Parshas Matos-Masei - Returning to Ourselves, Returning Home
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This week our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora catch up to those of who live in Eretz Yisrael. The question is, what is the central theme of these two parshiyos that is appropriate to put them together? At first blush they seem to have nothing in common. Parshas Matos tells us the story of Klal Yisrael's war with Midian. Parshas Masei recalls our journeys from Mitzrayim to Eretz Yisrael. Why do we choose to connect these two parshiyos? Is it just a calendarical correction or is there an inner message we are missing?
Who Is Midian?
The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that Midian represents a particular personality type. Midian people are self obsessed. Midian people are not interested in serving others. They see others as pawns in their game of life. People become objects to satisfy their desires. If they fail to do so they cut them out of their lives. They do so because they're insecure. They don't have the sense of self that is necessary to let other people into their lives. Vulnerability is the birth place of connection. Without a healthy self esteem people live in fear of that vulnerbaility. They push people away with their anger before they can get hurt. At the first sign of trouble they run. For them it is a better option than facing their fears and building a real connection.
Eretz Yisrael is our home. It is the place of true connection. With ourselves, with others and with God. It can be our home because it is a place where vulnerability is not feared but embraced. There is no room for arrogance in a home. Love is all about creating space for another. In creating that space we leave ourselves open to pain and to hurt. Those that have a healthy self esteem understand that their value comes from the fact that they have an infinite Godly soul inside of them. The infinite soul is unconcerned with the possibility of pain. It recognizes its necessity and embraces the opportunity that lies within.
Arrogance is the absence of that recognition. The arrogant person will not create space for another. They will not allow others in. Their fragility does not allow them to. Their consciousness is the paradigm of the body. Frail and finite. One day the body will die and they spend their lives in the foolish attempt to prevent the inevitable. Pain is a little bit of death. The pain that a love one can cause us... suffice it to say that it is beyond words. But if we want to enter into true relationships we must first wage war with our self obsessed, arrogant selves. Without this war we will not be able to see the Godliness inside of ourselves nor can we recognize it in others.
Bodies can only come close to one another. True intimacy, that is to say true oneness, can only occur at the dimension of the soul. Waging war with Midian represents the journey from arrogance to humility. From finite to infinite. From relationships of utility to true intimacy.
Journeying from Mitzrayim to Eretz Yisrael
Mitzrayim is the birth place of fear and arrogance. The word Mitzrayim relates to the word meitzarim, which means boundaries. As opposed to the infinite soul which is by definition limitless, Mitzrayim is the place of the limited consciousness of the body. That is why, of all the places in the world, the Jews were enslaved in Egypt. A slave has no will. No access to the infinity that resides within. They have no capacity for true interdependence because they have no capacity for independence. It took forty years for the Jews to leave behind that worldview. Many times throughout the Torah we see that Klal Yisrael desired to return to Egypt. Why would they want to go back to that type of suffering? Would a free man want to return to jail? Independence is difficult. Children must first to learn to have healthy dependent relationships with their parents before they can become independent. If a child cannot rely on parents to be safe and loving people in their lives they will have difficulty transitioning into the period of independence (typically during the teenage years). In our formative years in Mitzrayim we were tortured and abused. We became accustomed to Mitzrayim. It was all we knew. Leaving the place you know can be frightening. Even if that place is horrible. We had no appropriate sense of dependence so we had no idea how to become independent. Returning to Mitzrayim felt like the safer option. But we could not become interdependent, in a relationship with God and his people without the journeys of the desert. We learned how to depend on God and to trust ourselves. Only then were we able to enter into our homeland.
The inner connection between these two parshiyos is now clear. Both Matos and Masei represent the journey from ego to self. Leaving the constrictions and boundaries of Mitzrayim behind and shedding the arrogance and fears of Midian. Only then can we truly be capable of sharing a home with God.
