1. This week has a double ParshahParshas Mattos-Massai. Parshas Massai always occurs within a week of Rosh Chodesh Menachem Av, while Parshas Mattos does not necessarily do so. Thus, Parshas Massai always provides blessing and vitality to this month, while the blessings of Parshas Mattos to Rosh Chodesh Menachem-Av constitute an addition to the norm.

The Zohar teaches “that the days of the week take their blessing from Shabbos.” And this Shabbos, when we bless Rosh Chodesh Menachem-Av, provides blessings for the entire month of Av. And, as the Alter Rebbe explained, a Jew must live with the “times,” according to the weekly Torah portion. Thus the Parshah of the Shabbos which blesses the whole month also provides lessons for the entire month; and Parshas Mattos-Massai teaches us lessons to be put into action during the month of Av.

“Massai” means “to move from place to place,” to travel and have mobility. The forty-year journey in the desert is called Massai. Spiritually it denotes moving forward, flexibility and change, the idea of ascending in holiness.

“Mattos” means “rod” or “staff,” denoting a refusal to bend or compromise. As the verse says (Shemos 17:9), “the staff of G‑d in my hand.” Mattos is expressed through serving Hashem in a firm, unwavering and unchanging manner. Both the quality of Mattos and Massai are necessary in our service to Hashem.

In a general application, Massai and Mattos express two levels of holiness within the world: the “natural” and the “miraculous.” Mattos expresses Hashem’s name of “Elokim,” which is numerically equivalent to the word “haTeva” — nature. Elokim expresses that level of G‑dliness which is concealed and enclothed within the physical laws of nature — “the boundaries of heaven and earth.” Massai, however, is openly revealed G‑dliness, outside of the fixed boundaries of nature, a revelation which can be termed, miraculous. For a miracle is, by definition, a novel and great change, outside of the limitations of nature.

The Baal Shem Tov taught that a miracle differs from a natural occurrence only in the first instant of the miracle. If it recurs consistently, it ceases to be miraculous and becomes part of the Divine revelation through nature. Through this, the Baal Shem Tov offers a deeper insight into the verse: “Tiku BaChodesh Shofar — Blow the Shofar on the New Moon.” Chodesh is derived from the word Chiddush — innovation. Our service should not be “natural” to us, but constantly infused with new dimensions of fervor and devotion. And this elevates his service from natural to miraculous.

The Talmud Yerushalmi (Berachos 2:6) makes mention of a Torah sage who bowed instinctively when reciting the “Modim” in the Shemoneh Esreh. This action was not a physical instinct, but resulted from the sage’s deep comprehension of the wonder of creation, of G‑d’s creation of the world from absolute nothingness. This affected him to such a degree that when he recited the words “Modim... — We thankfully acknowledge You,” he bowed instinctively. Each time this sage bowed, he reexperienced the rush of awareness he had experienced with his first contemplation, and it thus became an unchanging, fixed, natural occurrence.

If such a sage served G‑d on a miraculous level, he would not bow instinctively. Rather, each time “Modim” was recited he would bow from a new and deeper understanding of the wonder of creation. This deeper level of contemplation would imbue him with a greater awareness, affecting his entire spinal cord and each of his vertebrae, and raising him to much greater spiritual heights.

“Ness” — the word for miracle — also means “to raise and hold high.” A level of understanding which is unchanging is “nature;” while a miraculous level means rising to a higher level of understanding, going beyond one’s nature.

Thus, we see the connection between Parshas Massai and the month of Menachem-Av. While the actual name of the month is Av, the custom of Yisroel is to preface it with “Menachem” — the consolation of Av. It is the fifth month and the source of all trouble, as it says (Yermiyahu 2:24): “in her month they shall find her.” During the month of Av we find ourselves in a situation of descent and decline; epitomized by the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh, which took place in this month. But this descent is for the purpose of the consolation which follows the decline. And Parshas Massai gives us the strength and power to realize that this decline has a positive goal — the elevation which follows.

