The Sabbaths during the “Three Weeks” (the time between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av), contain a unique dimension: They are within the period of lamentation over the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Jewish people. Yet it is forbidden to mourn on Shabbat, and on the contrary, we are commanded to rejoice.
In truth, these special Sabbaths express the true good that is hidden within the exile. Seen superficially, the exile is only a negative phenomenon – painful and without merit. On a deeper level, however, the exile contains a higher purpose, one that is only goodness and light – the Final Redemption with Moshiach. In fact, in the era of Moshiach, those days that were marked by the Jewish people as days of mourning will be transformed into days of rejoicing.
This principle – that what we now perceive as cause for grief will ultimately be shown to be only good – is reflected in the dual nature of these three Sabbaths.
This duality is further expressed in this week’s two Torah portions, Matot and Masei.
In the Torah, the Jewish people are sometimes referred to as “shevatim” and sometimes as “matot,” both of which are generally translated as “tribes.”
Literally “rods” or “staffs,” there is one important distinction between the two terms: although both signify a branch that has been cut from a tree, a “shevet” still retains its moisture and suppleness, whereas a “mateh” has already dried out and is therefore stronger and inflexible.
These two appellations allude to the Jewish soul’s journey in this physical world.
Torn from its G-dly Source, the soul is “cut off” from its roots, as it were. Sometimes it manages to retain its original Divine “moisture,” yet other times it is so estranged from its G-dly Source that it appears to have “dried out” completely. “Masei” (“Journeys”) too, alludes to the soul’s descent from the highest spiritual planes to this world, including the lowliest descent of all into the exile. And yet, the purpose of this descent is none other than ascent, thus the strong rod has a certain advantage over the flexible tree branch.
Matot and Masei remind us of the true essence of the exile, which is the great ascent and revelation of G-dliness that will be revealed precisely from within.
A Jew must always remember that the true purpose of the soul’s sojourn in the physical world, as well as the Jewish people’s travails in exile, is solely in order to reach the G-dliness of the Messianic era. This awareness in itself gives us the strength to overcome all difficulties and to fulfill G-d’s will in the most trying of circumstances, leading all of Creation to its ultimate perfection with Moshiach NOW!!