Parshat Shelach

Torah Reading for Week of June 14 – June 20, 2009

“Exploring our Mission”

by Rabbi Elisheva Beyer, ’06
Temple Beth Or (Reno, NV)

G-d said to Moses, saying, Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them that they shall make themselves tzitzit on the corners of their garments. Throughout their generations…that you may see it and remember all the commandments of G-d and perform them; and not explore after your heart and after your eyes…and be holy to your G-d.

According to the Talmud, one who is careful about the mitzvah of wearing tzitzit will merit seeing the Shechinah (Divine Presence). Menachot 43b. Why is this mitzvahof wearing tzitzit on our garments so important?

When we wear tzitzit, we are reminded of all of the commandments. According to Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, 1040-1105), the gematria (numerical value) of the word, “tzitzit” is 600 and one adds to that the number of the eight threads, and the five knots. This equals 613 of the commandments (Tanhuma). When we look attzitzit, we are reminded of our duty towards G-d. We can focus on either seeing inanimate threads, or the intention of G-d to bring us into a spiritual relationship – to be holy.

Rabbi S. R. Hirsch (1808-1888) says that tzitzit are meant to remind us to be dedicated in our mission as human beings, and as Jews, to be holy. They are a meant to keep us on task. He notes that from a Biblical perspective, clothing was created by G-d after Adam and Eve “went about after their own heart and after their own eyes” and regarded as “good” anything that, in the judgment of their greedy eye and their mental quest for bodily gratification, seemed conducive to the satisfaction of their physical desires.” As humans, we are endowed with moral character and choice. Thus, tzitzit help us focus daily on our work to lift ourselves up by our speech and actions towards being holy.

When wearing tzitzit, we are admonished to lo taturu “not go exploring after your own heart and after your own eyes.” However, the parsha began with Moses sending out spies to “latur et ha’aretz” (to explore the land). They failed their mission as tarim (explorers). Due to their eyes and hearts, they lacked confidence in G-d who was prepared to help to overcome the obstacles in taking the land. The spies diminished, in their own eyes, to the size of grasshoppers. The land and its inhabitants grew too big for them to overcome. The exploration should have been done with trust in G-d, who oversees our lives. Indeed, every blade of grass has an angel standing over it, telling it to “grow.” Midrash Rabbah, Beresheet 10:6.

The Sefat Emet (Rabbi Yehudah Lieb Alter of Ger, 1847-1905) advises that thismitzvah to wear tzitzit is related to concentrating on the unity of G-d. One of the significant uses of our tzitzit is when we gather them during our morning prayer of the Shema, which proclaims G-d’s unique oneness. Also, a person who prays wrapped up in a tallit (prayer shawl) emulates G-d, who prays with a tallit of light. Psalms 104:2.

We are commanded to not explore after our heart and after our eyes because in craving the material goods of this world, we run into trouble. Instead, we are to focus on G-d, work on our mission G-d has entrusted to us and know G-d will help us overcome the obstacles in our path. In focusing on G-d, we merit seeing the Divine Presence in our lives.

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