Legend tells of an elderly villager who gave a butterfly cocoon to a curious child. The day arrived when a small crack could be seen on the edge of the cocoon. As it slowly opened, a delicate and beautiful butterfly became revealed, trying to escape from the cocoon by beating its wings against the cocoon. Its movements were weak and the butterfly was unable to exit. In an attempt to help the butterfly, the boy pulled the two halves of the cocoon apart. But alas, tragedy struck, for the newly hatched butterfly died after flying for but a few moments.
The tearful boy returned to the old man and told him what had happened. The old man explained, “The butterfly needs strong wings to be able to fly. The way it strengthens its wings is by flapping its wings against the cocoon. While you helped the butterfly leave the cocoon you denied it the opportunity to grow and develop the muscles of its wings.”
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There are times when we feel connected to G-d. We are inspired to do Mitzvot and study Torah. Then there are times when we don’t feel connected. When we’re invited to join a Torah class we respond, “I don’t feel connected.” What should our reaction be at such times?
The Torah alternates between referring to the twelve Tribes of Israel as ‘Shevatim’ or as ‘Matot.’ Both words literally mean branches. The name of our parsha is the latter term, ‘Matot.’
Although Sheivat and Matah both refer to a branch or stick, there is a distinction between the two. Sheivet connotes a moist branch that is still connected to the tree, or freshly cut. The word Matah, however, refers to a branch that is dried out and firm, a branch that is disconnected from its source.
The soul is a spiritual entity that is absolutely unified with its divine source, like ‘Sheivet’ – moist branch, which is still connected to its source. When the soul descends into the world and comes into the body, it become like a ‘Matah’ – a sturdy branch. While the soul is enclothed in the body, it does not feel connected with its divine source. The physical body and its materialistic desires wage war with the soul and make it difficult for the soul to remain connected to G-d.
However, a dried branch is stronger than a moist branch. While a moist branch sways in the wind, a dried-out branch is firm and unwavering. The branch can only harden once it becomes disconnected from its source. So too, the soul’s decent causes the soul to become strong and firm like a dried branch. The distance from its divine source arouses the deepest powers within the soul. Even in a state of separation from G-d, the soul remains steadfastly dedicated to its divine mission.
There have been periods of history in which the Jewish nation were like a Sheivet – a branch. When the Temple stood in Jerusalem, holiness and spirituality shone throughout the land, and the Jewish nation’s relationship with G-d thrived. However, after the destruction of the Temples, when we do not see G-d’s revealed presence, the Jewish nation is likened to a Matah – a lifeless staff.
We are now in the three-week mourning period, which culminates with Tisha B’Av – the day the Temple was destroyed. These days mark the beginning of the Jewish nation’s exile. The exile ultimately serves to reveal the innate power of a Jew, and that he always remains connected to G-d. This will be fully revealed in the ultimate redemption.
On a personal level, lack of feeling and enthusiasm should not be interpreted as a lack of connection to G-d. Rather, it is an opportunity to discover your inner mettle and toughness, allowing you to embrace the adversity and grow stronger as a result. Specifically during times of feeling unconnected to spirituality, a Jew has the strength of a ‘Matah-a dried branch.’ We must use our inner strengths to join that Torah class and do the Mitzvah.
Shabbat Shalom, Chodesh Tov, may these days of mourning ultimately be transformed to days of great rejoicing and gladness, with the full revelation of Moshiach.
Dedicated in honor of Tzvi Aryeh Ben Esther for good health, Nachat and success in everything