Jun 12, 2009

No Spies in This Land...

Guest Dvar Torah

The Spies Who Came Out of the Blue by Dr. Aryeh Hirsch


" I am about to wrap my body in Tzitzit, so that my soul , my 248 limbs and 365 fibers be wrapped in the light of Tzitzit , which numerically equals 613 , the number of the Lord's commandments . And just as I cover myself with a Talit in this world , so may I merit rabbinical garb and a beautiful Talit in Gan Eden " . So begins the morning prayers , with the donning of the Talit and this prayer to wrap body and soul in Tzitzit . But why the idea of wrapping ( tit’teif ) and what is the connection to Gan Eden ? And why does is this Mitzva mentioned after the story of the Spies ?


The Netivot Shalom explains that one is wrapping ( l’hitateif ) one’s entire body in the Talit /Tzitzit, starting with the head ( with its “ eyes that see” ;Rashi, Bamidbar 15,39 ) and continuing down to the heart ( “ which desires “; Rashi again ) and then the trunk and legs. “ For the eyes and heart are the Spies ( Meraglim ) of the body “ ( Rashi, ibid ) . In the name of Midrash Rabba (Bamidbar 17, 6 ) , the Slonimer Rav ( page 82 ) quotes an analogy: “These Tzitzit threads are like the lifeline that the Captain of the ship throws to a drowning sailor ; the rope ties the main to his ship , and are his literal lifeline . As the Bible says : ‘ And all you that are linked to the Lord your God , live ( Devarim 4,4) ‘ “ .


The Parsha of Tzitzit is read during our prayers , and it is placed in the prayerbook just after the Shema, which its famous declaration : “ God is One ( echad ) ” . The Slonimer explains that the word “echad ” is composed of the Hebrew letters “ aleph” , representing “one ” Talit ; “ Chet ” , symbolizing the eights strings of the Tzitzit ; and “ daled ” , representing the four corners of the Earth , over which the One God rules. The sky-blue ( techeilet ) strand in the Tzitzit represents the “ end ” ( from the root word chaf-lamed-heh ) , representing the horizon of those four corners of the globe , “ the limits of human perception ; with the techeilet Man can enter the realm of the supernatural ” ( Rav S. R. Hirsch , Bamidbar , pages 267-268 ). That this blue string is “ blue like the sky , and the sky is blue like God’s heavenly throne ” is no accident . The sky appears blue because all the components of white light are scattered by the many particles ( dust, etc. ) in our atmosphere , but blue light scatters less, so it shines through and makes the sky look blue . The message is that to maintain the “ kesher” , the knot ( symbolized by Tzitzit ) to the One , a Jew must not be side-tracked by the multitude of details of this physical world, but stay focused on the “ Blue light ” of the Lord’s Heavenly Throne . This is the “light” mentioned in the morning prayers .

Rav ( Rabbi ) Hirsch also notes that the very word Tzizit comes from a root meaning to “sprout , blossom or protrude from ” ( thus the High Priest , the Kohen Gadol, wore a Tzitz –headplate on his forehead, with the message “Holy to the Lord ” emerging from it and from his head ) . Tzitzit thereby symbolize what Rav Matis Weinberg calls “ an emergent phenomenon ” (see my “Cheesecake : King of Foods ” , 6/08/08 , on this Judaism site ). Rav Weinberg explains that the only way to escape from this physical world of cause-and –effect ,is through these emergent phenomena ( the Lord does not show up on Mt. Sinai every day ) . For example , the brain is but a collection of billions of physical neurons . A human personality cannot be found in these neurons , no matter how hard one tries to look . But from the function of these neurons, beyond the horizon of their physical limitations , emerges a human personality . And thus Tzitzit and its techeilet truly symbolize a daily, continual connecting lifeline to Life beyond the physical .

And this is the connection to the episode of the Spies of the Desert . In truth , we have seen an earlier episode of spies, in which Yosef accuse his brothers of being Meraglim , spies . And as I have previously explained ( “ Imagining Chanuka “ , 12/21/08 ) , Yosef was accusing them of being tied ( ‘kesher” ) to a view of this world as a merely physical entity . Like the brothers , the Spies of the Desert could not see Life and this Universe in any terms but cause-and effect mechanics. As far as the Spies were concerned, it was OK to live a spiritual life of desert hermits under the direct protection of a Divine cloud . But it was unthinkable to them that a “normal” nation , in all its physical aspects ( economy , culture , government , military , police , education , etc. ) could function on a daily basis of spirituality. They could not envision Torah as a blueprint of Creation, including human , ongoing , progressive, evolving Creation, in a physical world. And by failing to tie the blue strand to the white ( in fact , Korach in next week’s Parsha will insist on only the blue ) , the Spies forfeited entry into Eretz Yisrael , the Land of Israel .


We modern Israelis have the same challenge as the generation of the Desert . There is no place for Spies in this Land : neither for purely spiritual humans who see no place for Jewish cops, soldiers , garbage-collectors, farmers , accountants , etc. ; nor for people who see only as far as the horizon, but not beyond . Am Yisrael needs both Yosef the physical, and Yehuda the religious Yid, both Yehoshua and Calev , for only thus can they make a double team that “ yachol nuchal ( from the same root as techeilet ) lah ” , can successfully form the Nation of Israel its Land.

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