Living With the Times
The timing of these parshiyos is not coincidental. The three weeks is the period of time in which we mourn the destruction of our home. We mourn not because we live in the past but because we hope for a better future. The lessons of Matos and Masei inform us how to rebuild our home. The Beis HaMikdash was destroyed because of baseless hatred for our brothers and sisters. Such a hatred is born in arrogance and fear. It is the worldview of Midian and Mitzrayim. Rebuilding the Beis HaMikdash means going back to the wars and the journeys that made us capable of entering into Eretz Yisrael in the first place. We need to go back to basics. If we are to return home and rebuild our Temple we need to create space for each other within our lives. The petty differences that keep us apart are masking the deeper issues. The Yarmulkes or hats that we wear or don't wear, the way we see the world, these are not the real issues. If we were humble, capable of seeing the Godliness in ourselves and in others, we would not care about any of these things. Creating space for each other means valuing our differences. Our differences are not impediments to intimacy, they are like two pieces of a puzzle. Each piece completes the other.
This time of year I am always reminded of this amazing (anonymous) poem:
'T was the night of the Geulah, -- And in every single Shtiebel Sounds of Torah could be heard -- Coming from every kind of Yeedel. This one in English, -- Some in Hebrew, some in Yiddish. Some saying P'shat -- And some saying a Chiddish. And up in Shamayim--The Aibishter decreed: "The time has come -- For My children to be freed. "Rouse the Moshiach -- From his heavenly berth. Have him get in his chariot, -- And head down to earth. "The Moshiach got dressed -- And with a heart full of glee, Went down to earth and entered -- the first Shtiebel he did see. "I am the Moshiach! -- Hashem has heard your plea! Your Geulah has come! -- It's time to go free! "They all stopped their learning; -- This was quite a surprise. And they look at him carefully, -- With piercing sharp eyes "He's not the Moshiach!" -- Said one with a grin, "Just look at his hat, -- At the pinches and brim!" "That's right!" cried another -- With a grimace and frown, "Whoever heard of Moshiach, -- With a brim that's turned down?" "Well," thought Moshiach, -- "If this is the rule, I'll turn my brim up -- Before I go to the next shul." So he walked right on over -- To the next shul in town. Sure to be accepted, -- Since his brim was no longer down. "I'm, the Moshiach!" he cried, -- As he began to enter But the Jews wanted to know first -- If he was Left Right or Center "Your clothes are so black!" -- They cried out in fright. "You can't be Moshiach--You're much too far right!" "If you want to be Moshiach, -- You must be properly outfitted. "So they replaced his black hat -- With a Kippah that was knitted. Wearing his new Kippah, -- Moshiach went out and said: "No difference to me -- What I wear on my head. "So he went to the next shul, -- For his mission was dear. But he was getting frustrated -- With the Yidden down hear. "I'm the Moshiach!" he cried, -- And they all stopped to stare, And a complete eerie stillness -- Filled up the air. "You're the Moshiach?! -- Just imagine that! Whoever heard of Moshiach -- Without a black hat?" "But I do have a hat!" -- The Moshiach then said. So he pulled it right out -- And plunked it down on his head. Then the shul started laughing, -- And one said " Where's your kop? You can't have Moshiach -- With a brim that's turned up! If you want to be Moshiach -- And be accepted in this town, "Put some pinches in your hat -- And turn that brim down!" Moshiach walked out and said: -- "I guess my time hasn't come. I'll just return -- To where I came from. "So he went to his chariot, -- But as he began to enter, All sorts of Jews appeared -- From the Left, Right, and Center. "Please wait - do not leave. -- It's all their fault!" they said, And they pointed to each other -- And to what was on each other's head. Moshiach just looked sad -- And said, " You don't understand." And then started up his chariot -- To get out of this land. "Yes, it's very wonderful -- That you all learn Torah, But you seem to have forgotten -- A crucial part of our Mesorah. "What does he mean?" -- "What's he talking about?" And they all looked bewildered, -- And they all began to shout. Moshiach looked back and answered, -- "The first place to start, Is to shut up your mouths -- And open your hearts. "To each of you, certain Yidden -- Seem too Frum or too Frei, But all Yidden are beloved -- in the Aibishter's eye." And on his way up he shouted: -- " If you want me to come, Try working a little harder -- On some Ahavat Chinam!"