Torah Reading:  Parshat Mattot- Massei,  Numbers 30:2 - 36:13

Haftora: Yirmiyah 2:4 - 28 & 4:1 - 2

Shabbat Candle Lighting: 8:06 PM

Shabbat Ends: 9:12 PM 

Mattot - Massei 


The Four Exiles Hinted

The second of two sections of the Torah to be read this week begins with the words: “Eileh masei bnei yisroel-These are the journeys of the children of Israel.”

Commentators point out that the initials of these four Hebrew words are also the initials of four historical exiles of the Jewish people:

The word Eileh begins with the letter aleph which stands for Edom. That is another name for Esau, said to be the progenitor of the Roman Empire.  It was the Romans who exiled the Jews after destroying the second Temple.  This is the exile in which we remain to this day.

The letter mem of Masei-Journeys stands for Modai, the Medes.  They were the nation which joined forces with the Persians to keep the Jews from rebuilding their Temple. It was also during Median-Persian rule that Haman concocted a plot to annihilate the entire Jewish people.

The letter beis, the initial of the word bnei, is also the initial of the word Bavel-Babylonia. Under the cruel rule of Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonians destroyed the first Temple and drove the Jews into exile for 70 years.

The final word, Yisroel, begins with the letter yud, which is also the initial of Yavan-Greece. This alludes to the time of the story of Chanukah when the Jewish people were under Syrian-Greek domination.

Not for Punishment

We know that G‑d does not punish us for the sake of punishment but rather to teach us vital lessons. Whenever we are in an exile state He intends for us to discover hidden qualities in exile and harness them for good.

It stands to reason that each of these exiles represented models that we should follow. To be sure, the exiles were horrific for the Jewish people. However, once we are in exile we can and must mine its hidden treasures as they will enable us to reach even higher levels than we could have reached if we were not in exile.

Greater than Sinai?

Indeed, Chassidic thought compares our current exile to the Egyptian exile, the forerunner of all subsequent exiles. What benefit did our Egyptian bondage of 210 years yield? The simple answer is that it prepared us for the giving of the Torah, the single greatest event in all of human history.

Our current exile has lasted close to 2,000 years. If the Egyptian bondage produced the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, then the long, arduous and painful exile we are still in must yield even something greater. But what could be greater than the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai?

The answer is that when the Torah was given, we experienced an unprecedented G‑dly revelation. However, its effects did not endure. The 3,330 years since then were intended for us to implement the message of Sinai.

Currently, we cannot see how the world is changing for the better and the G‑dly light of Sinai is gradually permeating the world. Why is that? If we could see the transformation of the world before our eyes, we would not have free choice. If everyone grew up in a totally holy environment we would automatically do what is right and reject anything contrary to G‑d’s will, without effort or struggle on our part.

The Sinai experience was a one-sided G‑dly revelation. G‑d’s will for us was that, after Sinai, it would become a two-way street, with the emphasis on our reciprocal efforts. G‑d wanted us to meet Him half-way and confront the many obstacles and challenges with heroic devotion.

When this process is complete—and we believe that is imminent—the Messianic Age and Final Redemption will commence. Then all that has been accomplished in the spiritual sense will be on full display for the entire world. Every blade of grass will reflect the Divine source which is responsible for its creation. We will all bask in G‑d’s glory, as the prophet Isaiah declared (cited by Maimonides at the very end of his magnum opus, the Mishneh Torah), “The world will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d as the sea covers the seabed.”

The phenomenal explosion of Divine knowledge and awareness of the future are direct result of the accomplishment of the Jewish people in this long exile.

The Four Positive Traits of Exile

It may be suggested that each of the exiles’ names, hinted at in the parsha that speaks of the journeys of the Jewish people, relates to a positive trait that we adopted and adapted during our stay in the foregoing four exiles.

Babylonia was so named because G‑d confused the people who constructed the Tower of Babel.  The Babylonian Talmud was named by its own authors as the Talmud of darkness and confusion because of its complex, dialectic style. The Babylonian Talmud is full of questions, answers, arguments, counter-arguments and refutations. This is the Talmud that empowered us to navigate our way through the winding and tortuous highways and byways of exile. Without the Babylonian Talmud’s focus on looking for the light at the end of the long, winding tunnel we would never have had the capacity to circumnavigate the twisted and tortuous exile roads.

The Roman exile brought about the scattering of the Jewish people to the “four corners of the world.” The wealth of knowledge we acquired and absorbed from the wide-spread sparks of holiness that we have liberated, has greatly enriched the Jewish people spiritually.

The Greek exile was primarily a struggle between assimilated Hellenist Jews and those who remained loyal to Judaism. Sometimes the challenges mounted to Judaism and Jews from other Jews are even greater than the challenges we experience from outsiders. The Greek exile empowered us to prevail even when the conflict is internal.

The Median exile, we may suggest, is the challenge of propaganda (the media, pun intended). The entire story of Purim involves the spreading of the King’s decrees through, what was the then, the ancient version of media.

First, Achashveirosh sent couriers (or may we call them journalists) to notify the populace of his decree that wives must obey their husbands. Then he sent couriers to declare that all Jews should be annihilated, followed then by a reverse directive that the Jews could defend themselves. Mordechai and Esther finally send messages that the Jews should observe the Holiday of Purim.

In short, it seems that the power of the media then was formidable in making the difference between life and death of the Jewish people.

The lesson we derived from this exile is the power we have when we avail ourselves of the various technologies to spread the words of Torah. Without harnessing the power of media, the values of Judaism would be restricted to small enclaves of Jews. While media can be our greatest and deadliest foe – as almost happened with Haman’s decree - it has also saved the Jewish people.

The importance of media is further underscored with the saying, repeated by the Rebbe many times, that Moshiach’s arrival will appear in the newspapers. In other words, Moshiach is not just a lofty concept; he is reality. Today reality is determined by the media. If the media does not report an event, no matter how important it may be, it doesn’t exist in the minds of the multitudes.

In our own day and age, we have seen both sides of the media. Let us take this component of exile, with all the others, and use it to spread the word that Moshiach is coming imminently and that we should prepare ourselves and our communities for his arrival!