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Rabbi Levin's Blog

Re'eh, Elul

 

Elul!  The final month of the Jewish year begins this Sunday.  That word, Elul, carries a wide array of meanings.  For many rabbis it means it’s time to start polishing their sermons, for presidents of typical congregations it is a time to prepare their appeals, cantors practice their music and synagogue staff typically (not including almost all Chabad Centers) are selling tickets for High Holiday services.  Guest lists and menus are being planned for the holidays, and, of course, rabbis and teachers try to discuss and explain the deeper meaning of the Holidays. 

 

Traditionally, and most important, Elul has meant that we need to start taking seriously the fact that the year is drawing to a close, and it is time to make the annual “accounting” of where we are and how we are doing on fulfilling our mission in life.  Just as every business person must from time to time asses how the business is doing, what’s working and what is not, etc., so too we need to stop and take stock of our activities once a year. Another area of spiritual work in Elul is to prepare for Rosh Hashanah itself which is one of the reasons we blow the Shofar every day during Elul, in preparation of the main Mitzvah of Rosh Hashana – blowing the Shofar.  I know they sound like the same thing, but as you will soon see there are actually two distinct aspects of the work of Elul.

 

One of the fascinating aspects of Elul is the word itself.  There is no other month in which the name is so descriptive of the meaning of the month.  The four Hebrew letters of the word are acronyms for several phrases, each related to another aspect of the spiritual work that is characteristic of this month.  The most famous is Ani Ledodi Vedodii Li – I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me, referring to the Teshuva – return – to Hashem that we do, and the response in blessings and Divine light from Hashem.  You can find a wealth of information on Elul here

 

I want to talk about an acronym of Elul that is much less known and requires some discussion of Kabbalah and Chassidus to understand.  How do you spell the Hebrew word “lo?”  It has only two letters, but there are two ways to spell it, depending on what it means.  The lamed is the same on both, but lo with an alef as the second letter means “no,” and with a vav it means “to him.”  If you put these two words together, lamed alef and lamed vav, you get the letters of Elul.  What does “no” and “to him” have to do with Elul?  Earlier I alluded to the two parts of the spiritual service of Elul.  The “accounting” of where we stand in the observance of our life’s mission, and the preparation for Rosh Hashana.  Each of these is reflected in one of the words, lo (not) or lo to Him. 

 

Living a spiritually meaningful life, connected to Hashem and fulfilling the purpose for which He created us, involves the observance of many commandments, some things we must do and others we may not.  As we review our actions of the past year, we may realize that there are some areas where we need improvement – that our living “for Him” may have occasionally fallen by the wayside as we pursue our own needs, feeding our egos and following desires that weaken our connection to Hashem.  In Elul, we work to strengthen our observances and to remind ourselves of how great it is to live a life being conscious that we are here to better the world and to reveal the spiritual light of Hashem.  We work on living more “for Him” in our daily activities.

 

Then there is a much deeper aspect of our connection to Hashem in which we focus not so much on particular observances, but on our essential bond with Hashem.  This bond is referred to in Zohar as “lo” with a alef – “no.”  Chassidus explains that relationship and revelation of Divine light can only be on a conscious level.  There is a level of Divine essence that can never be revealed, that is beyond the grasp of even the holiest and most refined.  In fact, if we go deeper for a moment, the essential existence of Hashem is beyond any kind of revelation or relationship, even in the highest spiritual realms, because all “realms,” even the most spiritual, are still creations.  When we refer to Hashem’s essence, there is no creation and no existence other than Hashem’s pure existence.  So on that level, there is nothing other than Hashem’s essence and no connection with anything.  That is what we are referring to with the mystical “lo” – no. 

 

Chassidus teaches that the essence of our soul is sourced at the essence of Hashem.  This is not something we can comprehend logically, because it is beyond any logic or experience, it is the very essence of our souls that is above any kind of expression.  Yet on Rosh Hashanah we connect to this level.  We blow the Shofar, representing the cry from within the depths of our soul that has no expression of words or form of music.  We won’t, on Rosh Hashanah, enumerate our sins or shortcomings.  It is all about “accepting the sovereignty” of Hashem and recommitting to being His people, on a deep, essential level.  That is the other part of Elul, when we blow the Shofar daily and remember our inner core, a part of Hashem.  That, as the Zohar explains, is the “lo” in our relationship with Hashem, the relationship that cannot be logically explained nor felt intellectually or in our revealed emotions.  So the name Elul expresses the two areas of preparation for the New Year – our practice and feelings that connect us on a daily basis to Hashem, and the reminder of who we are essentially, a part of Hashem that can never be separated. 

