We are never going to complain that mitzvos are redundant. The more kedushah
HKBH wants to give us, the better. We would still like to understand why He
asks us to connect certain parts of our lives with Him through formally
constructed, visible symbols, while ignoring others.
Upon reflection, most of them make perfect sense to us – until we get to
tzitzis. The other visible symbols attach to crucial parts of our inner and
outer lives. Bris milah sanctifies the body; tefillin the mind, the heart
and our capacity to change our environment with the actions of our limbs.
The mezuzah literally brings kedushah to the personal domain of our homes,
reminding us to carve out our own small fortress devoted entirely to His
Tzitzis, it would seem, follows the same pattern, and are meant to sanctify
our clothes. Clothes? Are they really so important to require a mitzvah of
their own, parallel to bris and tefillin? Other Torah considerations like
tzniyus, humility, and kavod ha-Torah dictate what clothing is appropriate
to the Am Hashem. Having complied with all those requirements, do we need
further sanctification on the scale of a mitzvah with as ubiquitous
application as tzitzis? The word itself hints at some important potential
that resides within our clothing. It is related to the words for sprouting
and blossoming. The tzitzis threads appear to sprout, divide and flourish
from where the place they had all been tightly coiled together. They hint at
some good that can be an outgrowth of our garb, when dedicated to the right
purpose. Where is this taking us?
We can only answer the question by examining the role of clothing from the
beginning of time. We quickly realize that clothing was a co-traveler on the
road of moral development.
The Torah admonishes us lo sasuru acharei levavchem ve-acharei eineichem,
“you shall not seek out after your hearts and after your eyes.” At the very
dawn of human civilization, our forebears made a fateful mistake, for which
we all still pay a bitter price. “She saw that the tree was good for eating,
a delight to the eyes, and desirable to make one wise.” At that moment,
Man’s discernment of the clear difference between right and wrong became
crippled; Man’s determination of what is moral and just became subverted to
what he saw, and how he processed that vision in accordance with his
expectation of temporal pleasure and benefit. He had traded the gift of
human reason for that of the animal, which knows of no yardstick to weigh
its actions other than the desirability of what it sees in front of it.
Quickly Man sensed this great change; he felt deep remorse for what he had
done, because he could still detect the Voice of G-d within him. That
contrast between the Presence of G-d at his core, and the animal-like
arguments moving him in another direction we know as “shame.” Reacting to
it, Man covered himself – and soon saw his instinct in this regard confirmed
by Hashem Himself. Ushering Adam and Chavah out of the Paradise they had
lost, G-d gave each of them special garments, to remind them of what they
had lost in the descent to animal-like tendencies, and the crucial need to
offset them by carefully listening to the Word of G-d.
Tzitzis, in effect, asks us not to repeat the mistake in our own lives, and
to make use of the same gift that Hashem gave to Mankind when Adam and
Chavah entered the world beyond the borders of Gan Eden.
In the eight strings of tzitzis we find allusion to the numbers six, seven
and eight. Six represents the sum total of the natural forces written into
the six days of Creation. Seven takes us to the higher, invisible, spiritual
place that Man can choose to incorporate in his thinking and in his life
through the gift of free will. With the creation of a Jewish people, all
activity can start over on a new plane – in effect, an octave higher than
what came before. This is the number eight, or the blue thread that
encircles the others in the gedil, the thicker, wrapped part of the tzitzis.
The first step in the reclamation of the moral high ground is for the six of
the material world to give way to the encircling and restricting influence
of what seven and eight represent.
Some would find such restriction stifling of their individuality. Tzitzis
remind them that this is not the case. The wrapped, coiled, constricted
gedil takes up only one third of the length of the tzitzis. Without
obedience to the guidance of Hashem, Man is truly bound up and enslaved to
his animal needs and their influence upon his thinking. Tzitzis instruct Man
to determine of his own free will that he need limit the animal voice and
respond to the human voice within that recognizes the Divine. When the “six”
subordinate themselves to the spiritual and national aspirations of the
“seven” and “eight,” all of them expand, grow and flourish, spreading freely
from where they had been wrapped tightly together. All parts of life – the
material six together with the others – participate equally in this growth.
At the moment that Adam and Chavah left Paradise, clothing immediately took
on an additional meaning. Responding to the shame they felt after disobeying
G-d had immediately necessitated clothing as begged, a covering of animal
tendencies to remind Man of the higher ones. Leaving Gan Eden, they would
now need clothing for protection, to cover and insulate their bodies from
all sorts of hazards they would encounter in the uncharted unknown expanse
if front of them. In Devarim, the word used for clothing is kesus, or
covering. It reminds us of the Jewish mission to take the Devar Hashem to
every conceivable place, in spite of all sorts of obstacles. Our section
uses the word begged, but tells us to observe the mitzvah in all
generations. Taken together, the two sections admonish us to heed the
ancient idea of clothing in all places and at all times.
The drama of Adam and Chava was replayed years later, with tragic
consequences once more. The meraglim were sent out as well lasur, to seek
out the nature of the Land. Had they used their eyes properly, they could
have regained the Paradise lost by their forebears by entering Eretz Yisrael
and meriting a redeemed and spiritually elevated society. Once again, this
did not happen. They too failed in their mission, which ended again with
open defection from Hashem. They dragged down the nation with them, as Adam
and Chava dragged down all of humanity. The rest of the parshah is a series
of mitzvah-responses to their failure, culminating in the mitzvah of
tzitzis, with its warning of lo sasuru. What else could this be, but a
warning to each person not to fail as Adam, Chavah, and the meraglim had? We
are repeatedly faced in the course of each day with the possibility of
following our hearts, of allowing our eyes to twist the judgment of our
hearts and turn evil to good.
Tzitzis warn us not to go down the path twice taken. Adam and Chavah
followed their eyes and hearts, and denied G-d as the necessary Guide of all
our actions. They were then given clothing as a reminder to listen to a
different voice than the strengthened animal voice within. The meraglim
followed their eyes and hearts, and denied G-d as the necessary Guide of our
fate. They were given tzitzis on their clothing as a reminder to listen to a
different voice than the one seeking safety and security in the wrong places.
Summing up the admonition, the parshah concludes with the admonition to
right both wrongs: “I am Hashem who took you out of Egypt…I am Hashem your
1. Based on the Hirsch Chumash, Bamidbar 15:41
2. Bamidbar 15:39
3. Bereishis 3:6
4. Rav Hirsch follows here the approach of Rambam, who holds that the blue
techeiles thread is a half thread of the four that are folded over in the
hole in each corner, yielding seven uncolored threads, and only one blue
one. Others disagree. Rashi and Tosafos assign two threads of the original
four to the techeles, yielding four uncolored and four blue ones. The Raavad
(followed by the Vilna Gaon) holds that one full thread is devoted to
techeles, yielding after they are doubled over in the corner two techeles
strands, and six uncolored.