Holy Thoughts

Rabbi Wagensberg
Parshas Matos
Holy Thoughts

During this period of time known as The Three Weeks, we read from four Torah portions. They are: Pinchas, Matos, Masai, and Devarim. Based on the teaching that Ezra the Scribe intentionally arranged the Torah readings to coincide with specific dates on the Jewish calendar (Megillah, chap. 4, "Bnei Ha-ir", pg. 31b, Rebbi Shimon ben Elazar), there must be a reason why these four portions were selected to correspond to this time of year.

The Bnei Yissaschar (Tammuz-Av, 2:2) says that the connection between these four Torah portions and The Three Weeks is based on the thematic idea that runs through all four of these portions. All four of these portions deal with conquering, dividing, inheriting, and possessing the Land of Israel (Pinchas 26:53; Matos 32:22; Masei 34:2; Devarim 1:8).

As our mourning over our Temples' destructions and subsequent exiles increases at this time of year, these four Torah portions serve to strengthen us with the hope that one day Hashem will fulfil His promise and redeem us, return us all to our land, and divide it amongst our tribes once again.

This explains why this time of year is referred to as the "Bein Hamitzarim" (lit. "in dire straits" Lam. 1:3). The simple understanding of this title is that at this time of year, we are "constricted" and "distressful", which fits into the definition of the word "Meitzarim."

However, on a deeper level, the name "Bein Hamitzarim" takes on new meaning. This is because in parshas Masei, the biblical borders of Eretz Yisrael are delineated. Another translation of "Meitzarim" is "borders." Since we read about the borders of Eretz Yisrael during The Three Weeks, we call this period of time "Bein Hamitzarim" (between the borders), to strengthen our hopes that one day soon the biblical boarders of Eretz Yisrael will be returned to us. (See Ta'amei Haminhagim, Likutim, Inyanim Shonim, #176, pg. 548, citing an anonymous source).

Perhaps we could suggest that when you put the simple understanding of "Bein Hamitzarim" together with its deeper meaning, they complement each other, teaching us that although we are "distressed" about our exile at this time of year, nevertheless, we are guaranteed that the biblical "borders" of the land will be returned to us, as Hashem has promised.

There is another connection between these portions and the Three Weeks. In parshas Masei, Hashem told Moshe that He had already cast down the angels who govern the seven Canaanite nations, and bound them up at Moshe's feet. Once the spiritual guardian angels of those seven Canaanite nations had been subdued, those physical nations were weakened and ready to be conquered easily (Rashi Masei, 34:2, citing Tanchumah 4).

When we pay attention to this during the Torah reading, we are being urged to beg Hashem to do the same thing today with the guardian angels of all seventy nations, so that we can finally be redeemed (Shvilei Pinchas).

This yearning, pining, and longing for the redemption can make it become a reality. This is because the Talmud says that anybody who mourns over Jerusalem's destruction, will merit to witness and participate in its joy (Ta'anis, chap. 4, "Bishloshah Perakim", pg. 30b, Isa. 66:10). One way of showing that we do indeed mourn over Jerusalem is by being disappointed in the current state of affairs.

So long as we accept the status quo, we prove that we are satisfied with things just as they are. However, when we are not complacent, and when we can no longer tolerate the current situation, that demonstrates that we do want a change. Our frustration over the current situation exhibits that we do mourn our exile.

To be frank, many of us struggle with feeling pain over the destruction of the Temples. Many of us find it difficult to relate. One of the ways to feel the agony of exile is by focusing on current events. Stop for a moment and think about terrorism. Think about how dangerous our world has become. Think about how chaotic society is. It's frightening.

These thoughts alone should motivate us to want a positive change in our world. When we yearn for a better world, it is one way of showing that we mourn the existing condition.

Although we never mention any politics in these columns, may I just comment that it is not "him" or "her" who will bring about salvation. We need Hashem! We need Hashem to send us His emissaries who are real leaders and who are truly honest; people with no agenda other than carrying out God's will. We need leaders like the Chofetz Chaim, the Vilna Gaon, the Ba'al Shem Tov, the Arizal, Rashi, Rambam, Abaye, Rava, Rebbi Akiva, Shmuel Hanavi, Moshe Rabbenu, and Aharon Hakohen.

Dreaming and hoping for that day to come is one way of mourning over our current leadership. If we want this type of change bad enough, it can become a reality.

Speaking of yearning, let us share a story from which we will learn a lesson about improving our service of God.

Shlomo Hamelech (King Solomon) built the First Temple. When it came time for him to bring the Holy Ark into the Holy of Holies, the gates of the Holy of Holies locked and Shlomo could not get them to open. Understanding that this was not a mechanical malfunction, Shlomo began to sing twenty-four songs of praise to God, hoping to deserve entry. But, it was to no avail.

