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Parashat Matot and the two subsequent parashot – Masei and Devarim— take place during the interval of “Bein HaMeitsarim” (between the straits), the three weeks between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av.
This time period is traditionally one of mourning, even though it’s a mitsva to always be in joy. How, then, is this reconciled? According to the wisdom of Kabbalah the three weeks are laden with a very powerful energy and we must be cautious; the mourning is not one of sorrow and agony but rather one that propels us to go within and prevent situations that might bring self-destruction.
Parashat Matot begins with the words “And Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes” regarding the issue of “nedarim” (vows). The Torah relates that this issue differs for men and women, in that a man must act on his vow, whereas the father of a single woman or a woman’s husband can annul her vow. Interpreters contend with the issue “heads of the tribes”. The word “mateh” (tribe) derives from the word “hataya”, meaning redirection or deflection, and regarding the issue of vows, this begs the question—what exactly are we redirecting? And why the gender discrimination?
In parashat Pinhas, the Zohar explains the meaning of the “Kol Nidrei” (all vows) prayer recited on Yom Kippur.
Most of us erroneously tend to believe that the purpose of this prayer is to annul those vows that we have made in the past. However, according to the Jewish tradition, we already invalidate the vows on the eve of Rosh Hashana. What then is the purpose of “Kol Nidrei”? The Zohar elucidates that the purpose of the “Kol Nidrei” prayer is to nullify vows from the upper worlds. “Neder” (vow) is a law of cause and effect. If we have caused pain and suffering in the universe, these will come back to us, and the purpose of the “Kol Nidrei” prayer is to erase those vows. Parashat Matot endows us with the power of “Kol Nidrei”.
In the issue of vows, the woman represents the world of substance, the receiving vessel; within us lies the power to deflect or redirect, and control our fate. The father or husband represents the giving element in us. If we bear a vow of adversity from previous reincarnations or past years, we can disavow it and change it, especially at this time. The way to attain “Mituk HaDinim” (mitigation of verdicts), is by awareness and mindfulness that all our deeds come from an intent of love, tolerance and giving, rather than judgmentalism and criticism. In this way we can change and redirect the course of destiny, and it is during this time that we have the opportunity to do so.
We often forget that we are the master of our body and soul, and have the right not to allow emotions to enter that do not serve us or our purpose. We must hold on to the belief and knowledge that we have the power to redirect our fate, as the alternative is to be “bnei beliya’al” (evil-doers, lacking conscience), useless in the ability to rise above emotion, thought and misery that overtake us. This parasha also deals with the war against the Midyanites, who symbolize the verdicts created in the past and the negative energies that can come back and harm us. During the month of Tammuz we can harm ourselves by feelings of harsh judgmentalism and criticism, and for this reason the theme of war against the Midyanites in parashot Balak, Pinhas and Matot, is cited, as this is this time, during the three weeks, that we fight these negative forces with tolerance, open-heartedness and unconditional love. In this way we amend the verdicts, the intolerance and baseless hate which have caused so much destruction and catastrophes in the past thousands of years, in the period of time known as “Bein HaMeitsarim”.
In order to show us how perilous it can be when our emotions control us, the parasha goes on to describe the settling of Reuben, Gad and half the tribe of Menashe east of the Jordan river, territory not included in the land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
The Ari explains why those tribes did not enter the land, and takes us back to the day of conception of the three:
Jacob came to Leah on their wedding night believing he was with Rachel, and during their union his intent was to bring the soul of Joseph into the world. It was Reuben, however, who came into the world. Because Jacob’s thinking had been faulty, upon blessing his sons years later he told Reuben: “Pahaz kammayim al totar”, you emerged uncontrolled as the waters, and my intentions do not manifest in you. The result was that 500 years later the tribe of Reuben could not enter the land of Israel.
A similar occurrence happened with Gad. Seeing that she already had four sons and could no longer conceive, Leah arranged for her handmaiden, Zilpah, to take her place unbeknown to Jacob. When a son is born, Leah utters the words “Ba Gad” (fortune has arrived, since it was a boy), but in the Torah the letter “Aleph” which symbolizes light, was omitted, and the word becomes “Bagad” (betrayed). Similarly regarding Menashe, the Torah relates the story of Dina, Leah’s daughter, who was kidnapped and raped by Shekhem son of Hamor, and gives birth to a daughter, Asenath. Jacob hid the baby beneath a “Sneh” (bush, hence her name), and gave her a gold amulet engraved with holy names on it to protect her. Asenath vanishes, turns up in Egypt and is adopted by Potifar, priest of On, who raised her as his own. When she grew up, Joseph had by then become a prince in Egypt, and it is told that he was one of the seven handsomest men in the world, that whenever he rode in his chariot girls would watch him from their rooftops and throw jewels at him to attract his attention. As Joseph passed Asenath’s house, she felt he was her true intended mate and tossed her gold amulet. When he saw the holy name in Hebrew on the amulet, Joseph knew that she was from his father’s house and that she is his long lost niece. Joseph and Asenath married and begot two sons—Menashe and Efraim. When Joseph brought in the boys to receive a blessing from Jacob before his death, he places the eldest, Menashe, at Jacob’s right and Efraim to his left, but Jacob crosses his arms so that his right hand is over Efraim’s head and his left on Menashe. Why does he do this? The Zohar explains that Menashe’s mother had been conceived of a rape, whereby thought and emotion were misplaced. This negative intent appeared first in her firstborn, Menashe, making him half complete (from this father, Joseph), and half flawed, which is why half the tribe of Menashe did not enter the land.
The Torah tells the story of the three tribes that did not enter the land as a result of lack of control over emotion and thought at a time when they are hardest to overcome, during copulation and carnal desire. This shows us how fateful is every moment in our lives, and the importance of intent, thought and the practice of control over our emotions. The secret and lesson in parashat Matot, is that we have the power to redirect destiny by directing our emotions away from feelings of separation from others and from the Creator, towards unity. The peak of the three weeks is the Ninth of Av, when the destruction of the Temple took place as a consequence of separateness and baseless hatred. The lesson in parashat Matot is our obligation to redirect our feeling back to oneness and reconnect with the Light of the Creator in order to control past present and future.
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