This week’s Parasha contains the commandment of tzitzit, the fringes on the corners for the four (4) cornered garment we have come to call the tallit and what we think of as the prayer shawl.
The fact is that this commandment is applicable to EVERY 4 cornered garment, but not to any other. We may don a talit which, as a 4 cornered garment, requires tzitzit, but there is no Torah mitzvah obligation to wear a tallit either. It has become a tradition to wear a tallit during prayers in the morning, but it is not required (note that in some circles men do not wear a full talit until after marriage). Some hold that a tradition can, overtime, have the force of Halacha—the law, but it is not a Torah obligation. Wearing tzitzit is not required (e.g. wearing 4 cornered garment is not required). It is voluntary.
Curiously, though it is voluntary, our Sages in the Gemara tell us that the mitzvah of tzitzit is equal to all other mitzvoth in the Torah. Why might you think that is?
We read in this week’s Parasha that “you will glance upon them and you will remember all the commandments of the Lord”. Bamidbar/Numbers 15:39.
Did you ever see a sweater that your mother or grandmother knitted for you and instantly feel a sense of warmth and, as you put it on, your heart was flooded with memories of her love for you?
Could we think of the tallit as the sweater that God has knit for us and when we wear it, think of God’s loving embrace?
And why is this mitzvah given in this week’s Parasha? The words tell us to gaze upon the tzitzit to remember all of God’s mitzvoth, to observe them and not to follow our hearts, eyes and lustful urges. “Lo taturu” we are told—follow God’s way, not your personal agenda. Bamidbar/Numbers 15:39. It is that exact verb that was used in the directive to the spies, “V’yatur” Bamidbar/Numbers 13:2 and “Latur” Bamidbar/Numbers 13:17. Yet instead of remembering all that God had done, could and would do for the Israelites, the sin of the spies was to be influenced by their heart, eyes and passion and spread fear, doubt and anxiety among the people.
Having the physical reminder of the tzitzit can be that extra ounce of prevention, the reminder of God’s warm embrace, God’s love for each of us and awareness of what God expects from us.
It can be an awesome feeling. Why not try it? How about this Shabbat?
This Shabbat we learn with our teacher Ruth Bergman who will discuss many of the issues related to the entire spy story that is the centerpiece of the Parasha. Who sent them? Whose idea was it? What was the mission? How did the spies speak to the people and why?
Please consider spying on us at 9:45 a.m. in the Shiffman Chapel. Come as you are and stay as long as you like. We finish in time for the Rabbi’s sermon.