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Not A Cause For Despair
Sichos in English

25th of Tammuz, 5750

Today is Wednesday of the week when the two parshiyos, Matos and Masei are read. The connection between the two receives greater emphasis on this day because the portion of Chumash studied today (i.e., the fourth aliya) fuses together the conclusion of Parshas Matos with the beginning of Parshas Masei.

This Torah portion describes the preparations for the entry into Eretz Yisroel and the conquest of the land, including not only the land of the seven nations that lived on the west side of the Jordan, but also the three nations (the Keini, Knizi, and Kadmoni) whose territory began on the eastern bank of the Jordan. As explained previously, the tribes of Reuven and Gad desired to settle in these lands to fulfill G-d’s promise to grant Avrohom the lands of ten nations.

After describing the dialogue between Moshe Rabbeinu and these two tribes at the conclusion of Parshas Matos, Parshas Masei begins with the statement, "These are the journeys of the children of Israel who left the land of Egypt." In Likkutei Torah, the Alter Rebbe asks: After the first journey, the Jewish people had already left the land of Egypt. Why then does the Torah connect all 42 journeys to the departure from Egypt? The Alter Rebbe explains that the ultimate purpose of all the journeys was to leave Egypt (Mitzrayim), i.e., to transcend one’s boundaries and limitations (meitzarim u’gvulim). Conversely, the departure from Egypt includes all the 42 journeys, because ideally, directly after the Jewish people left Egypt, they were meant to enter Eretz Yisroel. They would have taken possession of the entire land, the land belonging to all ten nations.

The Torah is eternal, containing lessons applicable at every time and in every place. Surely, the above is applicable at present, in these last days directly before Moshiach’s coming. We, like the Jewish people described in the Torah, must be prepared to enter Eretz Yisroel. Indeed, preparation alone is not sufficient. As long as a Jew has not entered Eretz Yisroel, even if he is standing at the banks of the Jordan, opposite Jericho, he is still in exile, and must await the final journey which will take him out of Egypt.

Now, this very moment, is the time when we must conclude the exile entirely and begin the Messianic Redemption. Each individual must begin this process by making an increase in Torah and mitzvos. The Tanya explains how Torah and mitzvos represent a redemption on the individual level. These individual redemptions will lead to the Redemption of the people as a whole. Then, we will proceed to Eretz Yisroel and witness how "kingship will be the L-rd’s."

This will be hastened by gifts to tzedaka, which "brings close the Redemption." Thus, we will conclude this gathering by distributing money to be given to tzedaka.

The above receives greater significance at the present time. Tammuz is the tenth month of the year and "the tenth shall be holy." Similarly, we are entering the 26th day of Tammuz and 26 is numerically equivalent to the name Havaya. This leads to the 27th of Tammuz, "zach" (pure) in Hebrew numerology, which in turn will lead to the kindling of the menora in the Beis HaMikdash with pure oil. May it be in the immediate future.

Shabbos Parshas Matos-Masei;
28th Day of Tammuz, 5750

The three weeks between the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha B’Av are referred to as the Three Weeks of Retribution and Bein HaMetzarim, "between the straits," names whose connotation is not openly positive.

This presents a conceptual difficulty. The number three is generally connected with positive themes, e.g., the three Patriarchs, the three pilgrimage festivals. Similarly, our Sages associated the giving of the Torah with the number three, praising G-d for giving, "a threefold light to a threefold people...in the third month." Furthermore, the number three has implications of permanence, as expressed in the verse, "the threefold cord is not easily severed." Similarly, in halachic terms, the number three is connected with a chazaka, a presumed outcome. Accordingly, it is difficult to understand: Why is the concept of retribution and destruction, the direct opposite of holiness and permanence, associated with the number three?

The awesome descent of the Three Weeks is intended to allow for an ascent. When a person wants to reach a level that is much higher than his present rung, it is necessary for him to undergo a descent first. Similarly, for the Jewish people to reach the heights of the Messianic Redemption, a redemption that will not be followed by a descent, it is necessary that they first undergo the descent of exile. In this context, the Three Weeks are associated not with exile, but rather with the third Beis HaMikdash, which will be built after this exile.

