Shiur #55: The Mitzva of Tzitzit (Part III)

  • Harav Baruch Gigi
The Sages enacted that one must recite three passages in order to fulfill the mitzva of reciting Shema. The reason for reciting the first two passages is clear and understandable from several perspectives: Both passages mention the mitzva of reciting Shema - "when you lie down and when you rise up," and both are found in the book of Devarim at the two ends of the introduction to Moshe's oration concerning the commandments.
 
Moshe's oration is comprised of two main sections. The first section of the oration (until the end of chapter 11) deals with the fundamental principles of Israel's connection to God, and primarily with the duties of the heart that fall upon them, the focus of which is the first two of the Ten Commandments: "I am the Lord your God" and "You shall have no other gods." The second section (from chapter 12 onwards) deals with the specifics of the practical mitzvot, beginning with the mitzvot connected to the Temple – the place that God will choose – continuing with the mitzvot falling upon the community and the state, and finally with the mitzvot obligating each individual. The first part of the speech is marked at both ends by passages comprising the Shema, the passage of Shema Yisrael at one end and the passage of Vehaya im shamo at the other end. Therefore, these passages, which give expression to the principles of man's connection to God, are an essential part of the mitzva of reciting the Shema.  
 
The passage relating to the mitzva of tzitzit, on the other hand, is integrated into the Shema from a completely different arena, from a different book of the Torah, and from a different context. Its place in the mitzva of reciting the Shema is less clear and solid.[1]
 
We can illuminate this passage's part in the mitzva of Shema in light of the words of Chazal (Berakhot 12b):
 
Why did they include the section of tzitzit? R. Yehuda bar Chaviva said: Because it makes reference to five things [and some versions read: six things[2]] — the precept of tzitzit, the exodus from Egypt, the yoke of the commandments, [a warning against] the opinions of the heretics, and desiring [sexual] transgression and desiring idol worship. Granted, the first three are explicit. The yoke of the commandments, as it is written: "That you may look upon it and remember all the commandments of the Lord"; tzitzit, as it is written: "That they make for themselves fringes"; the exodus from Egypt, as it is written: "Who brought you out of the land of Egypt." But where do we find [warnings against] the opinions of the heretics and desiring [sexual] transgression and desiring idol worship? As it was taught: "After your own heart” – this refers to heresy; and so it is stated: “The fool has said in his heart, There is no God” (Tehillim 14:1). “After your own eyes” - this refers to desiring [sexual] transgression, as it is stated: “And Shimshon said to his father: Get her for me, for she is pleasing in my eyes” (Shofetim 14:3). “After which you use to go astray” - this refers to desiring idol worship, as it is stated: “And they went astray after the Ba'alim” (Shofetim 8:3).
 
 What is special about these matters and what is their connection to the Shema?
 
  1. The commandment of tzitzit – appears on this list as a detail, even though it is the essence of the entire passage. At this stage, we will emphasize one aspect of the mitzva that establishes a connection to the essence of the mitzva of reciting Shema.
 
The essence of this mitzva is the recognition of the oneness of God and loving Him through the creation of a close and intimate connection to Him. The garment of tzitzit is the priestly garment of the Jewish People, that which allows them to look at the Creator, or to see the Creator who is looking at Israel – to see and to be seen by Him, as we emphasized at the end of the previous shiur.
 
2. The exodus from Egypt – we will dedicate a separate shiur to this component, but its connection to the Shema is clear. It is the second element of the belief in God's unity, which reflects God's providence over His people and His selection of Israel – "who chooses His people Israel with love."
 
3. The yoke of the mitzvot – our passage is a direct continuation of the second passage of Shema. As the Rambam emphasized at the beginning of Hilkhot Shema:
 
After it, [we read] Vehaya im shamoa, since it contains the imperative to fulfill the rest of the commandments, and finally the portion of tzitzit, since it also contains the imperative of remembering all the commandments. (Hilkhot Keri'at Shema 1:2)
 
4. A warning against the opinions of the heretics. As it was taught: "‘After your own heart’ – this refers to heresy; and so it is stated: 'The fool has said in his heart, There is no God' (Tehillim 14:1)." Until now, we have dealt with the positive aspect of accepting the yoke and the service of God, but we must take precautions against heresy, where a person follows after the impulses of his heart and loses faith. The Netziv in his commentary adds that from such a position, performing the mitzvot has no meaning:
 
It teaches us here about the performance of mitzvot, that it is not considered a mitzva unless one performs it believing that he is commanded to do it. This excludes the situation in which his heart inclines toward heresy, where he does not believe at all in Him who commands – his performance is not considered the performance [of a mitzva]. This is "after your hearts," about which the gemara in Berakhot remarks: This refers to heresy.
 
5. Desiring sexual transgression – "After your eyes," as explained in the previous shiur, teaches us that when the eyes follow their lusts, this leads to immersion in bodily pleasures, replacing the aspiration for transcendence and devotion of the soul with chasing after the beastly spirit that draws a person down to earth (see Kohelet 3:21).
 