For Massai expresses the move onward and upward towards greater heights. A Jew’s neshamah is always moving, first descending into the body, and then moving outward into Golus. It is these travels which allow us to reach ever-greater levels of accomplishment. As our sages stated, “The Holy One blessed be He showed mercy to Yisroel by scattering them among the nations.” What “mercy” could there be in such a dispersion? The opportunity given to us to redeem the holy sparks which lie in Golus is indeed a gift of mercy.

Parshas Mattos also provides us with a lesson for the month of Av. As we experience the descent of Av, Mattos comes to teach us that even in the midst of decline we must remain steadfast and firm. For after the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh we were exiled and were no longer able to bring the sacrifices, indeed, perform any of the Mitzvos connected with the Bais Hamikdosh. And in the midst of this loss, Mattos comes and teaches us that those Mitzvos which are left to us must be fulfilled with steadfast devotion, despite any decline.

For the Jewish neshamah never went into exile, and therefore Torah, Mitzvos, and Minhagei Yisroel are to be observed fully. Mattos teaches us to be firm; and Massai teaches us that the descent is not only something to hold out against, but rather a means with which to accomplish an even greater ascent.

When two Parshas are joined together, we have not only the lesson of each, but a lesson from their very union. But a question arises. Mattos denotes firmness and Massai expresses flexibility; how can these two opposites be reconciled into one teaching?

As the commentary Sifri states (Devorim 6:5): “Love cannot be where fear is; neither can fear be where love is, except with the attributes of the Holy One blessed be He.” Love and fear cannot co-exist within any worldly situation; but they can coexist within man’s service to G‑d. For Torah states: (ibid.) “you should love the L‑rd your G‑d,” as well as (ibid. 10:20) “you should fear the L‑rd your G‑d.” And Sefer HaChinuch explains that “these two Mitzvos, the commandments to love G‑d and to fear G‑d are a constant obligation on man, to be fulfilled every moment of one’s life.” Likewise, the lesson of Mattos — to remain firm and steadfast; and the lesson of Massai — to go forward and onward can both be implemented by a Jew simultaneously in his service to G‑d.

And, because the soul never went into Golus, it can keep the body from descending into Golus. The soul expresses the concept of Mattos — keeping the body from descent, enabling it to stand firm within Golus, even while it is “traveling — Massai” through the world.

2. These lessons of Mattos and Massai must be implemented in action. We must go into the street and search out the “Golus Jew.” For despite his outward appearance, he possesses a neshamah which never went into exile and is as wholesome, complete, and steadfast as it was during the times of the Holy Temple.

However, in his outward actions and appearance this Jew is in Golus. He is being surrounded and dominated by “Amalek,” doubt and uncertainty, apathy and coldness towards Yiddishkeit. In fact, numerically, “Amalek” is equivalent to “Sofek — doubt.” Thus, it is necessary to reach out and help this “Golus-Jew” come closer to Hashem.

For the very reason a Jew is sent into Golus is to retrieve and refine the sparks of holiness which are entrapped within the nations of the world. And this means searching out a fellow Jew who has within himself the “venomous serpents, scorpions, and drought where there is no water” and help him. G‑d did not send us into Golus to make us weary, but to liberate another spark of holiness, to help refine another Jew.

This service of going into the streets to bring another Jew closer to G‑d is particularly significant during the “three weeks.” One might think that due to the negative aspect of the three weeks, it would be best to seclude oneself in a Yeshivah or synagogue, and thereby protect oneself from all evil influences during this inauspicious time. But just the opposite is required. Only through “going out from the cloud” and reaching out to “those who are straggling behind you” can one attain a higher level. By sharing Yiddishkeit with others, one gains much more than if one makes it an exclusive experience.

And this descent of “going out” to influence another Jew will ultimately lead to much greater heights in one’s own service to G‑d; as “Massai” teaches us. But we must also carry out the lesson of “Mattos,” remaining firm and unchanging in our own Yiddishkeit as we venture out to reach other Jews, bringing them ever-closer to Yiddishkeit.

