Thursday, July 8, 2010

Parashat Mattot - Maasei

Seen in Jerusalem

Photo: Miriam Woelke


We are in the middle of "Bejn HaMitzrim" - the three weeks before Tisha be'Av (day of mourning for the two destroyed Temples). With the 17 Tammuz, we have entered a semi - mourning period where, for instance, certain ways of joy are forbidden. Example: Until Tisha be'Av is over, we do not listen to music at the moment. From Rosh Chodesh Menachem Av, the beginning of the new Jewish month Menachem Av" (starting on the evening of 11 July + Monday 12 July), we are going to enter the nine day period before Tisha be'Av (9 Av). Then we will have even more Halachot forbidding us any joy and thus remind us of the loss of the two Jerusalem Temples. We should never forget them and especially not the longing for the Third Temple.
Within those nine days, eating meat and drinking wine will be forbidden except on Shabbat where we supposed to be joyful.

Parashat Mattot is teaching us about vows to G - d. Vows many people take upon themselves in order to serve their creator. Sometimes even without any thinking like "G - d I promise You, I will study more Torah !" There are times when people are so overwhelmed that they promise something to G - d they never keep because they forget after a few minutes. People forget but G - d doesn't and keeps on waiting for your promise to Him. The conclusion is that we all should be very careful with what we promise G - d.

Why should some Jews feel like making a vow to G - d ?
Maybe in order to strengthen oneself and thus force themselves to a higher level, as the Sefat Emet and the Koznitzer Maggid used to claim ? Using G - d's name in a vow is a serious matter and therefore I am obligated to keep my promise. Furthermore the vow is connecting my soul with G - d (Rabbi Moshe Alshich).

On the other hand, we have to be aware of the consequences such a vow can cause. Especially when we find out that we are not able to keep it and not annulling the validity of our vows. G - d doesn't always want us to use his name in a vow and find out later that we just cannot keep the promise and fail. Whoever feels to strengthen himself can also learn Torah. One doesn't necessarily need to make a vow in order to reach more closeness to G - d. Moreover, what happens when you are in the middle of the vow, unable to keep it but forced to stick to it ? Then you enter a stress situation where you can end up in depression.
Rabbi Naftali Zvi Horowitz of Ropshitz thought the same way. With a vow you limit your soul and loose your freedom. Instead of making a vow you should recognize your own level and act according to it. Don't look at others who may reach higher levels ! Look into yourself and see your potential.

The second Parasha, Maasei, on this Shabbat teaches us all the 42 stops of the Israelites in the desert. Go through the list and see how boring it is. Why do we have to know this ?

The student of the Baal Shem Tov, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Polonnoye (Polna), compared those journeys with the journeys of Avraham. In Parashat Lech Lecha, G - d commanded Avraham to go to himself. "Lech Lecha" - go out and search for you task in life.
The 42 journeys would stand for our own journeys in life. Everywhere we go or everywhere we move to has a special significance in life. At each place where we get to, we have to do a certain Tikun (soul rectification) because nothing happens by accident.
We have our ups and downs in life but always need to strive for a little bit more closeness to G - d.

Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook (First Chief Rabbi of Palestine who died in 1936) in his book "Orot - Lights":
The more difficult it is to endure the air of the Diaspora, the more one feels the impure spirit of the impure land. This is the sign of the inner absorption of the sanctity of Eretz Israel, of the heavenly mercy that will not abandon one who is worthy of dwelling in the pure shadow of the land of life, even when he is far away and wandering in his exile. The foreignness felt in the Diaspora ties all of one's inner desire to Eretz Israel and its holiness. The yearning to see it intensifies, and the image of the sanctity of the Land bores deeper and deeper.

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