6. Desiring idol worship – "After which you use to go astray." Contemplating sexual transgression involves straying of the body, whereas contemplating idol worship involves straying of the soul, which sinks into its impurity.
 
Although it appears from what we have said that there are indeed six different themes that justify the passage's inclusion in the mitzva of Shema, it seems that they all derive from the one root of the commandment of tzitzit, which includes a call "to see" (u-re'item) and a call to take care not to explore (lo taturu). The root of faith and the root of heresy rest in the same point – the eye that sees or explores, that gazes on the light of the earth and earthiness or on the light of the blue of heaven. 
 
The author of Sefer Ha-Chinukh (commandment 386) connects the white of the tzitzit with earthiness and the blue with spirituality:
 
And my heart tells me that there is an allusion and a reminder that a person's body and soul all belong to God. For the white alludes to the body, which comes from the earth, which was created from the snow, which is white, as we find in Pirkei De-Rabbi Eliezer (chap. 3): "From where was the earth created? From the snow which is under the Throne of Glory." And the threads allude to the body, as they say that at the beginning of the formation of the body, it is like threads, and as they said in chapter Ha-Tekhelet (Nidda 25b): "R. Amram stated: A Tanna taught: Its two thighs are like two silk threads, and its two arms are like two threads of silk." And the blue thread, whose color is like the color of the sky, alludes to the soul, which comes from the upper worlds. They alluded to this when they said (Menachot 43b): "Because blue resembles the color of the sea, and the sea resembles the color of the sky, and the sky resembles the color of [a sapphire, and a sapphire resembles the color of] the Throne of Glory, as it is stated: ‘And they saw the God of Israel; and there was under His feet the like of a paved work of sapphire stone' (Shemot 24:10), and it is stated: 'And above the firmament that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone' (Yechezkel 1:26)." And under the Throne of Glory is the place where the souls of the righteous are hidden there. And for this reason they said (Menachot 39a) that the thread of blue is wound around the thread of white, for the soul is above and the body below.
 
The tzitzit call out for connecting earth to heaven, or as it is formulated in Kohelet (3:21): "Who knows the spirit of man whether it goes upward." When a person sees the blue thread of his tzitzit, his spirit rises upward, and raises with it his body and his whole person.
 
The tzitzit prevent a person from descending to the lower worlds, which is the danger that lies before him, as it is stated: "That you go not about after your own heart and your own eyes, after which you use to go astray." Following the attractions of one's senses and the arbitrariness of one's thoughts is dangerous, and Scripture warns against it. The heart and the eyes draw a person to stray from his faith and follow his lusts – idol worship and forbidden sexual relations. Scripture offers an alternative, setting one's eyes on the thread of blue and on the essence of man's obligation in God's world: "That you may look upon it and remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do them." In the end, this process will lead a person to the districts of sanctity, connection and devotion to God: "And you shall be holy to your God."
 
The Sages connected the mitzvot of tefillin and mezuza in the first passage to the mitzva of tzitzit in the third passage, creating a support and protection system for man:
 
Our Rabbis taught: Beloved are Israel, for the Holy One, blessed be He, surrounded them with mitzvot: tefillin on their heads, tefillin on their arms, tzitzit on their garments, and mezuzot on their doorposts. Concerning these David said: "Seven times a day do I praise You, because of Your righteous ordinances" (Tehillim 119:164)…
R. Eliezer ben Yaakov said: Whoever has tefillin on his head, tefillin on his arm, tzitzit on his garment, and a mezuza on his doorpost is in absolute security against sinning, as it is stated: "And a threefold cord is not quickly broken" (Kohelet 4:12); and it is also stated: "The angel of the Lord encamps round about them that fear Him, and delivers them" (Tehillim 34:8). (Menachot 43b)
 
Both opinions speak in praise of the envelope of mitzvot that surround a person. R. Eliezer ben Yaakov emphasizes the protection that these commandments offer him. Together, they form a wall in a way that protects and rescues him from sin. The Sages note the connection between man and God; the wall is the wall of the Shekhina, a barrier within which those who are loved by God merit to dwell.
 
In fact, there is a connection between these ideas, based on a verse in Tehillim that we have already encountered: "Unless the Lord keeps the city, the watchman wakes but in vain" (Tehillim 127:1). Standing guard is of no avail unless God offers His protection. He is the guard, "the king, who helps, and delivers, and protects." There is no protection save for one who seeks His refuge: "The angel of the Lord encamps round about them that fear Him, and delivers them" (Tehillim 34:8).
 
It seems that these mitzvot symbolize the connection to God enjoyed by two categories of people, whom we shall call in this framework “the people of tefillin and mezuza” – the holy – and “the people of tzitzit” – the secular.
 
The gemara (Menachot 36b) says:
 
Rabba bar R. Huna said: A man must from time to time touch his tefillin; this may be inferred by way of an a fortiori argument from the tzitz. If of the tzitz, which contains the Divine Name only once, the Torah says: "And it shall be always upon his forehead" (Shemot 28:38), implying that his mind must not be diverted from it, how much more is this to apply to the tefillin, which contain the Divine Name so many times!
 
