Mattot / Mas’ey

Parshat Mattot / Mas’ey 5770 –

Inclinations and Journals

I would like to share a few simple teachings that may help us connect these two parshiot that we read together this year. The first parashah is called “Mattot,” and Mattot means tribes.  It is interesting that there are two ways of talking about tribes. Sometimes tribes are called shevatim and sometimes they are called mattot. But it is significant that in both cases, the term refers to a staff.  Tribal leaders had a staff of authority. However these staffs were not merely signs of leadership. They were more like spiritual “lightening rods” that could receive transmissions of divine guidance and they were sources of great power when elevated. Thus our parashah begins: va-yedabber Moshe el- roshey ha-mattot liveney yisrael, le’mor…. “Then Moshe spoke directly to the very tops of the spiritual lightening rods of the Tribes of Israel…” and he said to themzeh ha-davar asher tzivah ha-Shem, “This is exactly the divine guidance that I’m now receiving.”

The Noam Elimelech, the great chassidic rebbe of Lizhensk, points out that for Moshe to be successful he has to speak.  He is not just a receiver of guidance for his own personal benefit. What he receives only becomes important when he transmits it to those who receive guidance through him. As it says in the first mishnah of Avot, “Moshe (not only) receives Torah from the Source, he also transmits it.”  So our parashah answers the question “who are the receivers of the Mosaic transmission?”  It is precisely,roshey ha-mattot. If we read this hyper-literally, the Noam Elimelekh is teaching us that for Moshe to be successful, he has to speak truth to power (the leadership elite of the tribes).

But from the vantage point of the new paradigm, transmission is not essentially hierarchical, but rather more holistic. In this sense, it’s the very tops of the “spiritual lightening rods” of the tribes of Israel that receive directly from Moshe.  Our Rebbes have been preparing us for centuries to become independent of the need to rely on one mythic central authority figure.  We have been taught to recognize the “Moshe” that is present within each of us as direct receiver of divine guidance and now we learn something more. The Moshe receiver in us has not completed its function until it transmits the guidance it receives to the mattot.  Significantly, in referring to the tribes here, the Torah doesn’t use the term “shevatim.”  This may be because mattot while also meaning staffs (or tribes) comes from a root that has the additional sense of “inclination.”  We have mentioned elsewhere that each of us as a whole is a microcosmic analogue of the macrocosmic Tribes of Israel.  Each Tribe or matteh is inclined towards a particular function and can be tilted and swayed by its own unique temptations and diversions.  Shalom and sheleymut (peace and wholeness) only come through integration of all the major points of inclination located in the body (the “very tips of the spiritual lightening-rods”) that receive and respond to the guidance transmitted by “Moshe.” (As Rebbe Nachman taught, “make sure your soul shares with the body all that it learns.”) This holistic integration occurs when head and heart are one and all the inclinations incline towards and form a circle around Moshe centered in the Heart.

midrash on the verse, where Moshe says to the mattotzeh ha-davar asher tzivah ha-Shem, “This is exactly the divine guidance that I’m now receiving,” explains that what distinguishes Moshe from the roshey hamattot, (and in the larger sense all the other teachers of Torah), is that Moshe says zeh ha-davar— Moshe expresses exactly what is coming through this is it. But the roshey ha-mattot (the very tips of the “spiritual lightening-rods”) like all other prophetic transmitters say, koh amar ha-Shem, “the way divine guidance applies to my particular inclination is “like this.” Koh means “the way I heard it,” and thus the “leaders of tribes” translate divine guidance into the forms that apply to all the parts of the body that are “on their staff” and under their particular “inclination.”

So we see here a kind of holistic modeling of how a divinely guided center shares energy with principle points of inclination located around the body and those principal points, roshey ha-mattot, become themselves transmitters that transform what they receive from the Moshe point in the Heart and share it with all points that are part of their “staff.” And when this holistic consciousness is in place, a tribe is transformed from a linear “top-down” rod-like hierarchy into an expanded wave-like multi-dimensional integral staff of cooperative co-workers (partzufim).