 

I wish you a successful Elul in both areas, and may you and all your loved ones be inscribed and sealed for a good and sweet New Year. 

Re'eh, Elul

 

Elul!  The final month of the Jewish year begins this Sunday.  That word, Elul, carries a wide array of meanings.  For many rabbis it means it’s time to start polishing their sermons, for presidents of typical congregations it is a time to prepare their appeals, cantors practice their music and synagogue staff typically (not including almost all Chabad Centers) are selling tickets for High Holiday services.  Guest lists and menus are being planned for the holidays, and, of course, rabbis and teachers try to discuss and explain the deeper meaning of the Holidays. 

 

Traditionally, and most important, Elul has meant that we need to start taking seriously the fact that the year is drawing to a close, and it is time to make the annual “accounting” of where we are and how we are doing on fulfilling our mission in life.  Just as every business person must from time to time asses how the business is doing, what’s working and what is not, etc., so too we need to stop and take stock of our activities once a year. Another area of spiritual work in Elul is to prepare for Rosh Hashanah itself which is one of the reasons we blow the Shofar every day during Elul, in preparation of the main Mitzvah of Rosh Hashana – blowing the Shofar.  I know they sound like the same thing, but as you will soon see there are actually two distinct aspects of the work of Elul.

 

One of the fascinating aspects of Elul is the word itself.  There is no other month in which the name is so descriptive of the meaning of the month.  The four Hebrew letters of the word are acronyms for several phrases, each related to another aspect of the spiritual work that is characteristic of this month.  The most famous is Ani Ledodi Vedodii Li – I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me, referring to the Teshuva – return – to Hashem that we do, and the response in blessings and Divine light from Hashem.  You can find a wealth of information on Elul here

 

I want to talk about an acronym of Elul that is much less known and requires some discussion of Kabbalah and Chassidus to understand.  How do you spell the Hebrew word “lo?”  It has only two letters, but there are two ways to spell it, depending on what it means.  The lamed is the same on both, but lo with an alef as the second letter means “no,” and with a vav it means “to him.”  If you put these two words together, lamed alef and lamed vav, you get the letters of Elul.  What does “no” and “to him” have to do with Elul?  Earlier I alluded to the two parts of the spiritual service of Elul.  The “accounting” of where we stand in the observance of our life’s mission, and the preparation for Rosh Hashana.  Each of these is reflected in one of the words, lo (not) or lo to Him. 

 

Living a spiritually meaningful life, connected to Hashem and fulfilling the purpose for which He created us, involves the observance of many commandments, some things we must do and others we may not.  As we review our actions of the past year, we may realize that there are some areas where we need improvement – that our living “for Him” may have occasionally fallen by the wayside as we pursue our own needs, feeding our egos and following desires that weaken our connection to Hashem.  In Elul, we work to strengthen our observances and to remind ourselves of how great it is to live a life being conscious that we are here to better the world and to reveal the spiritual light of Hashem.  We work on living more “for Him” in our daily activities.

 

Then there is a much deeper aspect of our connection to Hashem in which we focus not so much on particular observances, but on our essential bond with Hashem.  This bond is referred to in Zohar as “lo” with a alef – “no.”  Chassidus explains that relationship and revelation of Divine light can only be on a conscious level.  There is a level of Divine essence that can never be revealed, that is beyond the grasp of even the holiest and most refined.  In fact, if we go deeper for a moment, the essential existence of Hashem is beyond any kind of revelation or relationship, even in the highest spiritual realms, because all “realms,” even the most spiritual, are still creations.  When we refer to Hashem’s essence, there is no creation and no existence other than Hashem’s pure existence.  So on that level, there is nothing other than Hashem’s essence and no connection with anything.  That is what we are referring to with the mystical “lo” – no. 