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3. As has been previously noted, this year is a Shemittah year, different from other years not only in a general sense, but to the degree that each moment of this year is different and elevated above all other years. Thus, during this time (the three weeks) when we “stand between the straits” and on this Shabbos Mevorchim Av, we find ourselves at a different level than during other years.

The seventh year is a “Shabbos unto G‑d” and just as one does not work on Shabbos, one does not work throughout the whole year of Shemittah. This does not mean that one refrains from all labor in the seventh year, but rather that this labor is invested with the quality of Shabbos — the quality of completion. For the seventh year completes the work of the previous six and, moreover, the weekdays of the seventh elevate the weekdays of the six years before, and the Shabbosim of Shemittah elevate the previous Shabbosim. And, consequently, every Shabbos Mevorchim Av of the past six years is being elevated today, through this Shabbos Mevorchim Menachem-Av.

One might ask: It appears that the major difference of Shemittah is that for six years “one plows his fields and prunes his vineyards” but in the seventh year one lets his fields rest and does not plow or prune. Since one never plows or prunes on Shabbos anyway, how can we say Shemittah applies to Shabbos?

The question is easily answered in light of the purpose of Shemittah, which is to devote this free time to Yiddishkeit and Torah. And a Shabbos which follows six working days cannot compare to a Shabbos following six preparatory days devoted to Torah. As the Talmud states: “He who toils Erev Shabbos will eat on Shabbos.” Although Shabbos is holy in itself (unlike the Yomim Tovim which are sanctified by the Jewish people) there is an addition to the “eating” of Shabbos made by the previous toil. Therefore when Shabbos follows the toil of Torah study, the “eating” is on a much higher level. And thus, today teaches a lesson for every Shabbos Mevorchim Menachem-Av, for today is higher than others.

In Torah Or, the Alter Rebbe notes the Zohar’s comment on the verse: “And they embittered their lives with hard work, mortar and bricks” (Shemos 1:14). The Zohar explains: “Hard work” refers to questions; “mortar” refers to drawing inferences; and “brick” refers to clarity in Halachah. One who toils in these areas of Torah study is comparable to one who was in Mitzrayim, embittered with toil. Yet, if asked which toil is preferable, even he who is least inclined to learn Torah would choose to sweat and struggle with it, rather than toil under Pharaoh. For toiling in Torah is the greatest of pleasures compared to physical labor.

On this Shabbos Mevorchim Av one has the power to transform Golus into a conducive atmosphere for Torah study. This frees us from Golus, for “there is no free person other than he who learns Torah.” Thus the individual makes his profession (not just his spare time activity) learning Torah, Niglah and Chassidus, to the degree that he dreams, walks, lives Torah. And thus he completely leaves Golus.

One might protest: But on Shabbos one should be in a state of joy and not work too hard. The answer? He who sweats over a Maamar Chassidus, learning in such a way that it involves all 248 limbs, will receive Gan Eden. It is known that the AriZal would perspire profusely when learning. And although the excuse may be proffered that the high level of the AriZal is unattainable by the average person, the very fact that the story has reached us demonstrates that it is relevant to us. A person may thus truly free himself from Golus, and by doing so with joy he infuses vitality and greater success into his accomplishment.

Moreover, he must not be content with his own accomplishment, but must influence others to likewise leave Golus, teaching them that “Esther did as Mordechai instructed.” Even in Golus, immersed in darkness and hiddenness, we fulfill the instructions of Mordechai. “Mordechai would neither bow nor prostrate himself [before Haman].” We are not to concern ourselves with the power of the nations, for it is against the very nature of the Jew to bow to idols. Even the most simple and distant from Torah will choose death rather than do so. This is the way of Mordechai: To not bow even in Golus, even under Achashverosh who ruled over the entire world, to never be swayed from the adamant refusal to bow before this might.

