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Devar Torah - Matos/Masei

Friday, 2 August, 2019 - 2:00 pm

What Does It Mean to Live 
as a Lubavitcher Chosid in 2019?

By Rabbi Shimon Raichik

To be frank I feel torn. We are living in difficult times. It’s 25 years since Gimmel Tammuz. There is an entire generation of Lubavitchers who never saw the Rebbe. Parnasa is difficult for many. For some shalom bayis is a challenge. Others are stretched from raising a family, while for a few it seems that all of these things are problematic. Are people even getting the guidance, support and resources they truly deserve so that we ask for yet more, and even higher standards than ever before? The types challenges we have seen as of late are such that I never thought in my adult life I would be called upon to address.

So where do we begin? We know that Hashem gave the Torah to us, not to angels but neshamos in gufim, people of flesh and blood, with a yetzer hara. This week’s parsha Matos-Massai discusses vows. Why do we take a vow? And why do we go to a chacham to release us from a vow? The Rebbe explains that a person takes a vow when they become fearful if have the strength to not abuse the permissible. Abuse of the permissible leads to falling into the forbidden. In an effort to avoid a tragedy a vow is taken from the permissible thereby creating a safeguard, a protection to avoid a devastating downward spiral.

When a chacham releases the vow it’s for one of two reasons. One is because the person who took the vow underestimated their abilities. The chacham can see that they really are able to rise above their challenges. By releasing the vow he gives the necessary vote of confidence to the one who takes the vow. Another reason is that the Torah is giving the chacham the power to release the vow thereby infusing the person with the strength to overcome their challenge and utilize the physical to serve Hashem. 

When are the parshios of Matos and Massei read together? When parshas Pinchas is the first parsha of the Three Weeks. This shows that there is a special connection between Pinchas, Matos and Massei. The Rebbe explains that the name of the parsha encapsulates its theme. A matah is a tribe just like the word shevet. Chassidus connects this meaning with yet another meaning for these words. A shevet is a live twig connected to the branch, while a matah is a disconnected dried up stick. The matah represents the galus Jew, without moisture while a shevet represents the Jew in the times of the Mikdash connected to Hashem full of life and vigor. The advantage of the stick is, that although he may be dried up, nevertheless he is “stiff necked”, he is unwavering and unbending in the service of Hashem.

Massei represents our journey from the limitations of Mitzrayim, any limitation in the service of Hashem, into and through the work of this world until we reach Yarden Yareicho, until the revelation of Moshiach.

In order to go forward we need to be like a matah, a stick firm and resolved throughout the journey. As the Baal Shem Tov teaches, the 42 journeys in the desert correspond to the challenges of our entire life’s travel. Be it the challenge of not speaking lashon hara like at Rismah, or the lust of Kivros HaTaavah. And even though we do not see the miracles in Egypt, the splitting of the Red Sea and the revelation on Mount Sinai still we are called upon to always persevere until we reach the final destination.

It’s the matah, the strength implanted within the Jew to call upon the firm resolve necessary wherever we are, whoever we are 24/7, to be a Jew connected to Hashem and a chosid of Moshe Rabbenu. We take this inspiration from Pinchas and his mesirus nefesh. We see this mesirus nefesh in the entire life of the  Previous Rebbe. The Rebbe Rashab brought the Previous Rebbe into communal responsibilities at the age of 15. He took him to the Ohel of the Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek and the Rebbe Maharash. Bringing him to the Ohel was similar bringing him to the Akeida, demanding from him that his work from now on will be with mesirus nefesh. The Rebbe Rashab said to the Previous Rebbe that mesirus nefesh means to approach everything: “Azoi un nisht anderesh- This way (Judaism without compromise) and no other way”. When we read about the life of the Previous Rebbe we see that he lived the life of mesirus nefesh through and through, azoi un nisht anderesh.  When we emulate this approach we are strong anytime, anywhere, a Jew connected to Hashem and a chosid connected to the Rebbe, even 25 years after Gimmel Tammuz.

Some feel that I am speaking to the choir. We are already chassidim, we keep the minhagim. We are secure. Why do we have to be concerned? The Rebbe once spoke at a fabrengen about why we read about forbidden relations on mincha close to the closing of Yom Kippur. It’s the holiest day of the year. We are fasting, dressed in white and davening the whole day; it’s the furthest thing from the mind. The reason is because that if after Yom Kippur you feel secure that you can just go on your way and you’ll be ok, you are mistaken. If you feel that you do not have to grapple any longer and that you a 100 percent complete, you are mistaken. If you feel that way and are too confident then you spiral out of control into the prohibited. Even after the holiest day of the year, there are no guarantees; we always need Hashem’s help. We always need to strengthen our connection. We have no guarantees that we will not go off course.

Some feel that there are many legitimate heterim, they wonder why must we be so stubborn about mesora, minhagim and chumrahs.

In the early years of Chabad Houses a group of women wanted to have their own women’s minyon with their own ‘chazanit’. The Rav said that there was no problem in halacha. When they wrote the Rebbe, the answer was that surely the Rav was unaware of the fact that this is the way the Reform movement began.

What is so important about not wavering from the mesora of the Rabbeim? Because otherwise we don’t know where we’ll end up.  The ways of the Rabbeim are the ways that we guard and keep. It’s hard, where do we get the strength? My father once told me an explanation of the Rav HaMagid on the following gemara. The gemara quotes the pasuk “What does Hashem your G-d ask of you other that to fear Him”. The gemara asks: Is fear a small matter? The gemara answers is yes, relative to Moshe Rabbenu it is a small matter. How does this relate to each of us, we are not Moshe Rabbenu? Because the gemara says “legabi Moshe, which means relative to Moshe it is easy. This means that if we are standing in front Moshe Rabbenu, in his presence, then it’s easy.

So when I go home I shut the door and leave the world behind. I look on the wall and see the picture of the Rebbe facing me. I’m alone with Hashem and the Rebbe. What does this picture mean to me? Is it only that I love the Rebbe and that I am his chosid? How do I look to the Rebbe? Am I comfortable with what the Rebbe sees in me and how I am right now?  Am I the chosid he knows that I have the ability to be? Is my home, my dress, my character, and am I living in such a way that I can be in front of the Rebbe? When I get home late at night and stand alone with Hashem and the Rebbe this is what the picture is telling me. Then I have the mateh, the strength to overcome. The Rebbe is asking me to act, to do all that I can to bring Moshiach Now.

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