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Friday - Shabbat, July 29 - 30 Parshat Massei 

Torah Reading:  Massei (Numbers 33:1 - 36:13) 
Candle Lighting  7:56 PM
Shabbat ends 9:01 PM
Shabbat Chazak

The End

This week’s parsha—in one way—represents the end of the entire Torah. In the last talk that we were privileged to hear from the Rebbe, he explained how the Torah essentially ends with the Book of Numbers. Deuteronomy is, for the most part, a restatement of the other books of the Torah.
It is therefore no coincidence that the last parsha of this "last" book of the Torah deals with the journeys of the Jewish people from Egypt until their entry into the Promised Land. The Ba’al Shem Tov taught that the forty-two journeys listed in this parsha reflect all of the life journeys of each individual Jew as well.

The Chida (Rabbi Chaim Yosef Dovid Azulai one of the great Sephardic Sages of the eighteenth century) writes in his work Nachal Kedumim that the opening four words of this parsha "Eileh masei bnei Yisrael-these are the journeys of the Children of Israel" allude to the four periods of exile that the Jewish people have lived through. These four periods are named after the dominant empire that exiled the Jews and then subjected them to the suffering of exile. They are—in chronological order—Bavel-Babylonia, Madai-Media (Persia), Yavan-Greece, and Edom-Rome. The initials of the first four words of our parsha are (1) an Aleph, which stands for Edom; (2) Mem, which stands for Madai; (3) Beis, which stands for Bavel and (4) Yud, which stands for Yavan.

The Greek Exile

We will begin our analysis of these four exiles and their relationship to the first four words of this parsha with the final word Yisrael/Israel which corresponds to the Greek exile.

The Greeks did not try to annihilate the Jews. They were not opposed to the Jewish people living in their own land. They were not even opposed to the Jewish people studying Torah and observing the commandments. As long as one viewed the Jewish people as a nation like any other nation, the Greeks could tolerate Jewish nationhood.  As long as the Jews would view the Torah merely as a beautiful piece of literature or wisdom, they were not opposed to its study. As long as the Jews observed the Mitzvot because they were logical or because they possessed some utilitarian value it was also acceptable to the Greeks.

The Greeks worshipped logic and nature and were in love with aesthetic beauty. And they also glorified the human body. What they could not countenance, however, was a belief in the transcendence of spirituality over nature. They could not tolerate an observance that defied logic. And they were horrified by any gesture that—in their eyes—denigrated the human body.
They were therefore opposed to the Jewish approach to Torah,  to the belief that it is G‑d’s wisdom and therefore transcended the human mind. Similarly, the Greeks were opposed to the Mitzvot which were not based on rational foundations.

Their tyrannical rule therefore began by banning circumcision, Brit Milah. Why circumcision? Circumcision alters the natural condition of the body, the body that they deemed perfect in its natural unaltered state.  In addition, circumcision is performed on the eighth day to indicate that Milah is  about transcending the order of creation—which is divided into cycles of seven. This clearly was the very antithesis of the Greek belief system. Circumcision also singles out the Jew and sets him apart from other nations. Again, this was diametrically opposite to their conception of all nations being equal and only the level of one’s physical, intellectual and artistic attainments can distinguish one from another.
Their goal was therefore to eradicate: a) the belief in a G‑d that transcended nature; b) a Torah that professed Divine knowledge; c) an observance that altered the body and promoted a supra-rational attitude towards the Mitzvot, and d) the notion of the distinctiveness of the Jewish people.

The designation of the Jewish people as Israel was based on their transcendence over nature. The name Israel was given to the Patriarch Jacob because he “fought with G‑d’s angel (a metaphor for the forces of nature as well) and people (other nations) and prevailed.” The name Israel denotes all that was anathema to the Greeks for it underscores the distinctive role of the Jewish people and their ability to conquer nature and transcend it.

Thus the word Yisrael and its ideal represents the power the we possess to counter the element of exile that is represented by Yavan-Greece.

The Babylonian Exile

The third opening word of this parsha is bnei, meaning the “children of.” As stated above, this word—that begins with the letter beis—alludes to Galut Bavel, the Babylonian exile. The word bnei numerically adds up to 62. The Babylonian Empire, from the day it exiled the King Yehoyachin (in the eighth year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzer-II Melachim 24:12) until it was conquered by Persia, lasted 62 years.

In addition there is a connection between the word bnei and the Babylonian exile. When G‑d sends His children into exile and yet He still provides them with all of their spiritual and material needs, this Divine care represents an indication that He treats the Jewish peoples as His children. When a loving parent disciplines and punishes his or her child by distancing them, the parent makes sure that the children will not suffer needlessly and that they will be able to eventually extricate themselves from their punishment/exile.

