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Parashat Ki Teitzei (Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19) (for 5779)

“Do not despise the Edomite, for he is your brother; do not despise the Egyptian,
for you were a stranger in his land.” (Deuteronomy 23:9)

String theory posits the idea all of nature, at the smallest sub-atomic level, is made of vibrating strings. Parashat Ki Teitzei offers a different theory of string.

Tzitzit, or fringes, are first introduced in the book of Numbers as reminders of God’s goodness in taking us out of Egypt (Num. 15:37-40). Ki Teitzei reintroduces them as g’dilim: “You shall make for yourselves g’dilim, tassels, on the four corners of the garment with which you cover yourself.” (Deut. 22:12) G’dilim/tzitzit serve as ethnic markers: in Biblical and Tamudic times, Jews attached them to clothes worn daily-but only if there was a square hem. Dafna Shlezinger-Katsman (scholar of ancient Jewish life) explains 1st century Jews living in the eastern part of the Roman Empire wore a rectangular robe called a pallium and attached tzitzit to the square hem. This is likely what the rabbis refer to when they use the word “tallit.” By medieval times this evolves into the tallit worn in the synagogue today. In the western regions, people wore togas, which had round hems, and therefore didn’t require g’dilim/tzitzit.

Tzitzit represent the mitzvot, or commandments: tzitzit in Hebrew is numerically equivalent to 600; add eight strings plus five knots to get 613, the number of all mitzvot (Midrash Tanchuma, Korach 12). Rabbi Joseph Meszler (rabbi of Temple Sinai of Sharon, MA) notes tzitzit also symbolize the unity and diversity in life, simultaneously. The eight strands of the tzitzit come from one common source (unity). At the same time, there are many different patterns for wrapping and tying tzitizit knots (diversity): 7-8-11-13, 10-5-6-5, 7-7-7-7, and 2-7-2-2, to name but some.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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