Merkaz Anash, Beis Hamedrash L’shluchim and COLlive.com present The Chassidic Perspective with Rabbi Yoel Kahn, a weekly short webcast on topics that are timely and relevant.
Rabbi Kahn, often referred to as “Reb Yoel,” is the most preeminent authority on Chabad-chassidic teachings and was the chief reviewer and transcriber of the discourses of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Rabbi Kahn is also the lead editor of Sefer Ha’erechim, a multi-volume encyclopedia of abstruse chassidic and mystical concepts and the head Mashpia at the Central Yeshiva Tomchei Tmimim Lubavitch at 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, NY.
This webcast is delivered in Yiddish and a transcription in English appears below or can be printed in a PDF format.
Shabbos parshas Matos is the first Shabbos of the three weeks, and according to the idea that the parsha is connected with the time of year, Matos must be connected with the three weeks.
The parsha begins with the subject of vows, which, according to pirkei avos, are a recommended method for eschewing materialism; yet, elsewhere Chazal admonish us not to add prohibitions on top of those already present in the Torah.
The Preferable Option
It’s often explained that the resolution lies in determining the state of an individual; someone solely focused on spirituality is exhorted to use everything as a vehicle for holiness, but where materialism poses a struggle, permitted pleasures can be a gateway to the forbidden, in addition to being an obstacle in their own right. Ultimately, then, vows play an important role for those fighting to overcome their urges.
On a communal scale, our chachamim instituted various decrees and restrictions, which was a phenomenon that became prevalent specifically during the era of bayis sheini, because as holiness subsided from the world, the need grew to create protections from potential pitfalls.
Weaker or Stronger?
Interestingly, however, the prohibitive nature of a vow is initiated by proclaiming that the object in question be off-limits like a karban, as opposed to stating that it’s forbidden like non-kosher meat. So on the one hand a vow is associated with lowliness, yet it invests holiness within an ordinary item, and in fact, unlike karbanos which are limited to particular species and are bound by certain time restrictions, there are no limits to a vow at all, neither object-wise or within the realm of time.
Similarly, the state of a Jew making vows might be low, yet these, as well as our sages’ decrees, contain the possibility for attaining new heights; the restrictions in question may be a product of these darker times, yet through instituting and observing them, we can reach higher than when they weren’t necessary.
Moreover, once the vows have played their role, there is the concept of annulment, and while halachically that involves an outsider, whether a husband, father or chacham, on a spiritual plane, the same individual who previously sensed the need to abstain will find himself uplifted to the extent that he can revert to harnessing material things in the service of holiness.
These two stages are alluded to in Matos, as in “rashei ha’matos,” the heads of the tribes; a mateh is literally a staff, which starts out as a soft branch while attached (referenced in the more common term, shevet) before hardening into a stick. We too begin connected, and maintained that status at an earlier point in history, yet as time goes on we lose that connection and stiffen, but that also imbues us with newfound strength, and the ‘descent’ into a state of mateh proves at the same time to be an ‘ascent’ into being possessed by an unstoppable force.
Similarly, the three weeks represent a state of churban, destruction, yet we deliberately entered exile in order to accumulate ‘converts.’ Just as a ger who converts initially contained light so hidden that he wasn’t Jewish, yet that small spark was there all along, and once awoken, prompted him to fulfill his destiny and convert, every object likewise contains concealed energy but is awaiting ‘conversion.’
And thus, while our sins have resulted in exile, it is also the site where we seek ‘converts,’ and through observing the decrees instituted by chazal and the later sages, as well as our own vows, we attain new level of strength, matos, and the sparks we ultimately elevate create a dwelling for Hashem.
For further learning see לקוטי שיחות חלק י”ח ע’ 382, כ”ח ע’ 282.