Threefold Strengthening In The Three Weeks
Sichos In English


Shabbos Parshas Mattos-Massei; 2nd Day of Menachem Av, 5751


1. Among the unique factors associated with this Shabbos is the fact that we conclude BaMidbar and make the public pronouncement of “chazak, chazak, ve’nischazeik” (Be strong, be strong, and we will be strengthened). This threefold repetition represents a chazaka, i.e., a sequence associated with permanence and strength.


Significantly, the conclusion of the Book of BaMidbar always takes place in the Three Weeks, a period associated with exile and destruction. One might ask: Why does this always occur at a time when the Jews are, so to speak, weakened?


It is possible to explain that the one is a result of the other. Since this is a time when the Jews are “weakened,” there is a need for encouragement and reinforcement. However, since the Shabbos is referred to as Shabbos Chazak (the Shabbos of Reinforcement), it would appear that there is a more intrinsic connection between Parshas BaMidbar and Shabbos Chazak, namely, that the time itself adds strength to the Jewish people’s observance of the Torah and its mitzvos.


This concept can be explained within the context of the connection of the expression “chazak, chazak, ve’nischazeik” to the parshiyos that we read this week, Mattos and Massei. There is an obvious connection between the concept of strength and Parshas Mattos. A matteh is a staff, a symbol of strength, permanence, and authority, as reflected by the verse, “Staffs of strength for the rods of those who rule.”


Massei, however, which means “journeys,” seems to represent the very opposite of permanence and strength. And yet it is precisely Parshas Massei that is always read as the last parsha of the Book of BaMidbar. Parshas Mattos, by contrast, is sometimes read as a separate parsha the week before the Book of BaMidbar is concluded.


To explain: A chazaka associated with the number three represents a true conception of strength, for this type of strength exists even in a situation where there are forces that oppose it. As is well known, the number one represents a state in which there exists only goodness and holiness. Two represents a state in which diversity exist and division and strife may arise. Three, however, reflects the strength and power of holiness even in the face of such diversity.


There are two conceptions of this type of strength: a) The strength results from the unlimited light of holiness. This light is so powerful that even in the face of opposition, it can be expressed in every place. b) The strength depends on the service of the lower realms and their efforts to negate all factors opposed to holiness and indeed, to transform them into positive forces.


These two approaches are reflected in the two parshiyos, Mattos and Massei. Parshas Mattos begins by relating how Moshe Rabbeinu conveyed G-d’s command to the tribal leaders, and thus reflects the strength that comes from Above.


Parshas Massei, by contrast, describes “the journeys of the children of Israel as they left the land of Egypt,” i.e., a process of ascent. It relates how the Jewish people passed through various circumstances in the desert as they elevated themselves and the environment through which they passed until they reached Eretz Yisroel.


Therefore, in its most complete sense, the concept of a chazaka is more connected to Parshas Massei, for it is in Parshas Massei that the concept of confronting - and overcoming - opposing forces is reflected. Nevertheless, the most complete conception of reinforcement is established by fusing both approaches. Although the approach of elevation and ascent has the advantage of confronting the opposing forces, it nonetheless lacks the unlimited power of the “revelation from Above.” In fact, since it is dealing on the plane of material reality, it exists within the context of limitation, and there exists the potential for change and even interruption. The ultimate degree of strength, therefore, comes from the fusion of these two parshiyos and these two approaches.


A further concept is reflected in the fact that it is the fourth book of the Torah that is being concluded. Three, although connected with strength as explained above, is nevertheless connected to the instability that characterizes the numbers one and two. Four, by contrast, reflects a higher rung, where the connection to one and two is no longer felt. For this reason, a chair with four legs is used as a symbol of stability.


From the completion of the fourth book of the Torah, we proceed, during the afternoon service, to the beginning of the fifth book. Five represents a level totally beyond all limitation and entirely above the order of nature.


Now we can appreciate the connection between the conclusion of the Book of BaMidbar and the period of the Three Weeks. The destruction of the Beis HaMikdash and our subsequent exile was not intended for the sake of punishment, but rather, in order to lead the Jews and the world at large to the elevated state that will be revealed in the era of Redemption through the Third Beis HaMikdash, “the Sanctuary of G-d, established by Your hands.”


