Back to this week's Parsha | Previous Issues
Haftorah - Joshua 2:1-24
On Passover we read as passage from the Hagaddah (the Passover guide) that brings up an interesting problem.
"Rebbi Elazar ben Azaryah said: I am like a man of seventy, yet I was never able to convince my colleagues that one must recall the Egyptian exodus at night, until Ben Zoma explained it..."The Mishna is referring to an obligation to recite Kriyat Shema (the reading of Shema - our declaration of faith) every morning and evening. The Shema is comprised of two statements:
1. Hear Oh Israel, Hashem is our L-rd, Hashem is One (Devarim (Deuteronomy) 6:4)and three paragraphs:
1. Devarim 6:5-9The first paragraph deals with the inter-relationship of love between Hashem and Israel.
The second paragraph deals with the consequences of that love. When we follow His commandments we create a positive reality, and when we transgress His commandments we create a negative reality.
While the final paragraph deals primarily with the Mitzvah of Tzitzit (fringes that are to be placed on the corners of all four-cornered garments), it is recited because it recalls the Exodus from Egypt The original commandment required the use a thread of Techelet (blue) so that we would be reminded of the sea, which would remind us of the sky, which in turn would remind us of Hashem's Throne of Glory, which would then remove us from the temptation of sin (Menachot 43b). When Techelet was no longer available for use, the Rabbis enacted a Rabbinical decree that preserving the Mitzvah Tzitzit without Techelet.
Rebbi Elazar ben Azaryah's problem was that though the paragraph did recall the Exodus, the mention of Tzitzit was problematic. Since the Torah states (Bamidbar 15:39),
"...that you may see it (the blue thread) and remember all the commandments of Hashem, and perform them...", and viewing the dark blue thread at night is difficult, he thought that this last of the three paragraphs would be unnecessary.Eventually the problem was solved and as we know from our daily prayers, we DO recite all three paragraphs both morning and evening. But what of the effect of viewing the Tzitzit? How does looking at the Tzitzit change our behavior? The Talmud gives us the above mentioned sequence of reminders (sea = sky = Throne of Glory). In other words, the wearing of the Tzitzit has an effect upon our souls that help remove us from temptation.
There is a Midrash (Shemot Rabbah) that teaches us that because of three inherent behaviors, Israel was worthy of deliverance from Egypt; we used Hebrew names, we spoke our holy tongue, and we wore distinctively Jewish clothes. In other words, in order for our culture to be transmitted, we need a sense of self (Hebrew names), a unique method of communication (language), and a unique sense of attire (clothes). I suggest that the role of Tzitzit and Yarmulkes (Kippa) provides us with a sense of Jewish fashion. Not only do the clothes protect us, but they also help mold our character.
When I supervised an Jewish afternoon school, we distributed Tzitzit for boys to wear. One boy in particular, wore his Tzitzit every day and put a tremendous amount of love into performing this Mitzvah. One day, his mother came to school with his Tzitzit saying that her son would no longer be in need of these "things". When I attempted to explain how her son loved to perform this Mitzvah, she firmly exclaimed "we don't do these things". Needless to say, her son's behavior and attitude changed dramatically after this incident.
The Chafetz Chaim (Rabbi Yisrael Meir Hakohen Kagen of Radin, Poland, 1838-1933) explains in his classic work, "Chafetz Chaim Al Hatorah," that when the Torah states:
"...that you may see it (the blue thread) and remember all the commandments of Hashem, and perform them...",that one must be well versed in the commandments so that they can have the proscribed effect. How can one remember commandments that were never learned?
I suggest that remembering the commandments and remembering the Exodus from Egypt, as well as the effect that Tzitzit have on our souls, is the reason that the paragraph was included in the Shema sequence of prayers. Not only are we to realize our unique relationship with Hashem and the consequences of that relationship, we are also obligated to remember that only by doing the commandments and making them part of our lives can we be part of our own Exodus from Egypt. For the Hagaddah also reminds us, "...in every generation, each person is required to view himself as he [personally] made the Exodus from Egypt.
Torah provides us with the ability to transcend faith alone and to change our personality not only for the betterment of mankind and also to change our own lives for the better.
Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig
Shema Yisrael Torah Network