Shelach Lecha

“Instruct them to make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments” Numbers 16:38

By Rabbi Shoshana Boyd Gelfand, May 30, 2013

Parashat Shelach Lecha begins with the spies forgetting their mission and ends with God giving us a tool, tzitzit, so we will always remember our mission. While the Torah does not explicitly make this connection, it seems a reasonable one to draw, as the failure of the spies’ mission stems from their lack of confidence and inability to view themselves, as God does, as a “treasured people”. Instead, they maintain their slave mentality and see themselves as helpless and weak.

Anyone who has worn tzitzit knows the power this garment has. Stories in the Talmud tell of its supernatural ability to keep its wearer far from sin. Other commentaries describe the power of tzitzit as less supernatural and more psychological, the proverbial “string around the finger” (or the garment) to remind the wearer not to sin.

But the grammar of the actual commandment suggests that it is not the tzitzit but rather the single blue cord that guards from sin. When the Torah says, “you shall look upon it,” it uses the masculine singular, referring back to the p’til techelet, the blue cord. Why should seeing a blue cord guard from sin? Rashi suggest that the colour reminds us of the sky and the sea, God’s creation, but perhaps it is simpler than that. Blue was the colour of royalty, worn by kings and priests. The command to wear tzitzit on our clothing requires us to constantly wear “royal” clothing, a reminder that the people of Israel are a metaphorical “kingdom of priests.”

Wearing tzitzit is a corrective tool so that we need never feel like the spies did, alone and vulnerable. Each time we look at the royal cord of our tzitzit, we remember that we are not “like grasshoppers”, as the spies felt, but rather like a “kingdom of priests,” God’s partners on earth.

Last updated: 5:17pm, May 30 2013