This explanation, however, is insufficient, for the Three Weeks connect the aspect of descent (and not the subsequent ascent) with three. When a descent is no more than a means to attain an ascent, the descent itself is not desired. Indeed, it will ultimately be nullified and all that will remain is the ascent. If so, why is three, usually connected with permanence, associated with a situation that has no self-contained purpose and which ultimately will be nullified?

The question can be strengthened: Generally the number three expresses an ascent which follows a descent. For example, in the narrative of Creation, the first day is referred to in the Torah as "yom echad" (one day), i.e., a day of oneness; to quote the Midrash, "the day that G-d was one in His world." It was followed by the second day, "the day on which strife was created," as reflected in the separation of the higher waters from the lower waters. Accordingly, the expression, "And G-d saw that it was good" is not mentioned in connection with the second day, since division, even when it is necessary for the sake of the world, cannot be called good. This was followed by the third day, which compensated for the division of the second day, creating peace and unifying the two opposites. For this reason the expression "And G-d saw that it was good" is repeated twice, revealing a compound goodness which exceeds the goodness of the other days. This is reflected in the attribute of tiferes (beauty), expressed on the third day of Creation, which unifies chesed (kindness), associated with the first day of Creation, with g’vura (severity), related to the second day of Creation. This reveals a unity surpassing that of the first day. On the first day, the unity existed on a level above division. Thus, there is the possibility that division will ultimately arise. In contrast, the unity of the third day is established within the context of division, bringing about a true state of unity.

The same concept is reflected in the Torah, where we find the idea of "a controversy for the sake of Heaven," the controversy between Hillel and Shamai. This division has its source in the division that came into being on the second day of Creation and, in turn, serves as the source for subsequent differences of opinion within Torah.

A "controversy for the sake of Heaven" is not a simple matter of strife or conflict. Nevertheless, it (even the controversy between Hillel and Shamai) brought about a descent. Ultimately, however, it serves a positive function. The debate between an approach that favors leniency (as its source is the attribute of chesed) and one that tends toward severity (as its source is the attribute of g’vura) leads to a clarification of Torah law. From the two poles, a third opinion emerges which reconciles and unifies both conflicting perspectives.

Thus, both in the world at large and in Torah, the concept of descent and division is associated with the number two, whereas three is associated with the ascent and unification that follows. Similarly, in regard to the Holy Temples: The first Temple (associated with the Patriarch Avrohom and the attribute of chesed) and the second Temple (associated with the Patriarch Yitzchok and the attribute of g’vura) were destroyed, whereas the third Beis HaMikdash (associated with the Patriarch Yaakov and the attribute of tiferes) will be an everlasting structure. Thus the original question is reinforced: Why are these weeks, which are connected with mourning, destruction, and exile, associated with the number three?

The question can be resolved by developing a different understanding of the concept of a descent for the purpose of an ascent. A Jew should be in a constant process of ascent, "always ascending higher in holiness," "proceeding from strength to strength." If so, what is the reason for a descent? It is to proceed to a higher and more elevated rung that could not otherwise have been reached. To give an example from everyday life, when faced with obstructions and difficulties, a person summons up inner strength that brings out greater achievements that would otherwise be impossible.

In this process of descent for the sake of ascent, there are two levels: a) a descent limited to the natural order, b) a descent which cannot be fathomed by the rules of nature.

In the first case — which reflects the progression from two (descent) to three (ascent) — just as the descent is limited, so too, the ascent has certain limitations. In contrast, when the descent is unlimited, as in the Three Weeks, the ascent that follows is also unlimited in nature.

The first type of descent was implanted by G-d in the natural order of the world. In contrast, the second descent is brought about by man through his sins. In the first instance, there is a direct connection between the descent and the ascent which will follow. In contrast, when a person sins, on a revealed level there is no apparent connection between the sin and the ascent through teshuva which will ultimately follow. In particular, when the descent that is brought about by sin is connected with three, and thus, has the power of permanence, the ascent becomes even higher.

