Shabbat Matot-Masei is one of the three Shabbats that fall in the period that we call Ben HaMetzarim, “The Three Negative Weeks,” and the portion Masei speaks about the 42 journeys, the 42 stages, the Israelites went through from the moment they left Egypt until they came to the land of Canaan, the land of Israel. The kabbalists explain that when we read about these 42 stages, we're not reading about history, but about the life of every single person. Every one of us, whether we are aware of it or not, goes through these same 42 stages; from the inception of the soul until its Final Correction, there are 42 steps. Therefore, when we read about the 42 stages, it is not simply history we are reading, but it also encompasses every aspect of our life, from the parts we've already been through to the parts, or stages, that we will come to through elevation and correction.
So, at its core, the great kabbalist Rav Chaim Ben Attar says this entire discussion is about the elevation of sparks. As we’ve spoken about before, the purpose of our soul from the time it was created is to take sparks of Light that are in darkness and elevate them to a new and renewed connection to the Light of the Creator. When enough of those sparks are elevated through our work, then we achieve the Gemar HaTikkun, the End of the Correction. And it says that the individual’s desire is what elevates those sparks.
The Israelites traveled from one place to the next, and weren't always aware of what Light was available to them in each place. However, if throughout the travels and challenges of those travels they had maintained clarity of consciousness and desire to connect to the Light of the Creator, then regardless of if they were conscious of it or not, sparks of Light would have come out of darkness and attached themselves to their soul, elevating through them. As such, the understanding here is that the process of elevating these sparks is not always a conscious process. The majority of the sparks that we need to elevate are sparks that are unconscious.
Rav Chaim Ben Attar uses the example of a magnet; when a person has the desire to connect to the Light of the Creator, he becomes a magnet for the sparks. So, when we are walking down the street, there are sparks there waiting for us to become a magnet for them. And what is the power that draws those sparks out? It is the clarity of consciousness and the desire to be connected to the Light of the Creator.
A person could have walked down the same street for the past five years, but today, if for the first time he or she is in a state of clarity and has the desire for true connection with the Light of the Creator, those sparks will jump out and attach themselves to him. Unfortunately, however, that same person can walk down that street where his sparks are waiting for him for 50 years without desire to connect to the Light of the Creator, and those sparks won't jump out and attach themselves to him. We learn from this that one of the most important lessons not only of these three weeks, but also of Shabbat Matot-Masei, is the importance of fighting for the desire for connection. Because it is not simply that the desire for connection is a tool that brings us to connect, but also, it is actually the most powerful tool to draw all the Light and sparks that we need into us.
There is a section in the Midrash that tells us Jeremiah was called the Prophet of Destruction, because he was the one who tried to awaken the Israelites before the destruction and nobody listened to him. And it says throughout that time he's going around and telling people they need to awaken a desire to connect, because they don't realize they can lose all the blessings they have if they do not live with a desire to connect constantly to the Light of the Creator. But nobody listened to him, the destruction occurred, and the Israelites were pushed into exile.
And in a famous section from Psalms, it says they sat down by the river of Babylon and began crying to Jeremiah, because they saw that he was leaving them, saying “How can you leave us, now when we have such a desire to connect?” Here, when we're talking about crying, we’re talking specifically about the need of our soul to connect to the Light of the Creator. So, Jeremiah responds to them that had they cried once when he spoke to them when they were still in the land of Israel, none of this would have happened. If they had cried just once, Jeremiah told them, when he tried to awaken true desire, none of the pain or destruction had to occur.
That's what these three weeks are about - both feeling the distance between ourselves and the Light of the Creator, and awakening that desire. And now we understand even more that desire is what draws Light to us.
Let’s say, for instance, that today we are walking down the street, and have clarity of consciousness and desire, and feel the distance between ourselves and the Light of the Creator, and want to create a real connection. Then that spark of Light on that same street we’ve walked down for many years sees there's desire there. And the spark of Light also has desire, as it has been lost for however many years and become attached to what's called similarity of form. So the spark of Light says, “I attach myself to you, because you also have desire.”
We learn from this that the importance of desire is at least two fold. First, sparks of Light that we, and the world, need for us to elevate are waiting all around us… but not simply for us to come in and make a connection, or even to do an action of sharing. Because while those actions, yes, reveal a certain amount of Light, it is desire that draws Light to us, not just consciously, but more importantly, unconsciously.
As we live more with desire for a true connection to the Light of the Creator, we won't even realize where all this Light is coming to us from. Because it's not coming necessarily from our connections; it's coming from all those sparks that have been waiting for us to awaken desire. And that's what happened with the Israelites in the desert. Why were they there for 40 years? Because throughout those 40 years, they were waiting to see the sparks of Light that were in the desert, they were waiting for desire. Waiting for the Israelites to travel from one place to the other.
Why did the Israelites have to go back and forth in the desert? Because they didn't have desire. And travelling here represents life’s travels, each one of our individual lives’ and incarnations’ travels. So, how do we elevate and complete that journey? Only with desire. If we do 50 years of work, and we share and connect without awakening desire, then all those lost sparks that are waiting to be elevated and become part of us to assist us and bring us Light and blessings can't attach themselves to us.
That's what the portion Masei is about: the clarity that awakening a desire for a connection to the Light of the Creator is more important than the connection or action itself. And that's one of the most important questions we have to ask ourselves, not only on Shabbat Matot-Masei, but also during these three weeks. How great is our desire? Not saying, “I do the spiritual work, so I'm okay,” but asking ourselves if we are doing it with desire. Because desire for connection is more important than connection itself.