Parasha Inspiration – Sh’lach

וְהָיָ֣ה לָכֶם֘ לְצִיצִת֒ וּרְאִיתֶ֣ם אֹת֗וֹ וּזְכַרְתֶּם֙ אֶת־כָּל־מִצְוֹ֣ת יְהֹוָ֔ה וַֽעֲשִׂיתֶ֖ם אֹתָ֑ם וְלֹֽא־תָת֜וּרוּ אַֽחֲרֵ֤י לְבַבְכֶם֙ וְאַֽחֲרֵ֣י עֵֽינֵיכֶ֔ם אֲשֶׁר־אַתֶּ֥ם זֹנִ֖ים אַֽחֲרֵיהֶֽם: לְמַ֣עַן תִּזְכְּר֔וּ וַֽעֲשִׂיתֶ֖ם אֶת־כָּל־מִצְו‍ֹתָ֑י וִֽהְיִיתֶ֥ם קְדשִׁ֖ים לֵאלֹֽהֵיכֶֽם:

This shall be fringes for you, and when you see it, you will remember all the commandments of the Lord to perform them, and you shall not wander after your hearts and after your eyes after which you are going astray. So that you shall remember and perform all My commandments and you shall be holy to your God.

Numbers 15:39-40

This week’s Torah portion contains the mitzvah of the Tzitzit, the fringes. One important aspect of Torah is that proximity is important. When two stories or two commandments are next to each other, there is a reason, there is a relationship between the two stories or commandments.

Immediately preceding the mitzvah of the Tzitzit is the story of the man caught gathering wood on Shabbat. This story is very important in that the mitzvah of Shabbat does not contain specifics in the written Torah. Torah says to not do any work. Not us, but our families, not our servants, no one in our household is to do any work. However, what is not specified is what work means. This begs the question, the man is caught gathering wood on Shabbat, how did Israel know that this was a violation of Shabbat?

The answer is fairly simple. Gathering wood being a violation of Shabbat was an understanding and interpretation by Israel of the written Torah. This violation is oral law, that is, it is Israel’s accepted understanding and interpretation of the Torah that gathering wood is a violation of Shabbat. Consequently, the man was brought to Moses, because he violated Shabbat. Moses went to Hashem and asked them what to do. Hashem told Moses that the penalty for violating Shabbat is death. Israel’s understanding and interpretation of the mitzvah of Shabbat is accepted without question by Hashem. Israel interpreted this commandment. Hashem did not direct that gathering wood was a violation of Shabbat, this was completely Israel’s interpretation.

The very next section of Torah is the commandment of the Tzitzit. Israel is commanded to wear the Tzitzit, so that we may see them and remember all of Hashem’s commandments. We are not to follow after our own eyes and own heart. It is Israel’s understanding and interpretation that is to be followed, not our individual understandings or interpretations. Torah is to be followed together as a nation. We are not to single ourselves out, but rather, we are to follow Torah together. Shabbat Shalom.

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Rabbi Steven Bernstein

Steve was born on Lag B’Omer in Ann Arbor, MI but was raised in Gainesville, FL. The son of two University of Florida professors, he excelled in the sciences in school. In addition to his normal academic studies, he pursued his Jewish education studying with many Rabbis and professors of Judaic Studies from the University including visiting Rabbis such as Abraham Joshua Heschel and Shlomo Carlebach.