Moreover, the Talmud tells us that in the time of Mordechai “the face of Yisroel was blackened like the sides of a pot.” And even facing such terrible conditions Mordechai sought out and succeeded in reaching and influencing Jews. Even Haman realized that such Jews, as distant as they were, were part of the nation of Mordechai. No Jew can remove himself from his nation, for the non-Jews will point him out and recognize him; and even if he denies his Jewishness they will tell him who he is. History has proven that whenever Jews act in an unfitting manner, they either repent or are persecuted. A Jew is always a Jew and will inevitably have to do teshuvah; any involvement with non-Jewish ideas and practices will come to nothing for he will inevitably have to repent and return to Torah.

And Shemittah teaches us that Golus does not truly exist for our souls were never exiled. And although the specific laws of Shemittah apply to Eretz Yisroel — and some sages say that today, even in Eretz Yisroel, these laws are not Torah law, but rabbinic — the Jewish neshamah never went into Golus and hence, the spiritual force of Shemittah is intact and in full force today. Consequently, the spiritual influence of Shemittah is felt both before and after this year.

Thus, even as we descend into Golus we know that the neshamah never went into Golus and we stand as steadfast as in the days of the Bais Hamikdosh. This steadfastness is the concept of Mattos; and even during the descent — Massai — we stand firmly. For we know that only the body, the outward appearance went into exile and that was as a favor to us, that we might retrieve the lost sparks of holiness within Golus. To do this, we must reach out to the “stragglers,” those who are distant from Yiddishkeit, as well as the very guardians of Yiddishkeit who also need to go higher. Each must go out of his four cubits — “go out of the cloud” — and bring everyone back to Torah.

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4. According to the custom of learning Pirkei Avos every week of the summer, this week we learn Chapter 2 Mishnah 12 which states, “Rabbi Yosay said: Let the money of your fellowman be as dear to you as your own; prepare yourself for the study of Torah, for it does not come to you through inheritance; and let all your deeds be for the sake of Heaven.”

This Mishnah raises several questions:

1) The first section which directs us to hold our friend’s money as dear to us is puzzling. We could understand why we are told to hold the honor of our fellowman as dear as our own, to not degrade our fellowman or allow others to do so; for, because there is no Torah command to so honor our fellows, this statement is in the spirit of Pirkei Avos which teaches “conduct beyond the strict limit of the law.” But in regard to money, the Torah already prohibits stealing, overcharging, and other acts of larceny. How can one go beyond observance of these prohibitions? And what does it mean, to say that a friend’s money is “dear” to you?

2) The second section is even more puzzling, for how can we say that Torah is not an inheritance when the Written Torah itself says “The Torah that Moshe commanded us is the heritage of the congregation of Ya’akov.”

3) The third section of the Mishnah is very general advice which applies to everything and hence should come before everything else, each of which applies to only one thing. Why then does it conclude rather than begin the Mishnah?

To answer these questions, we first must understand who Rabbi Yosay was. He was a Kohen — a descendant of Aharon who “loved peace and pursued peace.” Thus, all three things are connected with Ahavas Yisroel. Moreover, he is noted as a chassid, one who goes beyond the letter of the law in kindness and good deeds.

The first section of the Mishnah can be understood through a statement in Chulin 91a, which notes that after Ya’akov transported his possessions he returned to fetch some small jars which had been left behind. The Talmud concludes from this that “the money of Tzaddikim is dearer to them than their bodies.” Not only valuable items fall into this category, but even things worth less than a perutah, a very small sum, are precious to a Tzaddik, for all valuables worth at least a perutah had already been ferried across the river. The fact that after transporting his valuables ahead Ya’akov returned for something worth very little teaches us that his money was dearer to him than his life.

