is as if the Torah is being given on Mount Sinai. But once it is given, it is in our domain and we must interpret it according to the intellect which G‑d has given us, despite what the Rebbe says!”

In other words: There are many portions in the Torah which are purposely written in a vague manner, so that they can validly be interpreted in more than one way using the system of interpretation which the Torah itself sets out. Moshe Rabbeinu could have used one order in his tefillin, but Yehoshua, using an equally valid method of interpretation, could have used another order.

Both orders are true. Nowadays, although the halachah has been decided in favor of Rashi, one should put on both pairs, as explained in Tikkunei Zohar.

6. It is our custom to learn a verse from the Sedra of the week with the explanation of Rashi. In our Sedra, Mattos (31:19), we read: “Whoever killed a person, and whoever touched someone slain, they shall stay outside the camp seven days ...”. Rashi comments on the words “Whoever killed a person”: Rabbi Meir says, “The Torah speaks about one who kills with an object that can receive impurity. It also teaches you that the weapon renders a person impure by contact with the dead as though he himself had touched the dead. I might think this true if he shot an arrow and slew him? Therefore Scripture states, ‘and whoever touched any slain.’ One who killed is compared to one who touched. Just as touching involves contact, so killing must involve contact (in order to render impure).”

Rashi comes to explain the relationship between two details in this verse, “Someone who killed” and “someone who touched the body of a slain man.” Were it not for this verse, we might think that impurity rendered by touching a corpse could only be contracted by direct contact with the body. This verse adds the detail, “Anyone who has killed.” A person may acquire impurity through killing, even if he did not touch the corpse with his hands; provided that the weapon he was holding was made of a material that could itself acquire impurity. Touching the dead body with a weapon is thus compared to touching with one’s hands. An arrow, on the other hand, will not render impure, for it does not establish a connection to the dead body.

There are two problems in this Rashi. 1) When Rashi mentions the name of a Tanna, his purpose is to answer the question of an exceptional student who will not fully understand the verse without that final piece of information. Why does Rashi feel compelled to mention the name of Rabbi Meir here? 2) The main problem with this Rashi involves his source, identified as the Sifri. The Sifri brings Rabbi Meir’s view at a much earlier point, when impurity through contact with the dead is first mentioned, in Parshas Chukas, “And anyone who will touch a person slain by a sword, or a dead body in the open field ... shall be unclean seven days” (19:16). The Sifri brings Rabbi Meir’s explanation here to explain the apparent redundancy “a person slain by the sword, or a dead body.” The similarity between these two terms is that both will render impure for seven days. Touching with a sword is like touching with one’s hands, so long as the weapon can itself acquire impurity. As for an arrow, it will not render the archer impure since there is no contact involved.

It is hard to understand why Rashi quotes Rabbi Meir on the verse in our Sedra, “Whoever killed, and whoever touched a slain person,” while in Parshas Chukas, he offers no commentary. Why does the double terminology not bother him earlier (as in his source); conversely, why does he feel that he must address the problem here, in Mattos?

To answer these questions, let us remember that Rashi’s intention is to explain the basic meaning of the words in the Torah. He will not concern himself with an idea until a question in the text demands that it be raised.

In parshas Chukas, the double terminology “one slain by the sword, and a dead body” does not present a real problem. As in many places in the Torah, the first term is a general one (klal), the second a detail (prat). Similarly, we read, “These are the names of the children of Israel who went down to Egypt, each man with his household ... Reuven, Shimon, etc.” “Each man with his household” is the general statement, “Reuven, Shimon” are details. Furthermore, in our verse the Torah goes on to speak of other details, such as the law concerning if one touches a bone, or steps on a grave. Thus, the teaching of Rabbi Meir is not demanded here by the basic word meaning. Rashi need not say anything.

In addition, the verse in Chukas speaks of a corpse slain by the sword. The emphasis is on the corpse, which happens to have been slain by the sword. We would not be forced to say from this that the law of touching a dead person would be the same as one who kills. Rabbi Meir’s explanation, though true, is not necessitated by the basic word meaning, and even goes against it at this point.

In Parshas Mattos, however, when we come to the verse, “Whoever killed someone, or whoever touched a slain person,” our problem is not that the words are redundant, just as in Chukas the double terminology also presented no problem. Therefore, Rashi in his introduction, does not even mention the words “whoever touched a slain person.”

The real problem lies in the words, “Someone who has killed.” The five year old student is already familiar with the laws of impurity which were presented in Chukas. He knows that impurity may only by contracted by touching a corpse, by carrying it, or by being together with it in a tent.

When he reads now that “if someone killed a person, he shall remain outside the camp seven days, and he shall purify himself,” the student is confused. Can we say that “whoever kills a person” will be unclean for seven days with no exceptions, whether he touched the corpse or not, even if he killed with an arrow or with poison! This would be an extraordinary new idea. Rashi can no longer remain silent.

Rashi must bring Rabbi Meir’s explanation at this point, “The verse is speaking of one who kills with a weapon that can itself acquire impurity.” It is obvious that impurity can only be acquired when there is contact between the slayer and the slain, and thus our verse must refer to one who kills with a weapon. The unexpected idea is that “the weapon will render a person impure through its contact with the dead body, just as if he had touched the dead body itself.”

Rashi also stresses that the weapon must itself be capable of acquiring impurity, for on a basic level of meaning, it makes no sense that the object conducting the impurity should itself remain pure, while the person touching it will become impure!

Rashi now goes on to mention the law about an arrow. Since we are speaking about a weapon that creates a connection between the slayer and the slain, perhaps we might think that an arrow will also render the archer impure. The strength of the archer is acting on the arrow all the time, even after it leaves the bow. Perhaps this too will form a union between slayer and slain?

Therefore Rashi must answer, “The Torah says ‘Whoever touches a slain person.’ One who kills is like one who touches. Touching renders impure when there is contact. Killing also renders pure when there is contact.” In the basic word meaning, our verse teaches that a connection between slayer and slain, that causes impurity, only refers to direct contact, i.e. when one holds the murder weapon. Force alone does not create a connection.

Now we can see why Rashi left out the words “Whoever touched a slain person” at the beginning of his commentary. He really only needs to explain the ambiguity in the words “Whoever killed a person.”

At this point, the exceptionally bright child will still have a question. Why in fact should contact by means of a sword by like contact with the corpse itself? Why should it not be like touching any object that had already acquired impurity from contact with the dead?

The answer to this is indicated in the name of the Tanna, Rabbi Meir, who upholds the idea of Garmi; that is, he holds a person liable for damage done indirectly.

In the laws of indirect damage there are two concepts, Garmi and Grama. Garmi is damage that results immediately after it is caused. Grama is damage that results only some time after it is actually caused. Rabbi Meir thus holds a person liable for indirect damage if it ensues immediately.

There are three aspects to an act of damage: the perpetrator, the action itself, and the damage that results. When damage is indirect, these three seem to become separate. When the damage results immediately, Rabbi Meir will consider all three to be connected. Since the damage comes instantaneously, it is as if the perpetrator did it with his own hands.

In our case, since the slayer touches the sword as he kills the person (and not afterwards), it is as if he were touching the body itself — as in the case of Garmi, where simultaneity connects the person to the damage he indirectly inflicts. It is not like touching the sword at some later time. It is like Garmi, according to Rabbi Meir.