 

Chassidus teaches that the essence of our soul is sourced at the essence of Hashem.  This is not something we can comprehend logically, because it is beyond any logic or experience, it is the very essence of our souls that is above any kind of expression.  Yet on Rosh Hashanah we connect to this level.  We blow the Shofar, representing the cry from within the depths of our soul that has no expression of words or form of music.  We won’t, on Rosh Hashanah, enumerate our sins or shortcomings.  It is all about “accepting the sovereignty” of Hashem and recommitting to being His people, on a deep, essential level.  That is the other part of Elul, when we blow the Shofar daily and remember our inner core, a part of Hashem.  That, as the Zohar explains, is the “lo” in our relationship with Hashem, the relationship that cannot be logically explained nor felt intellectually or in our revealed emotions.  So the name Elul expresses the two areas of preparation for the New Year – our practice and feelings that connect us on a daily basis to Hashem, and the reminder of who we are essentially, a part of Hashem that can never be separated. 

 

I wish you a successful Elul in both areas, and may you and all your loved ones be inscribed and sealed for a good and sweet New Year. 

Eikev

 Sometimes we read a passage in the Torah at face value and we get a skewed view of what really happened.  One example is the story of the breaking of the Tablets, which is part of Moshe’s narrative in this weeks’ Parsha, Eikev, as he is repeating the Torah to the people before his death.  When I first learned this story as a young kid, I had this image of the great Moshe, coming down from the mountain all excited to bring the miraculous Tablets, made by Hashem and inscribed with the Ten Commandments, to the people.  He had been looking forward to this moment for 40 days, not eating or drinking, being completely absorbed in spirituality, learning Torah from Hashem and preparing to transmit it to the people. He walks down the mountain and is shocked to see the people dancing around a golden calf, and in an understandable fit of anger he smashes the Tablets!  As I got older and started understanding a little more about Moshe, the whole thing didn’t make sense. Anger is associated with arrogance. Moshe was the humblest person who ever lived. Perhaps shock and disappointment? But Hashem had already told Moshe before he descended from the mountain that the people had made golden calf. Was it A fit of rage?  “I’ll teach you a lesson?” That is something that the mind of a kid might relate to, but let’s stop for a moment and examine who Moshe was. Moshe was the most refined human being ever, described by the Torah as one to whom Hashem spoke “mouth to mouth.” When he was a young man, he had killed a murderous Egyptian taskmaster, and miraculously escaped Pharaoh’s attempt to execute him.  Later, he faced Pharaoh fearlessly when he returned as the redeemer, performing great miracles and destroying the entire Egyptian infrastructure. He then not only fought against great enemies including Amalek, Midyan, the mighty kings Sichon and Og, but had to deal with several rebellions among his own people. This is all in addition to bringing down the Torah from heaven and teaching it to the people, miraculously providing food and water for 40 years for all the people in the desert, and all the many other things that he did that defy human imagination.  And now just coming from the intense Divine revelation for 40 days on Mount Sinai, somehow for him to smash this great gift from Hashem in a fit of anger just doesn’t work. So we have two choices: Either stick to our narrative and think that Moshe was not as perfect as the Torah describes, or take a more humble approach and realize that there is more to this story than we first understood. In fact, as always, if we look at the Oral Torah and its interpretation, handed down through all the generations, we realize that the story is really very different.  

This is based on Midrash, Talmud, Halacha, Kabbalah and Chassidus, as well as on the Biblical verses themselves.  The Torah tells us that Hashem told Moshe to hew two tablets to replace the ones “that you broke.” The Hebrew word for “that you broke” is “sheshibarta,” but the Torah uses two words: “asher shibarta.”  While that is still correct, the Torah does not use a single letter superfluously. What is the lesson of the extra word “asher?” The final Rashi in the Torah teaches that “asher”, meaning “happy” or “fortunate,” teaches us that Hashem thanked Moshe for breaking the Tablet, agreeing that is was the right thing to do.  What does this mean? 

Moshe was the greatest leader we have ever had.  He is known as the “shepherd of Israel.” Moshe was holy from birth.  The Torah tells us that when he was born the room was filled with light.  He had many great qualities, including leadership qualities. But what clinched his choice as the leader to redeem the Jews and to start us off as a nation was the story where a sheep ran away from his flock, and he found it at a water hole. Instead of getting angry, he said that had he known the sheep was so thirsty, he would have carried it therewith his own hands.  Moshe cared more for his people than himself, to the extent that he was willing to sacrifice anything for them, including his place in the Torah and our history. Even for those who had strayed so far as to worship an idol 40 days after they had heard directly from Hashem not to have any other gods. Moshe cared deeply for every single one of his people, and wanted to bring them to Teshuva and forgiveness.