Finally, in a last ditch effort, Shlomo begged God to remember the kindness of Dovid Hamelech (King David). Once Shlomo mentioned Dovid, the gates opened like a charm. In this way, God proved to all of Dovid's detractors that Dovid was a righteous man and that Dovid had been forgiven for his sin with Bat Sheva (Shabbos, chap. 2, "Bameh Madlikin", pg. 30b, Rav Yehudah in the name of Rav; Psa. 86:17; Psa. 24:7-10).

One question that comes to mind is why would God specifically choose that moment to prove Dovid's innocence? Shlomo was at the height of his greatness. Shlomo was the King of Israel and he had just built the First Temple. This was Shlomo's day. Why not let Shlomo enjoy it? After all, he was a righteous person. He was a prophet. Why would Hashem choose that moment over all other moments to demonstrate Dovid's greatness? It may have brought a measure of embarrassment to Shlomo that he did not possess the merit with which to bring the Holy Ark into the Holy of Holies. Why ruin Shlomo's time in the lime light?

Moreover, in Shlomo's speech to the people on the day he built the Temple, he said that since Dovid, his father, had in his heart the desire to build the Temple for the sake of God that is why he was prevented from building the Temple. Instead, his son Shlomo built it (1 Kin. 8:18-19).

This does not seem to make much sense. On the contrary, since Dovid wanted to build the Temple for God's sake, he should have been the one to build it. Why did Dovid's thoughts of doing it for the sake of God prevent him from building it?

The Yitav Panim says that the reason why Dovid was withheld from building the Temple was because his thought was so pure, that God wanted to preserve it. Had God allowed Dovid to bring his thought to fruition, other thoughts of ulterior motives may have crept in. Along the way, Dovid may have wanted recognition for being the first one to build the permanent home of God. Dovid may have entertained other thoughts of personal gain, such as self-glory, had he been allowed to carry out his intention.

In order to preserve the pristine thought that David had, God froze it by stopping Dovid from taking action.

The Tefillah L'Moshe tows the line by saying that in general any original thought to do a mitzvah (good deed) can easily be altruistic. Nobody knows what we are thinking. There is nobody to impress at that stage. Therefore, the positive thought can very well be a sincere innocent desire to do God's will.

However, often, when we act upon those thoughts, it is likely that ulterior motives can creep in. Since others can see, there may be thoughts about being honored for our righteousness.

If this is so, what about Shlomo? Shlomo actually built the Temple. Are we to assume that it was done at least partially for ulterior motives?

Perhaps we could suggest that when God orchestrated that Shlomo could not enter the Holy of Holies until he mention the merit of Dovid, Hashem robbed Shlomo from any feelings of arrogance. Hashem did not let the celebration get to Shlomo's head. Shlomo had to publicly admit that everything happening was in Dovid's merit. This allowed Shlomo to do it for the sake of Heaven.

This could be why God chose specifically that moment to prove Dovid's holiness. It was in order to allow Shlomo to do it for the right reason.

It turns out that from the beginning (Dovid's thought) until the end (Shlomo's action), the Temple was done completely for the sake of Heaven.

We could suggest there is also another reason why the gates only opened in the merit of Dovid.

The Zohar (Shelach, pg. 161b) teaches that just as the heart is at the center of the body, so is the Holy of Holies at the center of the world. Moreover, just as the heart pumps blood throughout the entire body, so does the Holy of Holies pump spiritual energy throughout the entire world (Also see Nefesh Hachaim, 1:4, commenting on Mishnah Berachos 4:5, pg. 28b, "Tefillas Hashachar").

Therefore, the Holy of Holies (the heart) would only open for Dovid who had the purest of thoughts in his heart. This teaches us that only a pure heart can open the heart of the world.

When we have holy thoughts of yearning for the Third and final Temple, we create the spiritual manifestation of the Third Temple in Heaven. When God imbues the physical Temple below with its soul from above, we will be there to witness it and participate in its joy. After all, we were instrumental in creating the Temple's soul. Therefore, it is only fitting that we be there to witness its completion.

Reading these four portions at this time of year is meant to awaken our yearning for something better. The longing itself will make it into a reality.

Practically speaking, deep down we all want to sincerely do God's will. However, we also struggle with ulterior motives when we put our thoughts into action. Therefore, this week's suggestion would be to say the prayer of Rebbi Alaxandary which says, "Master of the Worlds, it is revealed and known to You that our will is to do Your will. So, who prevents us from doing only Your will? The yeast in the dough (the Evil Inclination), and being subjugated in our exile by the various kingdoms. May it be Your will that we are saved from their hands, and may we return to do the statutes of Your will with a complete heart" (See Berachos, chap. 2, "Haya Korei", pg. 17a).

So, may we all be blessed with holy thoughts in our hearts directed to do God's will, which includes a deep desire to be redeemed and thereby fulfil all of the mitzvos connected to The Land, and thus merit to see the joy of Jerusalem, when God will imbue the physical Temple with its soul, a time when the heart of the world will pump spirituality into the rest of the universe.