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Stiff Sticks

Friday, 2 August, 2019 - 8:14 am

Today is the beginning of the Nine Days. It is a period of national mourning in the Jewish calendar, marking the destruction of both the first and second Holy Temples that stood in Jerusalem. Our history is littered with tragedy – and jubilation

As we observe the extra signs of bereavement, we turn to the Torah for guidance and inspiration.

By no coincidence, we always read Parshat Matot (and this year Masei as well) during this mourning period.

The name of the parsha, Matot, means staffs (as in sticks). It refers to the tribes of the Jewish people. Just as a tree has many branches, so do the Jews have 12 tribes branching out from the Patriarchs and Matriarchs.

There are others terms used to describe the tribes. In fact, another one is Shevet. Shevet means branch. The difference between a branch and staff is that the branch is still attached to the tree, whereas the staff has been severed from its source.

Why are the tribes sometimes referred to as lifeless sticks instead of as branches of a living tree?

To be clear, there are advantages in each. But, the reading of this portion at this time of year is no coincidence. There are times of sadness and challenge. When we face upheaval and exile, we are compared to sticks. We don’t feel the overt bond with our Father in Heaven and our roots. We are dispersed and assimilated. Like a stick, we maybe hardened, cold and apathetic.

Severed from its source the stick has a resilience unmatched by branches. Exile has taught us how to cope, survive and thrive under the harshest physical, emotional and spiritual conditions.

But, is this our destiny? Are we to forever operate with the ‘thick skin’ of the staff?

Once again, the parsha offers insight.

This parsha also talks about the division of the Holy Land among the tribes of Israel.

At a time of mourning, the message is clear. You may feel like a lifeless, uprooted and identity-less stick. In reality, however, you are connected to your identity and source in the strongest way possible. You will inherit the Promised Land.

When you feel like a staff, remember that G-d promises – and delivers – the Holy Land.

The loss of our Holy Temples ought to be cause for mourning. More importantly, it ought to be the catalyst to do all we can to merit a time when lifeless sticks will be infused with new energy and vitality, with the rebuilding of our Beit Hamikdash speedily.

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