In his introduction to Bamidbar, the Ramban explains that the Sefer contains Mitzvos commanded for that generation, but not those that are valid for all time.
This is quite puzzling, for Parshas Korach closes with the Mitzva of Tzitzis, a command that is most certainly observed to this day.
Apparently, the Mitzva of Tzitzis is in a category of its own.
“V’Lo Sasuru Acharei Levavchem V’Acharei Eineichem – Just as: ‘MiTur Ha’Aretz’. The heart and eyes are Meraglim of the body, introducing it to sin. The eye sees, the heart desires, and the body then performs the sin.” (Rashi, Bamidbar 15, 39)
The commandment of Tzitzis is protection from evil, the spies of the body who are the enablers of sin. This is not wordplay. This Mitzva is an atonement, repairing the damage wrought by the original Meraglim.
For this reason, Tzitzis does not violate the principle of the Ramban. It is not an independent command that stands on its own, but protective legislation rectifying a particular mishap of the desert generation.
Let us now explain how this works.
The suffering of Tisha B’Av recorded in Eichah is direct retribution for the sin of the spies, whose evil report led to a night of weeping. The crying for naught is repaid measure for measure, and Klal Yisrael is punished with generations of bitter tears.
“Why in Megilas Eichah does the Peh precede the Ayin? [most of the chapters being written in perfect alphabetical order] Because of the Meraglim, whose Peh (mouth) preceded their Ayin (eye).”
Was this the sin of the Meraglim, that they spoke too soon? Were they not liars, bearing a false tale of a harsh land, rejecting the promised blessing of Hashem?
Chazal are teaching this: the Meraglim saw what they wanted to.
They were not lying. Their perception of reality was skewed.
The eyes of man take in the world around him, and only then is he to put upon it his own personal stamp. The eye is meant to precede the Peh. But some people reverse the order, seeing life as they perceive it to be.
The Chofetz Chaim highlighted this lesson with the following parable:
A young man is deliberating his future: should he apprentice as a tailor, or as a shoemaker? He takes the latter path, and years later, reminded of his earlier dilemma, declares: ‘What a wonderful decision! For twenty years, not one person has asked that I repair his shoes! How would I have made a living?’
Modern man assumes as a matter of course that the world follows a natural order of cause and effect. From every corner of life he gathers evidence that worldly efforts are guarantor of true success.
He speaks too soon.
Having opted for a life where man controls his own affairs, everything he sees supports his preconceived notions. Were he to adopt a more spiritual perspective, he would see the Hand of G-d behind every occurrence.
As the Meraglim, he can no longer see G-d’s promised land.
Tzitzis has strings of white and blue (Techeles).
White is the tone of background, accentuating every color in the spectrum. Similarly, when spinning a prism quickly, one sees only white, the basis of all color.
Pure white permits us to see, allowing for the contrast that makes new insight possible.
In the laws of Gittin, we find that a valid document is one that had no previous scrawlings. A ‘Ksav Al Gabi Ksav’ – writing above a prior message, is not considered a new production.
If we are to discern the word of G-d in the book of our own lives, we must start with a clean slate. Without erasing the prior motives of personal bias, the truth remains concealed.
The white strings of the Tzitzis provide the proper framework.
Techeles is the goal.
The word Techeles is related to Tachlis, the end-product and purpose of all creation.
Techeles is the color of the sea and the sky, a true blue, hidden since the destruction.
Though neither the sea nor sky are actually blue, it is for good reason that they reflect the color of Techeles.
“And this is as they said: (Menachos 43b) ‘For Techeles is comparable to the sea, and the sea is comparable to the sky, and the sky compares to the Heavenly throne.’ The similarity is linguistic, as well as in color, the Tachlis of all sights. In the distance, they all appear in that color, and thus it is called Techeles.” (Ramban, Bamidbar 15, 39)
What the sky and sea have in common is an unlimited horizon, a dimension of infinite expanse. They are intimations of Tachlis, an eternal goal beyond our grasp. Hence, they appear as Techeles, and it is this string of blue that reminds us of our G-d-given task.
Rav Eliyahu Dessler zt”l once met a skeptic who questioned the assertion that a mere glance at the Techeles was enough to remind one of the Divine presence.
“You truly don’t understand?”, he said, “I will explain it to you, but you will be quite embarrassed!”
“There is a Halacha forbidding one to pray next to a woman’s colored garments, even were they to be hanging on a line. Do you understand that Din?”
“Really!! That, you do understand? Why? Because looking at her clothing will remind you of something else?!? But, how does that work? Actually, you are looking at a mere piece of cloth! Can you please explain why a stitch of cotton immediately reminds you of that?”
It all depends on where man stands. When his deepest desires revolve around the word of G-d, everything he sees is a reminder of Divine presence. When his mind is wallowing in the mud, be it a piece of paper with ink, or colors on a wall, his thoughts return to his primary concern.
There was a time in our history where man related with ease to the world that lies above our own, a dimension of endless horizon. Every time and place was reminder of Heaven’s throne, and every garment had a string of Techeles.
But then, the Meraglim strayed.
Following their heart, they saw a different sort of land. Not the promise of eternity, but the limited existence of a physical world, a land like all the others.
The Jewish people lost their portion in Eretz Yisrael, and we have lost ours, the Techeles that awakens us to a higher destiny.
“Ani Hashem Elokeichem – It is I who distinguished in Mitzraim between the drop that was firstborn, and he who was not. I am destined to distinguish and take retribution from he who hangs blue die on his clothing, claiming it to be Techeles.” (Rashi, Bamidbar,15, 41)
Our generation has seen varied pretenders, each of whom proudly present the latest version of the sought-after Techeles.
Techeles is the goal, the pinnacle of achievement, a world of endless reward.
That world is gone.
Until the time when the curtains are lifted, when the mask hiding G-d’s Hand is removed once and for all, let us not fall prey to the longings of our heart, nor stray after those images tempting to our eyes.
Let’s keep our Tzitzis clean and white.
In that way alone, we will someday merit to see what G-d wants us to see.
JerusalemViews, Copyright (c) 1999 by Rabbi Heshy Grossman and Project Genesis, Inc.