1. Parshas Massai is always read on or close to Shabbos Mevorchim Av. (This year Shabbos Mevorchim Av is connected with the double parshah of Mattos and Massai). An intrinsic relationship exists between Parshas Massai and the month of Av. Parshas Massai mentions Rosh Chodesh Av explicitly, describing how Aharon passed away in “the fifth month, on the first of the month.”1

As a priest, the fundamental aspect of Aharon’s service was to draw G‑dliness down into the world. On the day which a Tzaddik passes away, the spiritual source of his soul becomes manifested here in this world, causing powerful revelations of G‑dliness. These revelations have an effect on the lowest levels of our world, upon which even the effect caused by the sacrifices has no bearing.

The same concept can be derived from Avis position in the Hebrew calendar. Av is the 5th month. Kabbalah explains that the entire world is structured in a sequence of 4. There are four spiritual worlds, four means of interpreting Torah, four letters of G‑d’s name. The number 5 is considered either above or below this order.2 These two extremes are connected. The lowest depths has its source in the higher peaks. It is because of its high source that if fell so low. Likewise, it is only through the medium of the highest levels that the lowest depths can be refined.

This concept is also reflected in the events of the month of Av. On one hand Av is connected with Tisha B’Av, the lowest point of destruction. On the other hand, the 15th of Av was a holiday about which the Mishnah declares “the Jewish people never celebrated a holiday as great as the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur.”

The above suggests a practical lesson. When the month of Av comes, the Yetzer Hora tries to make the Jew sad, even bring him to despair. Despite all the service of the great Tzaddikim, over the ages, the month of Av has approached and the Geulah has not come. As a reply, the Torah teaches that Av is connected with the Yahrzeit of Aharon, the High Priest, when all of his good deeds are brought to a fulfillment. Realizing this, we serve G‑d with joy and we bless the month praying that it be a month of life, peace, joy, and happiness, salvation and comfort.

These blessings will come through our service of increasing our study of Torah and gifts to Tzedakah. Then, with happiness and joy, we will greet Moshiach speedily in our days.

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2. The service that is particularly appropriate for these nine days is expressed in the verse “Zion will be redeemed by judgment (interpreted in Likkutei Torah to mean Torah study) and those who return by Tzedakah.” Both of these activities (and particularly in the realm of Torah, the study of Halachah) help bring about the transformation of these days from a period of mourning into days of rejoicing as our Sages commented “Tzedakah brings close the redemption” and “the exiles will be gathered through the merit of the study of Mishnayos.”

The study of the laws of the construction of the Bais Hamikdosh carry particular importance. The Midrash declares that G‑d considers the study of the laws of the Bais Hamikdosh’s construction equivalent to actually working to build the Bais Hamikdosh.3

In his treatise on the laws of the Bais Hamikdosh, the Rambam writes (Chapter 1 Law 4) “the measurements of the sanctuary built by Shlomo are explicitly mentioned in the Book of Kings. Ezekiel prophesied about the rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdosh. However, his instructions were not specific. When the Exile returned from Babylon, they built the Bais Hamikdosh according to the specifications of Shlomo’s Bais Hamikdosh, including certain characteristics of Ezekiel’s prophecies.”

At this point the question arises: The Rambam explains that the purpose for studying the laws of the construction of the Bais Hamikdosh in the tractate of Middos is to know how to build the Third Bais Hamikdosh when the time comes. The Tosafos Yom Tov asks “since the Third Bais Hamikdosh will be built totally accordingly to all the prophesies of Ezekiel, of what value will be the knowledge of how the Second Bais Hamikdosh was built, since it included only selected features of the Third Temple?”

The answer can be understood through the preface of another question. The Rambam writes that the Third Bais Hamikdosh will be built by man: the Moshiach and the entire Jewish people. On the other hand, the commentaries, including Rashi and Tosafos4 maintain that the Third Bais Hamikdosh will be built by G‑d and descend from heaven, as the Torah declares “the sanctuary of G‑d, established by your hands.”

Some commentaries have based the dispute on the passage in Isaiah that declares that the future redemption will come “in its time, I (G‑d) will hasten it.” The Sages interpret the passage as follows — “if they merit, G‑d will hasten the redemption. If not, then the redemption will come in its appointed time.” i.e. If the Jews do not merit, the Bais Hamikdosh will be built in its time by Moshiach. If however, the Jews merit, G‑d will hasten its building by bringing it down from heaven.