We already wrote earlier: "The tefillin, the glory that is worn on their heads, lifts them up from their earthiness and instills in them the glory of the life of all worlds. 'And all the peoples of the earth shall see that the name of the Lord is called upon you; and they shall be afraid of you' (Devarim 28:10); and R. Eliezer the Great said: This refers to the tefillin of the head." And we further wrote: "In this way, expression is given to the power of tefillin, both human tefillin and God's tefillin, which are but an expression of the mighty connection between God and the people of Israel. We wear the seal of the King, and we avouch each other – we avouch God and God avouches us." The people of tefillin feel, "I have set the Lord before me" (Tehillim 16:8) existentially. They stand before Him at all times and yearn for His closeness. They adorn themselves with Him and long to dwell beside Him. The world of sanctity is their world.
 
In contrast, the people of tzitzit live their earthly lives. Their world revolves around their material needs, their aspirations and their desires; their lusts for food and other worldly pleasures fill them. At the same time, they obey God's command to put tzitzit on the corners of their garments. The impact of these garments on their outlook on the world, on the moderation of their desires, on channeling and limiting them based on a deeper understanding and vision of the essence and significance of life – is a long and twisted process for such people. As opposed to the people of tefillin, whose eyes and hearts are at all times directed to heaven and to Him who sits on high, the eyes of the people of tzitzit are turned in other directions, sometimes out to sea, to follow their desires and what they see with their eyes. Sometimes these eyes lead them to the expanses of blue in the sea, and there is then hope that their gaze will be lifted up, towards heaven.
 
This is the structure of the Shema, as it was designed by Chazal and as has been the customary practice of the Jewish people throughout the generations:[3] The mitzvot of Sefer Ahava, move from the mitzvot of tefillin and mezuza in the first passage, to the mitzva of tzitzit in the third passage, with the passage of "And it shall come to pass, if you hearken to My commandments" – all My commandments – in the middle. It comes to tell us in the clearest fashion that all of Israel have a part in God's service, all of Israel have a part in His love, all of Israel can reach, can draw near, can take refuge in God's shadow. All of the Jewish People stand in the space between the upper end of the people of tefillin and mezuza, the holy people,[4] and the lower end of the people of tzitzit. All of them are summoned to the task, all of them are able and capable – whether in a direct manner or in a more difficult and complicated manner – to draw near to the Shekhina. All of them merit to see Him. Some point with a sharp and clear finger – "This is My God and I will glorify Him" (Shemot 15:2).[5] Others see him indirectly – by way of "that you may look upon it" (Bamidbar 15:39), the thread of blue, and with a long process, see in that thread of blue the God of Israel, and by way of analogy, "You shall fear the Lord your God" (Devarim 10:20).[6]
 
(Translated by David Strauss)
 
 

[1] We dealt a little bit with this issue in the first shiurim of this series. Here we wish to introduce an important perspective, in the context of this stage of our study.
[2] Six things are actually listed here. According to the reading of "five," we must say that desiring sexual transgression and desiring idol worship are counted as one, as explained by the Maharsha in Chiddushei Aggadot. But see his Chiddushei Halakhot for a different proposal.
[3] In an earlier shiur, we saw that there were those who recited or wished to recite other passages as part of Keri'at Shema.
[4] The man of tefillin and the man of tzitzit represent the extremes. It is difficult to imagine a person who is totally a man of tefillin or totally a man of tzitzit, for in reality most people are located somewhere along the spectrum between these two representative figures.
[5] See Shemot Rabba, Beshalach 23:15: "'This is my God, I will glorify Him.' R. Berakhya said: Come and see how great were those who went down to the sea [at the splitting of the Sea of Suf]. How did Moshe supplicate and prostrate himself before God until he saw the image, as it is stated (Shemot 23:18): 'Show me, I pray you, Your glory.' The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him (v. 20): 'You cannot see My face.' And in the end he showed him by way of a sign, as it is stated (v. 20): 'While My glory passes.' The creatures that bear the throne do not recognize the image, and when their time arrive to sing, they say: Where is He? We do not know whether He is here or somewhere else, but wherever He is (Yechezkel 3:12): 'Blessed be the glory of the Lord from His place.' But those who went down to the sea, each one of them points with his finger and says: 'This is my God.' The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Israel: In this world, you once said before Me: 'This is my God.' But in the future you will say the same thing twice, as it is stated (Yeshaya 25:9): 'And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God, for whom we waited, that He might save us.'" Mention should also be made of Midrash Tannaim to Devarim 3: "What do the people of Israel say to the nations of the world? My beloved is fine and praised by me. If I tell you some of his praise, perhaps you will recognize Him. 'My beloved is white and ruddy… His head is as the most fine gold… His eyes are like doves… His cheeks are as a bed of spices… His legs are as pillars of marble… His mouth is most sweet' (Shir ha-Shirim 5:10-15). From here you say: When they saw him at the sea, nobody had to ask who is He. Everybody opened their mouths and said: 'This is my God, and I will glorify Him.'" There are many other similar midrashim.
[6] See Menachot 43b.