There are two aspects to the Beis HaMikdash: a) the revelation from Above. Although this revelation reflects an unlimited quality, it cannot bring about an eternal structure. This revelation does not permeate the perspective of the created beings themselves, and therefore there is the possibility for destruction. This aspect characterized the First Beis HaMikdash, built by Shlomo HaMelech, who “sat on the throne of G-d,” which related to the service of the tzaddikim. b) The elevation of our lowly world. Although the G-dliness revealed by this service permeates the world and makes it (even from its own perspective) a dwelling place for G-d, it has a basic limitation. Since the world is finite in nature, the potential for eternality does not exist. This aspect, with its advantages and disadvantages, characterizes the Second Beis HaMikdash, built by Ezra and the exiles who returned with him to Yerushalayim, which is associated with the service of t’shuva.


Our Sages associated the verse, “The glory of this later house will surpass that of the first,” with the Second Beis HaMikdash, because it surpassed the First Beis HaMikdash in both size and duration. Time (duration) and space (size) are the two basic elements of our existence. But the Second Beis HaMikdash was also destroyed, because - being associated with the limitations of the world - it did not possess the quality of eternity.


The eternal Beis HaMikdash will be the Third Beis HaMikdash, which will be constructed in the era of the Redemption. This structure will combine the positive qualities of both previous structures. Thus, the infinite revelation that transcends the limitations of the world will pervade and permeate those very limitations. This will be possible due to the success of the service of refinement, which will elevate the world and make it fit to receive such a revelation.


Chazak, chazak, ve’nischazeik” is related to the Third Beis HaMikdash. It is pronounced during the Three Weeks in order to show that the Three Weeks are in essence also related to the Third Beis HaMikdash and are intended to lead to the ultimate Redemption, at which time it will be built. The declaration of “chazak, chazak, ve’nischazeik” also strengthens our service of Torah and mitzvos, which refines the world at large and prepares it to receive the ultimate strength and permanence that will characterize the era of the Redemption.


2. There is another aspect to this Shabbos that is dependent on the influence of the previous day, Friday. Our Sages taught, “Whoever prepares on Friday will eat on Shabbos.” Similarly, the spiritual service of Friday prepares us for the Shabbos.


This Friday, Rosh Chodesh Av, is a unique day; it is the yahrtzeit of Aharon HaKohen. In Tanya (Igeres HaKodesh 28), the Alter Rebbe states that on a yahrtzeit, “All the deeds, Torah, and service in which a person toiled throughout his lifetime…is revealed...and effects salvation upon the Earth.” Aharon’s service consisted of “loving peace and pursuing peace, loving [G-d’s] creations and bringing them close to the Torah.” He made special efforts to spread love, peace, and harmony among husbands and wives, and among different members of the Jewish people.


For this reason, we find that Aharon’s passing was mourned by “the entire House of Israel,” which according to our Sages means both men and women. There is a connection between this phenomenon and Aharon’s service. The love Aharon showed and encouraged the Jewish people to follow relates to the essential point of the Jewish soul, which transcends all division. Another manifestation of this factor is that it was in Aharon’s merit that the Clouds of Glory accompanied the Jewish people in the desert. These clouds encompassed each member of the Jewish people equally and covered them entirely. How was this possible? Because Aharon’s influence transcended all possible divisions among our people.


This concept of all-encompassing love is reflected in the letters of Aharon’s name. Hei and Reish, which together spell “har” (mountain), is frequently used as a metaphor for love. The Alef relates to the word “peleh” (wonder), signifying that Aharon’s love was wondrous and unbounded. (In this context, the Alef and the Hei of Aharon’s name relate to the word “ahava” (love). The Reish stands for the word rabba (great), i.e., his love was great and unbounded.


The final letter of Aharon’s name, the Nuhn, protrudes below the line, indicating how Aharon extended himself to all Jews, even those “below the line.” Since his love was unbounded, it had the potential to extend to every member of the Jewish people, regardless of his individual nature.