This phenomenon was most clearly demonstrated with the Babylonian exile in which the elite of the Jewish people were the first to be exiled. This enabled them to cultivate the Babylonian landscape with centers of Torah and to pave the way for Jews to continue to thrive in the spiritual sense. In addition, the Jewish leaders were appointed by the Babylonian King to be his advisors, which assisted the Jewish people in their exile in the material arena as well.

To describe the way we are able to survive and endure the exile we focus on the word “b’nei”. We must constantly remind ourselves that we are G‑d’s children and that He will never abandon us, even as we live in these last moments of exile.

The Median-Persian Exile

The second word of the parsha, masei, which means journeys, alludes to the Median or Persian exile, as was noted above. One connection can be found between the word masei and the Persian exile that relates to its numerical value. Masei numerically is 180. When we read the Book of Esther we discover the number 180 prominently featured at the very beginning. The Persian monarch Achashveirosh threw a party that lasted 180 days. The objective of this party, our Sages tell us, was to demonstrate his consolidation of power. It was, in his mind, the celebration of his triumph over the Jewish people. The Jews were still his subjects and were precluded from building their Holy Temple in Jerusalem despite the fact that the seventy years that had been predicted for the exile to last had already passed—at least according to his miscalculations. In effect, what highlighted and came to symbolize the Median/Persian exile was the number 180.

There is also a connection between these 180 days and the idea of “journeys”, the translation of masei. The reason the feast lasted for 180 days, some commentators explain, was to afford every citizen of his vast empire the opportunity to travel to Shushan and participate in that party. Achashveirosh wanted to demonstrate his consolidation of power by having members of all his provinces attend. According to the Talmudic Sages, sailors—who travel to and fro the most remote places—would stay away from home for periods of a half a year at a time, the equivalent of 180 days. The number 180 therefore can symbolize the extraordinary lengths some took in order to participate in the detestable celebration of witnessing the Jews' exile; the feast of a monarch who gloats over the state of exile the Jewish people are in.

It follows that the way to counter these shameful trips into exile is by the journeys we make to join other Jews in their celebrations of Jewish Holidays or to be in the presence of teachers of Torah in general and our Rebbe in particular. Likewise, the figurative journeys we make to grow in our Judaism is the way to counter the negative journeys that are associated with the Persian exile. 

The Edomite Exile: No End in Sight?

And finally, the word eilah - 'these are' - represents the exile of Edom, identified as the Roman Empire and its successors who destroyed the Second Temple and who subsequently sent us into the longest and most difficult of all our exiles which continue to this day.

Why is this exile represented by the word eileh-these are? The Midrash states that whenever the Torah uses this word—as opposed to the word v’eilah: “And these are,”—it is intended to negate that which came before. It is an indication that that which follows is totally beyond that which preceded it.
The Edomite exile is so harsh that it negates and eclipses all preceding exiles. As the Talmud (Yoma 9b) states: “The earlier ones (i.e., the Jews who lived at the time of the destruction of the first Temple by the Babylonians) whose sins were revealed had their end revealed; the later ones (i.e., the Jews who lived at the time of the destruction of the second Temple by the Romans) whose sins were not revealed, their end was not revealed.”

This cryptic statement is understood by Rashi and other commentators to mean that the reason our exile is so long and arduous—as compared to earlier exiles—is because the sins that precipitated this exile involved hidden evil. The hatred people harbored for one another was concealed. Therefore, the end of this exile is also hidden from us; for centuries there has been no end in sight.

Thus, the word eilah which negates all that comes before is an allusion to the present exile, referred to as the Edomite exile, because it is qualitatively much more difficult than all the other exiles.

How do we get out of this exile?

Among the various approaches that the Rebbe has emphasized—praying and demanding Redemption, learning Torah concerning Moshiach and Redemption, opening our eyes to see the G‑dly energy and good in everything, accepting the authority of Moshiach, increasing our acts of goodness and kindness, etc. etc.—he also repeatedly called for reversing the senseless hatred syndrome that precipitated the exile in the first place. This suggests that instead of senseless hatred we should be cultivating “senseless love,” i.e., unconditional love for our fellow.

This message, too, can be found in the word eileh. eilah, which translates as “these are”, is an expression that denotes clarity and openness. Whatever we are discussing is in front of us. We can point to it. This clarity is the opposite of the hidden evil the Talmud cited above mentioned as the cause of the length and uncertainty of the present exile. We need to counter this uncertainty with clear and demonstrable love.

Moshiach Matters 

The Messianic age represents the final fulfillment of G‑d's purpose in creation. It is a time when evil will be vanquished, and good will reign over all mankind.(Waters of Eden, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan)
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