The day the Torah was given to us is compared to a wedding, the metaphorical marriage of Hashem and the Jewish people.  There are many ways in which this metaphor is expressed. A marriage is not complete until the marriage contract is delivered, and the Tablet were the “marriage contract.”  When Moshe saw that the Jews had been “unfaithful” to their “husband,” he was afraid that they would be completely rejected and “divorced” by Hashem. He therefore broke the Tablets, so that the marriage would not be complete, giving people the time to show that they were really essentially faithful to Hashem, and it was, as the Torah says the “mixed multitude” of Egyptians who were the ones who had turned the calf into a deity.  Hashem forgave the people, and the Tablets were rewritten and delivered to the Jewish people on Yom Kippur, The Day of Atonement. As always, this is just a tiny taste of all the commentary and discussion that has been written on this subject.


Here we see the greatness of Moshe’s leadership.  In defense of his people, he broke the most precious thing in the world, Tablets made by G-d Himself and inscribed with words that held onto the Tablets miraculously, as the Talmud describes, in order to protect those who had gone against everything that he had taught them.  And here is another example of how shallow the reading of the written Torah is without the Oral Tradition.


The Talmud says that as the nights begin to get longer toward the end of summer, it is especially important to increase our Torah learning, since the optimum time to study Torah is at night.  This exhortation comes with a blessing – one who increases Torah learning at this time adds days to his life. May I suggest that you take some time every evening studying the Parsha with Rashi, thereby getting a much richer understanding of, and appreciation for, what the Torah teaches.  And, perhaps, join my Thursday night class where we discuss the Torah in this way.


Vaetchanan


Today I want to talk about honoring parents. What is the connection with this week?  Before Moshe passed away, he spent the last 40 days of his life repeating the Torah to the Jewish people and charging them with the Mitzvot that they were to observe in the Land of Israel. Among other things that we read in this week’s Parsha is Moshe’s repetition of the Ten Commandments, the fifth of which is “Honor your father and your mother.”

 

I am going to go out on a limb and write some things that many people might find controversial. (The truth is that this is nothing new.  The Rebbe, his father-in-law the previous Rebbe, and the leaders of Chassidus throughout the ages have taught this, I believe, but many of us were not listening, and a lot of pain has been caused by that.) 

 

This Mitzvah of honoring parents was chosen by Hashem as one of the ten primary Mitzvot (out of 613) that He Himself spoke on Mount Sinai and that He inscribed on the holy Tablets. On a basic level it is showing appreciation to our parents for what they did for us, or even if we feel they did nothing for us, we owe our existence to them. But more than that, they were partners with Hashem in our creation, and this puts our reverence for them on a much higher level.

 

It is the parents’ responsibility to educate their children to be a “mensch” and to follow the path that the Torah teaches us in order to fulfill our mission on earth as Jews. This education includes teaching them this Mitzvah of honoring parents.  It is not possible or fair to make broad statements about an entire group of people, but I think it is safe to say that many people in recent generations taught this concept by setting rules and demanding respect. Children who questioned their parents, and certainly those who challenged them, were often told sternly that they need to respect their parents and to watch their mouths. I also think it is safe to say that most kids in previous generations accepted that as a given and for the most part it kind of worked. (And of course there were those who just ran away or the parents just gave up.)

 

Every generation has said that we live in a different generation, but I think we can agree that we live in a completely different world than before. The internet and social media have changed the world. Children today don’t need their parents or teachers to tell them about the world. In addition, popular culture leans heavily toward rejecting parents and blaming them for every ill anyone has.  Like the story of the elderly lady who bragged to her friends that her son spends thousands of dollars just on her!  He meets with an expensive therapist twice a week and all he talks about is her!

 

How do we teach our children respect for us in this environment? (What I am writing is the tip of the iceberg.  It would require at least a six-hour seminar to properly discuss the issues.)  Demanding doesn’t work. I think that in today’s world, the way we teach our children to respect us is by showing them that we notice them and care about them. In our busy day we need to stop and listen - really listen - to our children. We must hear their struggles and not judge them, but guide them gently and lovingly, giving them the inner strength and courage to help them overcome and thrive. We must notice them. Notice the good in them and help nurture that.  Express to them how we notice the steps they take to do the right thing.  Show them that we have faith in them and not constantly berate them for the mistakes they make. We are all human and make mistakes. It is important for our children to know that we love them unconditionally for who they are and will never reject them if they stray. They have to know that if they express frustration with us, we will try to understand what is bothering them and accept responsibility for what we can do to help them, including recognizing the unintended impact of our actions and being willing to change our approach. If we can treat our children like this, the chances are much greater that they will respect us. In our time people respect honesty and vulnerability. Parents who are honest and vulnerable gain their children’s respect much more than those who demand blind respect. This is the formula, in our age, to fortify our children, to help them buck the trend and live a meaningful life according to Torah, and yes, to raise children who truly respect their parents.

