Tough Staff

July 16, 2017 at 8:17 AM , , ,

“…And Moshe spoke to the heads of the tribes of Bnei Israel…” – Bamidbar 30:2

וַיְדַבֵּר משֶׁה אֶל רָאשֵׁי הַמַּטּוֹת לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל – במדבר ל, ב

The Torah refers to the tribes of Bnei Yisrael here as מטות, matos, each individual tribe called a mateh. Elsewhere, the tribes are called shevatim, each tribe known as a sheivet. Mateh and sheivet are both words for a wooden stick or branch, and their use in reference to Bnei Yisrael denotes that the tribes are all branches of the same tree.

In spiritual terms, the tree represents the common Divine source from which every Jew’s G-dly soul extends. Therein lies the difference between mateh and sheivet.  A sheivet is a freshly cut branch, or one still attached to the tree, when it is moist and pliable. Conversely, the term mateh is used in reference to a firm staff, a branch that has lost its moisture and has therefore become hardened and tough. Hence, in the analogy, mateh and sheivet allude to two different periods and phases experienced by the G-dly soul in its relationship with its Divine source.

Tough Staff

The term sheivet refers to the soul when its connection to its Divine source is fresh and evident. Collectively, the “fresh branch” would best describe the Jewish people in the era of the Beis Hamikdash, the Holy Temple that stood in Jerusalem, when the Jewish people constantly sensed G-dliness. In a more general sense, sheivet refers to the G-dly soul before its descent to this lowly world to be clothed in a physical body.

The dry mateh, on the other hand, refers to the G-dly soul while it is within the human body, when its connection to its Divine source is not as obvious. This is particularly so ever since the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash and the ensuing exile, as a result of which we have become sapped of our spiritual sensitivities.

Yet the term mateh, or matos, as this parsha is traditionally called, also expresses the purpose and benefit that this spiritual dryness achieves. For these trying times of exile have brought out the Jewish people’s unbreakable resolve to observe the Torah under all circumstances. The challenges of exile have revealed the soul’s unyielding determination to obey G-d’s will despite any adversity, like a firm staff that does not bend under any pressure or weight.

—Likutei Sichos vol. 28, pp. 281-283

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