Aharon’s service also relates to the fusion of the two approaches of revelation from Above and the elevation of our material environment. As stated above, the number three represents this fusion.


This is reflected in the connection between Aharon and the Priestly Blessing. In Chassidic thought, it is explained that the Priestly Blessing combines the advantages of prayer (the elevation of the material realm) with the advantages of blessing (the revelation of unlimited Divine influence). This fusion is possible because the Priestly Blessing has its source in a level that entirely transcends limitation.


Based on the above, we can understand why Aharon’s yahrtzeit is on the first day of the fifth month. As mentioned above, the number one reflects a unity that totally transcends division. The number five, on the other hand, represents an essential level that transcends diversity. Since Aharon’s life work was dedicated to expressing the fundamental unity that exists among the Jewish people, his passing is associated with this date.


The association of the month of Av with unity and love also reflects how Av prepares us for the next month, Elul, which is characterized by the service of “I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine.” This verse implies an expression of love for G-d on behalf of the Jewish people, which in turn evokes a response of love from G-d, in the new year that follows.


3. This Shabbos, we also recite the second chapter of Pirkei Avos, which contains the teaching, “Rabbi Shimon says, ‘Be meticulous in reading the Shma and in prayer.’” Our Sages relate that generally, the name Rabbi Shimon (unqualified) refers to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Hence, although Rabbi Shimon ben Nasanel - and not Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai - is the author of this teaching, the fact that the Mishna uses the expression “Rabbi Shimon says,” indicates that there is a connection here to the service of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.


A question arises: Since the fundamental dimension of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s service was “Toraso umnaso” (His Torah was his livelihood), why does this teaching deal with reciting the Shma and prayer? Seemingly, it should relate instead to Torah study.


The question can be resolved as follows: “Zahir,” translated as meticulous, also relates to the word “zohar,” meaning shine, and which is associated with Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (author of the Zohar). This Mishna is a command directed at every Jew. Thus, it cannot focus on the service of Toraso umnaso, for not every Jew is capable of such a level. Therefore it speaks of reciting the Shma and prayer services, which are relevant to each Jew, explaining that in these services the Jew must shine forth and illuminate the world around him. Although the concept of shining forth light is generally associated with Torah study, Rabbi Shimon nonetheless generated the potential for light to be produced through the services of reciting the Shma and the daily prayers.


Torah study also shares a connection to the fusion of the services of revelation from Above and the elevation of our worldly experience mentioned above. This can be explained as follows: Rav Hillel of Paritch explained that when the Tzemach Tzedek delivered a maamer, the Divine presence spoke from his throat (a revelation from Above). Once the recitation of the maamer was concluded, Reb Hillel explained, that phenomenon was no longer manifest, and the Rebbe’s explanation of the maamer’s meaning is a function of his own individual thinking processes (which is an elevation of our worldly realm).


4. In connection with the Nine Days, it is worthy to reiterate the importance of making siyumim, i.e., gatherings celebrating the conclusion of Talmudic texts during this period. These gatherings should be associated with the mitzva of tz’daka, for tz’daka brings the Redemption near.


Furthermore, efforts should be made to see to it that as many people as possible, adults as well as children, attend these siyumim. Even those who do not comprehend the subject matter should be urged to attend and to participate in a celebration associated with Torah.


We see a parallel to this on Erev Pesach, when even young children are brought to the synagogue to attend a siyum. The connection between Pesach and the Nine Days is not coincidental. The siyumim of the Nine Days are a preparation for the Future Redemption, of which it is said, “As in the days of your exodus from Egypt, I will show you wonders.” This verse is particularly relevant in the present year, and especially at the present time, when we are standing at the threshold of the Redemption. May we soon cross this threshold and proceed together with the entire Jewish people to Eretz Yisroel, to Yerushalayim, and to the Beis HaMikdash.


The Three Weeks are in essence also related to the Third Beis HaMikdash and are intended to lead to the ultimate Redemption.




The love Aharon showed and encouraged the Jewish people to follow relates to the essential point of the Jewish soul, which transcends all division.




The Mishna speaks of reciting the Shma and prayer services, which are relevant to each Jew, explaining that in these services the Jew must shine forth and illuminate the world around him.


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