Devarim

This Saturday night and Sunday is the fast of Tisha B’Av, the ninth of the Hebrew month of Av.  It is actually the tenth of the month, but since we do not fast on Shabbat (with the exception of Yom Kippur), the fast is postponed for a day.  Nevertheless, it is still customary to call the day Tisha B’Av, since that is the original day of the fast.  As I wrote a few weeks ago, there were many sad events that happened on this day, the most central, and the main focus of the day, being the destruction of both Holy Temples in Jerusalem. 


On this day we fast, from sunset on the eve of Tisha B’Av until nightfall the next day.  How do we deal observe this  Shabbat?  It is the ninth day of Av, the day of the destruction, but it is Shabbat, a day of joy.  Our sages have taught that not only should we not mourn on this day, but in order to show that we are not mourning on observance of the Shabbat we should increase our observances.  While during the nine-day mourning period we don’t drink wine or eat meat, on this Shabbat day we make sure to do so (if we are meat eaters).  We wear festive Shabbat clothes, and do not change our shoes to non-leather as we would do on a regular Tisha B’av.


This concept of celebrating this Shabbat is consistent with a teaching of the holy sage and Chassidic Master Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Bardichev regarding the name of this Shabbat, Shabbat Chazzon  The simple understanding of why it is called Shabbat Chazzon is that Chazzon, meaning vision, is the first word of the Haftorah (reading form the Prophets) for this Shabbat.  The Haftorah relates the prophet Isaiah’s “vision” and warning to the Jews of the impending destruction of the Holy Temple.  Rabbi Levi Yitzchak says that there is a deeper and currently relevant meaning to “Shabbat Chazzon” - every soul has a vision of the future Third Temple, which our sages have taught it “built and decorated” in the spiritual worlds and ready to come down physically to earth when the time comes.


Rabbi Levi Yitzchak gave an analogy.  A monarch had a beautiful, exclusive and expensive jacket made for his young son.  The son did not know how to appreciate its value and did not take proper care of it, and the jacket was ruined.  So the monarch had another jacket made, and his son destroyed this one too.  So the monarch had a third jacket made, but this time he did not give it to his son.  He showed it to him and told him that when he learns how to properly appreciate the jacket, he will give it to him.  Every once in a while the monarch would show his son the precious jacket in order to motivate him to improve his behavior and be worthy of wearing the jacket.


This, says Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, is the meaning of the vision of Shabbat ChazonHashem built us two Holy Temples and through our sins we were not worthy of them and they were destroyed.  He has built the Third Temple, and every year on this Shabbat before Tisha B’av Hashem shows us the Temple, to motivate us to do the final work to bring the world for redemption.  So how does that relate to us, simple people who don’t physically see the Temple?  Certainly our souls see this vision, and the feeling filters down in some way to our subconscious mind, but how do we relate to it in a concrete way?


People generally think that our present is based on our past.  I can write a lot on this subject, but let me just assert that this is not so.  Our present is actually based on our future.  I would almost guarantee that if you knew with absolute certainty that next week you will win $1M in the lottery, you would not behave today as you are now.  You know you won’t win it, and therefore you are behaving as if you will not win it.  This is true of life in general.  The problem is that we ascribe our past to our future.  We get stuck in a rut of the past, and we assume that our future will be the same, so we keep on doing what we have always done.  If, however, we can create a completely new future in our minds, and by our words, then we can break out of our rut and make that future happen.  This is what vision means, the ability to envision a new future that is completely new.  This is how leaders create completely transform themselves, their companies, and perhaps the world.


I think that this is the purpose of our soul’s vision of the third Holy Temple.  If we can tap into that vision, realizing that on this Shabbat we are given special spiritual support to “see” the Temple and the glorious revelation that it represents, we can pull ourselves out of exile and be truly motivated to do our part to make the world a better place.  It could be the one Mitzvah that we do today that tips the balance of the world to righteousness and redemption.  This is something to celebrate!


