Parshas Matos is always read during the three weeks of mourning over the destruction of the Holy Temple, an
event which plunged the Jewish people into a physical and spiritual exile from which they have not yet
recovered. It is not surprising, therefore, that the name of the Parsha contains a message of inspiration which helps
us overcome the adversities of exile.
Scripture uses two terms to refer to the tribes of Israel: a.) shevatim; b.) matos. The difference between them is
that "matos" are branches that have become detached from the tree, and have hardened to form a staff or a rod.
"Shevatim," on the other hand, refers to branches that still remain attached to their trunk, and are thus soft and
Chasidic thought teaches that the "branch" and the "rod" allude to the soul's development as it passes
from a heavenly setting to an earthly setting. In heaven, the soul is consciously "attached" to G-d, like the branch
which remains attached to its trunk. But before embarking on its mission, the soul is "immature." It has never faced
an obstacle in its relationship with G-d and, consequently, has never enjoyed the additional "bonding" that is brought to a relationship by overcoming obstacles. Likewise, the "hidden reserves" of powers that were granted to the soul to overcome situations of adversity lie dormant and undiscovered.
However, when the soul is placed in its earthly setting, in a physical body 'n the times of exile, all this soon changes. Like a branch that is detached from its trunk, the soul loses its effortless, emotional enwrapment with the Creator and finds itself in a world which is antagonistic to holiness and truth. But we are promised that, with the necessary effort, the tender "branch" will soon harden to become a firm and rigid "rod" that is unbending in its dedication to G-d.
Parshas Matos thus teaches us that G-d has given us the ability to live according to the laws of the Torah under all circumstances. It is only a matter of will and determination on the part of the Jew, since, potentially, we have the fullest capacity to live up to the will and the commandments of G-d, the Creator and Master of the world.
(From Gutnik Chumash)