In view of the above, the Rambam had to decide that the Bais Hamikdosh would be built by man. The Jewish people have free choice. “Everything is in the hands of heaven, except the fear of heaven.” Therefore, the Rambam would not be able to pronounce in a Torah law that the Bais Hamikdosh would be built by G‑d. Such a declaration would force the Jewish people’s behavior to be meritorious since the declaration of a Torah law influences events in this world.5 For that reason, he describes what would happen if they did not merit. A revelation on that level will definitely occur. However, if the Jews merit, there will be an even greater and more inclusive revelation.

Another solution to the same question has been offered. The work of constructing the Bais Hamikdosh will be done by man. (through following the instructions in the Rambam and in the tractate of Middos and then through listening to Ezekiel, etc.) However, after that work will be completed G‑d will rest His Presence there. That revelation will change the entire nature of the building and a completely new entity will emerge. A similar pattern occurred during the dedication of the sanctuary in the desert. For seven days, only a physical fire burnt in the Mishkan. Only on the eighth day did a “heavenly fire” descend and G‑d’s presence was revealed and the sanctuary completed.

Through this we can reconcile the two opinions: the actual construction will be done by man, however, the revelation of the Shechinah will change the building to the point where it is considered a new entity6 built by G‑d.7

With this preface the initial question can be answered. Through studying the laws of the construction of the Second Bais Hamikdosh, G‑d will consider it as if we built the Bais Hamikdosh. Then, with the actual building of the Third Bais Hamikdosh, we will build it according to the specifications which we have learned. Then Ezekiel and the other prophets of that day will give us instructions on the further details of the Third Bais Hamikdosh’s features which differ from those of the Second Bais Hamikdosh.

Why is it so important that the Third Bais Hamikdosh be built by man? So its revelations will not be considered “bread of shame.” (i.e. unearned bread) Although throughout the dark Golus we have performed a greater service than could be demanded from a creation of flesh and blood8 and one might have thought that our work is completed, nevertheless, it is important that man also play a role in the actual building of the Bais Hamikdosh.

May it be G‑d’s will that we witness the Bais Hamikdosh’s construction: Through the hand of G‑d, or through man’s hand; what’s most important is that: “Jews do Teshuvah and they are immediately redeemed” — in one moment as Teshuvah can be performed in one moment — may it be, speedily in our days.

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3. In order that the above mentioned increase in Torah and Tzedakah be carried out in the fullest and most energetic manner, it is necessary that we be involved in meditation on G‑d, the giver of the Torah and commander of its Mitzvos. Torah and Mitzvos must be performed out of commitment to G‑d and not because of our natural inclination.9

Chassidic thought explains this concept in great length, using the example of our forefather, Avraham. Avraham had a natural tendency to do good. However, he worked on himself and was able to progress even beyond his own nature. In that vein, the Midrash explains how Avraham provided his guests with food and drink. He then requested that they “bless the G‑d of the world from whose food we have eaten.” If they refused, he began to chastise them and charge an exorbitant amount of money for the food. The question arises: How could Avraham who was so good-natured cause other people so much discomfort?

However, Avraham had worked on himself to the point where all of his actions were related to his central purpose in life. He dedicated all his energies to making others aware of the existence of G‑d.10 He began working with people in a generous manner. However, if that failed he would use the opposite approach. He had conquered his personal nature11 and subordinated it to his greater goal.

To apply the above to ourselves, in order that our efforts of Torah and Tzedakah be complete, it is necessary to increase our devotion in prayer. Prayer is a process of connection between a Jew and G‑d. Our morning prayers influence and effect our study and our Tzedakah.12

Also in addition to our increase in Torah study (particularly the laws of the construction of the Bais Hamikdosh) and Tzedakah, we should intensify our efforts in the other Mivtzoim: Mivtza Ahavas Yisroel, Mivtza Chinuch, Mivtza Torah, Mivtza Tefillin, Mivtza Mezuzah, Mivtza Tzedakah, Bayis Malay Seforim, (the campaign to acquire Holy Jewish books), Mivtza Nairos Shabbos Kodesh, Mivtza Kashrus, and Mivtza Taharas HaMishpocha. This will surely bring about the fulfillment of the promise: “I will sprinkle pure water upon you and you will become pure,” — speedily in our days.

