It is not by chance that parshas Mattos is read in the period of mourning that focuses on the destruction of the Batai Mikdash and its trusty side-kick the ensuing galus. Rather, it is incumbent upon us to find some message from within the parsha that can heighten the “Three Weeks” experience. Perhaps we can offer the following observation.
In this week’s parsha Hashem instructs Moshe and the Bnai Yisrael to exact revenge on the Midyanim for their role in causing the death of 24,000 Yidden. Moshe assembles an army of 12,000 soldiers who successfully kill all the males including the five Kings of Midyan [and Bilam, who happened to be there picking up his pay check]. As the passuk says, “Vayahargu kol zachor ve’es malchai Midyan hargu al chalelaihem” – They killed all the males, and the kings of Midyan were killed upon their corpses.” (Bamidbar, 31:7-8). Chazal and Mefarshim give many understandings to the phrase “al chalelaihem”- “upon their corpses”. The Otzar Chaim, in the name of Rav Yonason Eibeshutz explains that the passuk is telling us that the five kings tried to hide amongst the corpses of their people, playing possum. It was there that they were discovered and slain immediately, hence, “The kings of Midyan were killed upon their corpses.” This phrase I believe, is only mentioned once in Tanach, but we do use it as part of our tefillos on Tisha B’av. During the Amida of Mincha we add the bracha known as “Nachaim”. In it we say “Libi libi al chalelaihem, may’i may’i al chalelaihem” – My heart, my heart is upon the corpses, my innards, my innards are upon the corpses”. Perhaps the author of Nachaim uses this phrase deliberately in order to capture the intensity of the mourning that we should have during the Three Weeks. We have to be “upon the corpses” and upon the ruins of our nation. It is not sufficient to read up on the cold historical facts but to somehow make the churban more real and more visceral. We must figure out how the churban makes a crimp in in our daily comings and goings, (and it does, because the world is just a shadow of its former self while it is in churban mode) and to personally feel the suffering
A suggestion if I may: Baruch Hashem we still have amongst the living Yidden that went through the churban of Europe. These holy Jews should all have arichas yamim. But they will not be around forever. We should make it our obligation sometime during the Three Weeks to connect with these people, talk to them, cry with them, and be in awe of them. And more importantly, our children and grandchildren who Baruch Hashem are oblivious to the atrocities of years past, should be exposed to these majestic people who suffered on behalf of a nation.
And then, only then, will our hearts truly cry and will our innards truly churn.
Have a great Shabbos.
Rabbi Nosson Greenberg is rov of Khal Machzikei Torah of Far Rockaway, N.Y., and maggid shiur at Yeshiva of Far Rockaway.