In other words, the process of ascent that is brought about by descent is a natural phenomenon. Since the descent into the realm of division brings about a higher sense of oneness, the division is not genuine. On the contrary, even on the level of division, it is felt how it is only temporary in nature, with no purpose in and of itself, and that it exists only to express the higher level of unity. When unity is established in that context, then it is a true and complete unity.

The Three Weeks, which is brought about by our sins, reflects the lowest possible descent, a descent that would not be possible within the order of nature, and reflects the aspect of permanence is associated with the number three. Thus, we see that this exile continues without end, to quote our Sages: "In the first generations, their sin was revealed and the end [of the period of retribution] was also revealed. In the later generations, their sin was not revealed and the end [of the period of retribution] was also not revealed."

Even after our Sages declared, "All the appointed times for Moshiach’s coming have passed," the exile continues. Furthermore, on the surface, it is not apparent how such an exile will lead to the Redemption. Nevertheless, this itself is an indication that it will lead to an ascent that is totally beyond our comprehension, that it will surpass even the heights of holiness that were previously attained, establishing an entirely new framework of reference.

Furthermore, since this is the purpose of the descent of the Three Weeks — although it is not consciously felt — we must appreciate that the Three Weeks themselves have a positive dimension.

The Three Weeks are associated with the revelation of the three faculties of intellect. In that context, the word "puranusa," rendered as "retribution," can be reinterpreted in a positive context. The Zohar associates Pharaoh (whose name shares the same Hebrew root as "puranusa") "with the revelation of all the sublime lights." Similarly, these Three Weeks can be the source of a revelation of light that transcends all limits, the light that will be revealed in the third Beis HaMikdash.

In this context, we can explain the connection between the Three Weeks and this particular Shabbos, the Shabbos on which the Book of BaMidbar is completed. The process of descent for the sake of ascent which is revealed in the Three Weeks goes beyond the limits of nature. Thus, it brings about a strengthening of the Jewish people in Torah, as evidenced by their calling out in powerful tones, "Chazak, chazak, v’nis’chazeik."

The concept of an immeasurable ascent resulting from the descent into exile is also alluded to in each of the parshiyos of Matos and Masei.

The name Matos refers to a branch which has become strong and hard because it was cut off from the tree. There is a parallel to this in our service of G-d. The Jewish soul as it descends into a body, particularly as it exists in exile, is, on an apparent level, cut off from its source. This brings about a hardening and strengthening process. On the surface, the hardening is negative in nature, intensifying the challenges which a Jew faces. Through confronting these challenges, however, a Jew attains added strength and power in his service of G-d, enabling him to endure the challenges of exile without being affected.

Similarly, the parsha of Masei shares a connection to the exile. Masei, meaning journeys, in an extended sense can refer to all the journeys undergone by the Jewish people in their departure from Egypt (the place of boundaries and limitations) with the intent of reaching Eretz Yisroel in the Messianic Era. These journeys add strength to the Jewish people as expressed in the exclamation "chazak, chazak, v’nis’chazeik."

Thus, the extended exile, felt acutely in these Three Weeks, should not bring a Jew to despair, but rather to an appreciation of the heights to which the exile will bring us. This realization should, in turn, bring about a strengthening of Torah and mitzvos, which will lead to the Messianic Redemption. This should be expressed in "spreading the wellsprings outward," extending the influence of Torah to places which by nature have no connection to it.

In particular, this should be expressed in making siyumim, conclusions of the study of Talmudic tractates or Torah works. These siyumim should be made in every place possible. May this lead to a siyum of the exile.


Torah and Mitzvos represent a redemption on the individual level. These individual redemptions will lead to the Redemption of the people as a whole.




The extended exile, felt acutely in these three weeks, should not bring a Jew to despair, but rather to an appreciation of the heights to which the exile will bring us.


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