4. It is customary to explain a question on an aspect of Rashi’s commentary on the weekly portion. Parshas Massai describes the boundaries of the Land of Israel. It that context, Rashi quotes the word “G’vul” and interprets it as meaning “boundary.” He continues to explain the purpose for including this passage in the Torah. “Since many Mitzvos must be carried out in the Land of Israel, and cannot be carried out outside of it, the Torah found it necessary to clarify the boundaries of Israel.” In his commentary on this Parshah Rashi explains (several times) that the word “G’vul” means boundary. This presents a difficulty. Many times previously the Torah uses the word “G’vul” or its derivation e.g. Exodus 19:12, 19:23 and Rashi doesn’t explain the word’s meaning. What factors require him to explain it in this case?

The answer to this question depends on the comprehension of the full meaning of the word “G’vul.” In addition to meaning boundary, there are times when “G’vul” means the entire bounded areas. For example, a few verses previously, in Numbers 33:54, Rashi says “Twelve boundaries, corresponding to the number of tribes.” There the meaning of “G’vul” is the entire area. Since there are two possible meanings, Rashi felt it necessary to explain the precise meaning in this case.

From the “Wine of Torah” (the Torah secrets) hidden in Rashi’s commentary is the concept that the entire existence of “G’vul,” boundaries and limitations regarding Israel and the world at large; is for the sake of the performance of Mitzvos. All the Mitzvos have specific limitations. (e.g. Tefillin 4 sections, four fringes, not 3 or 5.) To allow for their fulfillment G‑d created a limited world.

5. The above is also connected with Rashi’s commentary in the book of Eicha on the verse “all of her pursuers caught her “Bain HaMetzorim” (Generally translated as between the straits). Rashi brings down the word Metzorim and connects it with “a place with a elevation on one side and an elevation on the other side with no place to flee.” Afterwards,13 he brings down the word HaMetzorim and comments “the boundaries of a field or vineyard.” He continues “in the Midrash, our Sages taught the phrase Bain HaMetzorim refers to the three weeks between the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha B’Av.

This commentary raises a number of questions:

1) What does Rashi add by writing that the boundaries of a field or vineyard?

2) The sea also presents a natural boundary. If a sea was on one side, the Jews also would have had no place to flee. How does Rashi know that Metzorim refer to high obstacles?

3) There are also boundaries of a city. Why did Rashi ignore them as well?

4) Whenever Rashi brings two explanations, that implies that neither is completely adequate. Each one contributes a factor absent from the other. However, the first interpretation is always closer to the verse’s simple explanation.

a) What is lacking in both explanations?

b) Why is the first closer to the P’shat?

These questions can be answered by viewing the verse within its historical context. The prophet Yirmiyahu recited this verse concerning the destruction of the First Bais Hamikdosh. At that time, the Jews fled Jerusalem and their pursuers captured them. Rashi mentions fields and vineyards because they surrounded Jerusalem. He did not mention a sea because there is no sea near that area. Likewise, he did not mention the boundaries of a city, because the city of Jerusalem (and all the other neighboring cities as well) had been conquered. The Jews would be fleeing away from them.

The insufficiency Rashi sees in that explanation stems from the addition of the prefix, Ha — the definite article. Such a prefix applies emphasis on a specific, previously known subject. That was not the case when the Jews fled Jerusalem. There were no specific places where they were captured. Therefore Rashi searched for another explanation.

The interpretation “between the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha B’Av” fits that description. Even before the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh, these days had been the occasion of ill-fated events. On the 17th of Tammuz, the Tablets were destroyed. On Tisha B’Av, G‑d punished the Jewish people and declared that they would wander 40 years in the desert. From then on, the ominous portent of these days was known.

However, a greater difficulty prevents this interpretation from being the primary explanation of the verse. The verse declares that her pursuers captured her between the Metzorim (straits).

The majority of the Jews fled and were captured after Tisha B’Av. However, according to the latter interpretation it would seem that they were captured between the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha B’Av. Because of this difficulty, the other explanation is given prominence.

The Tzemach Tzedek explained how the book of Eicha can be interpreted in a positive manner. The prophecy “I will transform their mourning into joy” applies to each verse of the book.

The whole purpose of the existence of Metzorim (straits) for the Jewish people is related to the verse “out of the straits I called to You, You answered me in the fullness of G‑d.” Through meditation on how the entire order of creation is connected with straits and limitations, we come to the awareness of the fullness and infinity of G‑d.