(Similarly Gemara Sotah 12a tells us Yocheved placed Moshe in a papyrus box, a cheap and flimsy wood, although a sturdier wood would have been safer, for “the money of tzaddikim is dearer to them than their bodies.” This raises a simple question which, surprisingly enough, none of the commentaries raise. Why would Yocheved risk Moshe’s life, the life of a three-month old child, to save money, especially after she had already risked her life to hide him? Ya’akov had risked his own life for money, but how could Yocheved risk another’s?)

But still, less than a perutah is not an issue when considering cases of theft, robbery, damages, etc. A Jew is only judged guilty of these crimes if the loss incurred is at least a perutah, for the compassionate nature of a Jew would not indict another for such a petty loss. (This does not apply to non-Jews however who do not react so.) So Rabbi Yosay’s statement could not apply to these financial laws of Torah.

Rather, Rabbi Yosay is calling for a “Mili D’Chassidusa” — act of piety, in the area of Ahavas Yisroel. He is explaining that Jews (Tzaddikim — “your people are all Tzaddikim”) consider their own possessions to be more precious than their own bodies; and should therefore, out of Ahavas Yisroel, consider another’s possessions to be as precious as their own.

The second part of the Mishnah refers to those aspects of Torah which are not inherited but acquired. For although every Jew possesses the Torah an inheritance, the acquisition of Torah requires 48 qualities, some of which are “close association with colleagues, sharp discussion with students, asking and answering.” And one learns with others, not through hitting each other, but through establishing connection, with love. One does not attack another’s question, but answers it. The preparation to learning Torah must be done with Ahavas Yisroel, and then one will acquire that which is not inherited.

The proper word for prepare might appear to be “hachon” rather than the term used — “hasken.” “Hasken” however has an additional meaning, to fix or correct — to correct oneself. By nature a person is self-centered, but he must strive to correct his nature to the point where he can “love his fellowman as himself.”

But how can you command love, a feeling in the heart? The Maggid of Mezeritch and the Alter Rebbe answered this in relation to the commandment to love G‑d; explaining that through meditating upon matters which lead to love, one will develop the feeling of love, thereby fulfilling the commandment. Similarly, one must prepare and correct oneself through meditating on Ahavas Yisroel, and thus correct one’s natural selfishness. Thus one prepares oneself to acquire Torah; and although, without Ahavas Yisroel, one would still inherit Torah, one would lack the additional aspects of acquiring Torah.

The second section speaks of a higher level of Ahavas Yisroel than the first, for while the first speaks of valuing your fellow’s money as your own, your Torah is more precious to you than your money. Thus, in matters of Torah you may think that Ahavas Yisroel is not necessary, that you need not compromise. You are of the school of Bais Shammai and you do not wish to listen to Bais Hillel. Nevertheless, you must correct yourself and associate with others.

The third section of the Mishnah, “all of your deeds should be for the sake of Heaven” describes a very high level of love of G‑d. There are things which Torah requires one to do “for the sake of Heaven”; for example, one must make a blessing before eating, otherwise you are stealing from G‑d and the congregation of Yisroel. Only after making this blessing are you permitted to eat, for then the food is yours (Berachos 35).

But there are permitted things which do not require that one make a blessing and, in fact, to do so would be making a blessing in vain. It is these activities — walking, speaking, sleeping, etc. — which Rabbi Yosay states, should be done “for the sake of Heaven.” Even while carrying out these permitted activities one should be conscious of G‑d, thanking Him and praising Him — Boruch Hashem, doing them “for the sake of Heaven.”

This is the approach of Ahavas Hashem — love of G‑d. Although Ahavas Hashem is a commandment in the Torah, when you take on this Mili D’Chassidusa you demonstrate your love in ways that are not required, thus fulfilling the Mitzvah on a very high level.

The three are connected, for the first two deal with “Mili D’Chassidusa” in Ahavas Yisroel and the third deals with Ahavas Hashem. And Ahavas Yisroel and Ahavas Hashem are the same thing.