On the very next verse, where it says, ish ki yidor neder, which literally means, “when somebody makes a vow,” Rebbe Elimelekh points out that the root letters, daled-resh-in yidor—imply making a residence, because a residence is a “dirah,” a place where one dwells.  So Rebbe Elimelech explains that the first thing required in order to establish this holistic system is to make a dwelling place within us for the centering Moshe receiver/transmitter.  We have to establish a place where the Divine Presence has a home within us, because otherwise holistic integration cannot be achieved and without that we can’t be successful in our specific deployment roles as we travel towards our destinations.  The letters of yidor can also be read as yered (descending) implying that consciousness has to “descend” and rest in the Heart, hinting that this dwelling place can be established by resting consciousness in the Heart during meditation.

Now let’s add just one teaching from Mas’ey to connect the two parshiotMas’ey is the account of all the journeys of transformation that lead from the beginning of the path, (from making the decision to follow Divine Guidance), until one reaches the very border and clear vision of the “promised land,” at which point one becomes identified as an analogue of the entire Land of Israel, which we’ve spoken of in greater detail before.*

There are many, many stages mapped out in this parashah that are described in detail in kabbalistic and esoteric sources.  They discuss various possibilities for associating particular experiences with each one of these stopping places along the way to the border of the “promised land” that we are asymptotically approaching, the place of wholeness.

However, practically speaking, what is all of this teaching us? What are we to do? Simply put, we’re being advised to keep a journal of our experiences, so we can look back and say, “This is how I got here; these are the things I went through.”

The Baal Shem Tov told a story from Reb Yitzchak Drohobitcher, who was the father of the Zlochover maggid.  This story concerns two different types of people who were on the same journey.

Once upon a time (before urban sprawl) to get from one town to another it was necessary to pass through a dense forest. Since people often had to get from one town to another and couldn’t do so without crossing through this forest, bandits often took advantage of travelers while they were in the forest.  In those days, people travelled on foot, or on horseback or by horse-drawn wagon. It was a slow way of traveling and you had to go through some pretty dangerous places.  Since there were so few people in the forest and hiding places were plentiful, bandits could easily take advantage of the situation.

So, one day a person was making the trip from one city to another, and he was a drunkard.  All the time he was travelling he was drinking, and by the time he reached the forest, he was drunk out of his mind.  So while he was in this forest, naturally, he was waylaid by the bandits, yet he was lucky enough to survive with his life.  The bandits took everything he had, and they gave him a terrible beating in the process, but they left him still breathing, and, baruch ha-Shem, he survived and managed to reach the next town.

When people in the town found him, because he had been so drunk, he couldn’t tell them what had happened.  He said, “What is this?  Where am I?  What happened to my clothes?” and they told him, “You just went through the forest, where there are all these robbers, and you were robbed and suffered a terrible beating in the process.” But he couldn’t understand what they were talking about because he had no idea what he had been through.

The very next day, there was another who was traveling, and this person also had to make the journey from the same town and passed through the same forest.  But unlike the drunkard, this person was making the journey in a fully awake state. Even though this person was fully awake, the same robbers were lying in wait and, basically the exact same thing happened.  They took everything that the person had and gave the traveler a terrible beating in the process. He was lucky, baruch ha-Shem, to survive with his life. Nevertheless, he too escaped from the forest and reached the other town.

When he arrived, people asked him: “What happened to you that left you in such a terrible state?”
And the person said, “Well, when you get to such and such a place in the forest, there is a certain   tree where the robbers hide.  And you can recognize the tree because there’s a rock just on the other side, so you can’t see them in advance because of the concealment.”

And so the nimshal [metanym] is, you should always watch where you’re going and keep a record of what you experience, because whether one travels like a drunkard or like the one who is sober you will still have to pass through the forest.  The only difference is if you know what you’ve been through, you can learn something from your story and you can tell the story to somebody else.  Your story is Torah.

Shabbat shalom.

Offered as an elevation for the soul of my father, the Tzaddik and Ba’al Mitzvot, Yitzhak Aizik Dov Ber ben Shimon ha-Kohen, may his memory be a blessing.

*For Reb Moshe Aharon’s comments on Israel as an analogue, please see Parshat Shelakh-Lekha.