May we experience that infinity soon. However G‑d forbid we should have to wait until after Bain HaMetzorim for the Geulah. Rather, may it come to pass that in the last days of Golus the Jews have “light, happiness, joy, and honor and then proceed to the Messianic redemption speedily in our days.

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6. In the first chapter of Pirkei Avos, the Mishnah declares: Yosay ben Yoezer of Tzredah said: Let your house be a meeting place for Sages, sit in the soil (‘Afar’) at their feet; and drink in their words thirstily.”

A number of questions result from this statement: the phrase “sit in the soil of their feet” can be more literally translated as “become dusty (‘Mis’abek’) with the soil of their feet.” Dust and soil are two different words. Why didn’t the Mishnah use the phrase “become soiled?” (‘Mis’afer’)

This question becomes particularly powerful from the standpoint of the Zohar. The Zohar explains that soil is still connected with holiness, it can still bear fruit, but dust cannot. Therefore, when Esau’s archangel wrestled with Ya’akov, the Torah uses the term ‘Vayisabek,’ indicating that unholy powers were at work. How then can such a term be used in connection with Torah Sages?

Also, the question arises: How are the Mishna’s three clauses related? What personal connection does the Mishnah have to its author Yosay ben Yoezer of Tzredah?

A historical perspective helps answer the question. Yosay ben Yoezer and Yosay ben Yochanan argued on the issue of Semichah. (The act of placing ones hands on a sacrifice.) This was the first recorded argument in the history of the Sages.

This fact answers an obvious question. On the surface, the entire necessity for a command “make your houses a meeting place for Sages” is superfluous. Any person would naturally appreciate and be honored by the presence of Sages in his home. However, those feelings would apply if there was no argument among the Sages. However, after the Sages began to argue (and during their argument they would become excited so much so that at one point a sword was implanted in the floor of the House of Study and it was announced that no-one would be allowed to leave until that particular dispute was resolved.) It was in times like these that Yosay ben Yoezer felt it necessary to advice people to open their homes to the Torah Sages.

The same basic premise also explains how “dust” became connected with the Sages. When the Sages would come into a house, their students would accompany them. Included among their students were those who “had served their master insufficiently.” Such a student would be likely to interject his personal self into the argument.14 However even in such a case, we must open our homes and “sit [cling] (‘Mis’abek’ — which refers to the lower level of the Talmidim) to the soil of their feet.”

[By using the word soil, the Mishnah stresses the importance of the attitude of humility, how the Sages (and for the most part) their students were able to “make my soul as ‘soil’ to all.”]15

On the surface, the dust of the students can be harmful. Why should the Mishnah teach to become involved in such a situation? The Mishnah answers that question with the next clause “Drink in their words thirstily.” Dirt naturally arouses thirst. Through drinking the Sages’ words with thirst, we can insure that the dust will not harm us. In fact, we can elevate it to holiness.

Regarding the wrestle between Ya’akov and Esav’s archangel, the Zohar comments “they stirred up dust that reached G‑d’s throne.” How can dust, the element of evil be associated with G‑d’s throne? The answer is, however, that Ya’akov was able to refine Esav’s archangel and transform his efforts into holiness.

The same applies in a personal sense. If we see a Jew involved in a struggle, we are obligated to help him. Then we can truly appreciate the quality of thirst. The Rambam explains that a Baal Teshuvah goes through a process of personal transformation conquering his own desires. The Alter Rebbe explains how a Baal Teshuvah’s distance from G‑d, his presence in a dry and parched land arouses him to a greater thirst for connection to G‑d than experienced by Tzaddikim.

Through helping another Jew achieve this quality of thirst, Teshuvah, we can receive an awareness of this quality ourselves. Therefore we should not regard our work with others as a regret-able necessity that we must undertake but rather become actively involved.

7. People have asked how can we continue in such an age, when there is so much darkness and when our Sages have passed away. The Previous Rebbe answered this question when speaking about his own father. He declared “He will not separate himself from his flock. Even after his passing, he arouses G‑d’s mercy, drawing down G‑dly influence just as when he was alive.” What the Previous Rebbe said about his father applies to himself.16 He is carrying out those functions now.

The Previous Rebbe declared that this redemption was connected to all Jews “the lovers of Torah, the followers of its commandments, and everyone who is called by the name of Israel.” In the same letter, he sent the Chassidic discourse “Ten who sit together and study Torah.” Each person has the power to involve all of his ten powers17 in Torah study and also fix study sessions with others.18