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Parashat Sh’lach L’cha (Numbers 13:1-15:41)

“And Caleb stilled the people before Moses and said, ‘Let us go up
at once and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it.’” (Numbers 13:30)

Shlach L’cha introduces the mitzvah, or commandment of tzitzit, or ritual fringes (Num. 15:38). On the surface, it’s pretty straightforward: make tzitzit and attach them to the corners of your garments (Num. 15:38); include a blue thread; make them visible and look at them and remember the commandments (Num. 33:38-40). The S’fat Emet (1847-1905; Yehudah Leib Alter, a child prodigy and the 2nd Rebbe of the Gerer Chassidim) prefers to poke around beneath the surface, though.

He notes the word ot in the phrase, “…Uritem oto, and you shall see it…” (Num. 15:39) also can mean a sign or symbol. In this case, oto mean’s God’s sign (rather than the tzitzit itself). Tzitzit, then, are symbols of God’s constant presence in every particle of the universe. Looking at the tzitzit is a face-to-face meeting with God. A word association connects tzitzit to another verse: “God metzitz, peers [at the Israelites] through the cracks (Song of Songs 2:9). The gaze is reciprocal.

The S’fat Emet also notices the word tzitzit appears three times in two verses; this parallels the three pilgrimage festivals when the Israelites gather together in Jerusalem. This motif of gathering is mirrored when we recite “And gather us for peace from the four corners of the earth…” (Morning Liturgy), and bring together the four corners of the tallit and hold them together, enacting a cosmic unity.

The S’fat Emet sees wrapping yourself in a tallit, or prayer shawl (which has a tzitzit on each corner) is like putting yourself in God’s embrace. Tzitzit are a way to separate from the mundane physical aspect of the world and to enter into the transcendent realm.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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