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5. Ahavas Yisroel should be particularly emphasized during this time “between the straits.” It is proper during the nine days to make a siyum (conclusion) on a tractate of Talmud, which can be done in one of two ways:

1) One might do it privately, delve into the section deeply, discover new insights in Torah, etc. Although one increases one’s knowledge through this, one benefits only oneself.

2) A siyum can also be made with the intention of reaching others through having them actually participate or even reaching them as spectators through the radio, thereby practicing Ahavas Yisroel.

Although certain actions in Torah and Mitzvos require the actual voice — such as the hearing of the Megillah, testimony of witnesses, blessings etc.1 — and hence do not allow for the use of radio or telephones, nevertheless, a siyum does not fall into this category. For the conclusion of a section of Talmud has as its purpose the bringing about of joy within those who hear it, for which the voice is irrelevant.

One might question the value of a siyum to someone who has not learned the whole tractate. But when one hears a siyum one rejoices in another’s accomplishment, and “if a person is happy in his brother’s joy, you do not question it.” Of course, if one is capable he should make his own siyum, or at least try to participate in one. But if this is not possible he should at least hear it over the radio (especially since, most likely, he will eat meat anyway).

One might think that this applies only to the days when a siyum makes the eating of meat possible, but not to Tisha B’Av when one does not eat at all. But some people must eat for health reasons, and they should at least hear a siyum. Moreover, a siyum brings about joy; and when on Tisha B’Av we are reminded of how we were exiled from our land through our sins, we hold a siyum to keep from falling into dejection and bitterness. Of course, one must be careful to study only those things which one is permitted to learn on Tisha B’Av, specifically, tractate Moed Katan. And, as is self-evident, through hearing a siyum one learns something.

6. Something which has been mentioned three times in a row is an established practice and need not be specified as a special course of action after that. Rather all should assume that this practice should continue. However, although the practice of taking up a collection on Yud-Bais Tammuz has long been in effect, because it was not specifically mentioned this year, no collection took place. Similarly, the song specifically associated with Yud-Bais Tammuz was not sung for the same reason. And the established custom of singing “Hu Elokeinu” on Shabbos Mevorchim Menachem-Av was also ignored.

People should not need to be told to do something which they have done time and again. The initial knowledge and understanding should be sufficient to motivate the continuation of these activities, even if instructions are not given anew each time. After a certain number of repetitions, it can be assumed that either the action will be carried out or, if not, instructions would only fall on deaf ears, useless and unheard.

The established practice of learning “Hilchos Bais HaBechirah” (the laws of the Bais Hamikdosh) during the three weeks is likewise relevant to all years, not just those in which it is specifically mentioned. Children, being a voice untainted by sin, should also learn Hilchos Bais HaBechirah, their learning having a greater advantage than that of adults. For it states: “You do not interrupt the learning of children even to build the Bais Hamikdosh.” Thus, the learning of children is higher even than the Bais Hamikdosh. Moreover, when one learns Hilchos Bais HaBechirah it is as if he is building the Bais Hamikdosh; and therefore when a child learns these laws he is building the Bais Hamikdosh while, at the same time, being greater than it.

It states in Tehillim: “From the mouths of babes and sucklings You have established strength in order to destroy the enemy and avenger.” During this time it is appropriate to arrange gatherings for children — at least two and, if possible, three. Children should be sought wherever they may be, in the day camps, the overnight camps, etc.

These gatherings shall follow the theme of “Zion will be redeemed with Mishpot (justice) and those who return to her with Tzedakah (charity).” Torah should be learned — incorporating Mishpot; Tzedakah should be given; and a prayer service as well as a chapter of Tehillim should be recited together. As it is written “The triple-bond would not be quickly severed.” The Torah which is taught should be a concept from Hilchos Bais HaBechirah and those who cannot yet understand this should learn a few verses from Yechezkel or Melachim about the Bais Hamikdosh; and this will be in addition to the regular Torah studies. In Eretz Yisroel, children should gather especially at the Tomb of Rochel, the Cave of Machpeilah and the Kosel Ma’aravi.