You are welcome to join us at Chabad for a festive lunch at 12:15 on Shabbat, and for Tisha B’av services, details here.  May we merit the coming of Moshiach immediately, and Tisha B’Av will be a great holiday, celebrated in the third Holy Temple. 

Matot-Masei

The Jewish month of Av begins tonight. This is the beginning of the nine-day mourning period leading up to the day of the destruction of the Holy Temple on Tisha B’av. This year, since the ninth of Av is on Shabbat, we fast on the day after, so it is a ten-day period. During this time we observe laws of mourning. We don’t launder any clothes and don’t even wear any freshly laundered outer clothes. It is customary to change our clothes several times today in order to have clothes that have been warn at least for a few minutes to wear over the next week. This restriction does not apply to Shabbat. We also do not eat meat or drink wine or grape juice, except on Shabbat when it is a Mitzvah to do so. Showering or bathing is permitted for health and sanitation but not for pleasure. For more on the restrictions during the Nine Days see here

 

On the other hand, during this time it is customary to study the laws of the building of the Holy Temple in Mishna and Rambam, as well as Ezekiel’s prophecies regarding the building, in order to transform the mourning into a positive step forward toward the rebuilding. It is also customary to celebrate the conclusion of a tractate of Talmud, an event that brings joy and is permitted, and encouraged, during these days of mourning. As I wrote a few weeks ago, the purpose of the mourning is not to get depressed but to propel us forward to do what is necessary to bring about the transformation of the darkness to light.

 

We find this theme also in the Parsha this week. We read the double Parsha of Matot and Masei. The word “masei” means journeys, and the first section of that Parsha outlines in detail the 42 places that the Jews camped in the desert on their way from Egypt to Israel. “The Jews traveled from Raamses to Sukkot…, they travelled from Sukkot to Eitam…, 42 stops until the last stop in the plains of Moab. Every word in Torah is exact and part of the lesson on how to live our lives according to our Divine mission. Sometimes a word seems to us to be out of place or even inaccurate, and study reveals that it is intentionally so in order to send us a message. Here we have such an example. The Torah enumerates 42 places where the Jews camped in the desert, yet these camps are referred to as “journeys.” Since the focus of the Parsha is to tell us each place they camped, it would seem more accurate to say: “These are the places where the Jews camped” and the Parsha may have been named “Machanot” (camps). Why are these camps called journeys?

 

There are several explanations given by our Sages, here is one that is relevant to the theme of the Nine Days. Although  at each of the camps the Jews set up the sanctuary and “dug in” for as long as they stayed there, in one place for as long as 18 years, each of the camps was part of the journey toward Israel. 

In other words: If you are aiming to reach a destination and along the way you decide to stop for a while to live in another place, the time you spend at the stop is delaying your journey. However, if you are stopping to pick up supplies for the rest of the journey, the stop is actually part of the trip. Another analogy: Imagine you decide to walk from point a to point b, and instead of walking forward you take a few steps back. You have delayed your arrival to your destination and you can’t say that you have started moving forward. Now imagine you are standing in front of a large obstacle that you have to jump over and you take a few steps back in order to make the jump. Those steps back are not delaying you, they are indeed necessary for you to make progress.

The decision to stop at each place in the desert, we are told previously in the Torah, (Shemot 40:36-37) was by Divine decree. Each stop was a necessary break for the Jews to prepare for their next journey ultimately reaching their destination in Israel. So rather than considering each stop a delay, the Torah tells us that in fact these camps were “journeys,” because they were necessary preparatory stops for the rest of the journey. 

 

This is also the way we should see the mourning of the Holy Temple and our bitter, long exile. In the journey this universe has been on since Creation, moving from a place of darkness to the revelation of the Divine creative source of everything, we have had to endure many stops and setbacks, including the current state of exile and the lack of the Holy Temple. But we learn from Masei that each seeming setback is actually a step closer toward reaching the goal. It is in the dry, parched desert that we truly learn to appreciate the value of water. Light is so much more valuable when it emerges from darkness. 

 

By fulfilling the Mitzvot of mourning during this period, by focusing on ways to enhance our connection to the light of Hashem, and by bringing the light of Torah to the world, we are ensuring that this time in the last few moments of exile is being used as a journey toward redemption. As Rambam says, when Moshicah comes, the days of mourning will be transformed into days of celebration, because then we will see how the temporary darkness led to the much greater light to come. Our attitude, and more important our actions, matter.

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