These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: CD #992 – Your Tallis Katan — Is It Big Enough? Good Shabbos!
Kiddush HaShem: Plan B
In Parshas Shlach, the Almighty was prepared to destroy the Jewish people because of the negative report of the Spies and the ready acceptance by the nation of that slanderous report regarding Eretz Yisrael. Moshe Rabbeinu pleaded on their behalf arguing that the Egyptians would say “Because Hashem lacked the ability to bring this people to the Land that He had sworn to give them He slaughtered them in the wilderness.” [Bamidbar 14:16] Moshe then invokes the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy, culminating with the prayer “Forgive now the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of Your kindness and as You have forgiven this people from Egypt until now.” The conclusion is: “And Hashem said, ‘I have forgiven in accordance with your words (salachti k’dverecha).” [Bamidbar 14:18-20]
What do the words salachti k’dverecha mean? Moshe Rabbeinu had offered two arguments why the people should be forgiven. First, he invoked the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy and then he argued that if they were to be killed out all at once in a plague it would cause a desecration of G-d’s Name as the nations would say “because G-d was not able…” The implication of “I have forgiven in accordance with your words” is that this time even the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy were not sufficient for receiving forgiveness. It required Moshe’s extra argument — lest the Egyptians say that G-d was not able to fulfill His promise — to win forgiveness.
The next pasuk [verse] continues “But as I live — and the glory of Hashem shall fill the entire world.” [Bamidbar 14:21] This is a difficult pasuk to explain. Rashi gives one explanation, which I am not going to discuss, but the Netziv [1816-1893] in his Chumash commentary (HaEmek Davar) says that even though this pasuk is somewhat ambiguous, King Dovid in Psalms fills in for us the blanks in terms of understanding the pasuk. What is not so clear in Sefer Bamidbar, Dovid HaMelech clarifies in Sefer Tehillim.
We read in Tehillim: “Then He lifted up His hand [in an oath] against them, to cast them down in the wilderness, and to cast down their descendants among the nations, and to scatter them among the lands.” [Chapter 106:26-27] The Netziv writes when the pasuk in Parshas Shlach says “and the glory of HaShem shall fill the entire world” — G-d promises “I will make a Kiddush HaShem.” How will this Kiddush HaShem occur? Dovid HaMelech tells us: “…and to scatter them among the lands.” The Kiddush HaShem will be implemented by spreading out the Jewish people throughout all the nations of the world.
What does this mean? The Almighty wished to sanctify His Name. He wished to show the entire world how He took Klal Yisrael out of Egypt, how He cared for them in the wilderness, and how He brought them into Eretz Yisrael. Had the sin of the Spies not occurred, they would have gone into the Land of Israel with miracles and wonders to the extent that all the nations of the world would recognize that “G-d is the L-rd” (Hashem hu ha’Elokim).
But what did happen? The nation got cold feet. They did not trust in the Ribono shel Olam. After all that they saw in Egypt and in the Wilderness, they still lacked faith. Therefore, the Almighty said “Okay. If that is the way you want it, you will not go into Eretz Yisrael with miracles and wonders. The Kiddush HaShem which could have been created will not be created. You will enter the Land and conquer it through natural means and the Kiddush HaShem will be delayed. How and where will the Kiddush Hashem occur? It will occur throughout the course of history because I will scatter you to the four corners of the globe and a miraculous thing will happen: You will survive as a nation.”
This is something that history has never seen before. A nation spending so much of its existence in exile — more time in the history of the nation outside of its homeland than inside of it — is nothing less than a revealed miracle. This is what constituted the Kiddush HaShem testifying to Divine Providence guiding the fate of His Chosen People.
L’Havdil [distinguishing between sacred and profane matters], the Dali Lama, who is trying to preserve the Tibetan people so that that they should not be swallowed up by the Chinese, is trying to use the Jewish people as a paradigm. “If we emulate what the Jews did and maintain our identity in our diaspora as the Jews did, then we can preserve our nation as well.” What he fails to realize is that the Tibetan people do not have a Torah and they do not have the relationship that we have with the Ribono shel Olam. Maintaining a national identity through thousands of years of exile from a homeland requires nothing less than a nes nigleh [an open miracle].
Rav Yakov Emden (Yavet”z) [1697-1776] writes in the introduction to his Siddur, “Will any philosopher be able to argue that this (the preservation of Jewish identity in exile throughout history) is just a natural occurrence? This surpasses in my mind all the miracles and wonders the Almighty did for our ancestors in Egypt. The longer the exile continues, the greater the miracle becomes.”
This reminds me of a sentence I read in a very interesting book called Reb Chatzkel [Art Scroll; 2007] about Rav Yechezkel Levenstein [1895-1974], the mashgiach ruchani of the Mir Yeshiva in Poland, Shanghai, and America who was later affiliated with the Ponevezh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak. The book in great part is a story of the Mir Yeshiva and its sojourn from Mir to Vilna to Kobe Japan to Shanghai China and eventually — after the war – to America and to Eretz Yisrael.
Rav Chatzkel makes a statement that is truly mind-boggling. He says the miracle of the salvation of the Mir Yeshiva is greater than the miracle of Purim. In spite of the fact that all the factors that went into the salvation of the Jewish people in the days of Mordechai and Esther were clearly Divine Providence, the nes of the hatzalah of the Mir Yeshiva was greater. If one reads all those chapters about the miracles that went on in Shanghai:
- How so many times they thought that “this was it” and how time after time they were miraculously saved
- How the Russians let them take the train across Siberia and how they thought the KGB were going to kill them at any time
- How they escaped from Kobe to Shanghai and how they had to travel on this rickety unseaworthy old boat which had to make three trips across a wide body of water to transport the entire Yeshiva (the boat sank on the return trip after dropping off the last load of Yeshiva students)
It is impossible to escape the conclusion that the Hand of G-d was visibly present throughout their miraculous escape from the horrors of the Holocaust. Towards the end of the war, when Shanghai was bombed, none of the Yeshiva students were killed. It was all miraculous!
This is exactly what Rav Yakov Emden wrote: The existence of Klal Yisrael in the Galus is a bigger nes than Yetzias Mitzrayim. It is an open miracle. This is what is alluded to by the pasuk in our Parsha (as explained by Dovid HaMelech in Tehillim) — “the glory of Hashem shall fill the entire world.”
The Kiddush HaShem that was supposed to occur with the grand entrance of the Jewish people into Eretz Yisrael in the days of Moshe had to be accomplished by other means — Plan B to achieve Sanctification of the Divine Name. Plan B, unfortunately, triggered all the exiles that we have had to endure. However, it must be acknowledged that survival in the face of such a torturous exile is clear testimony to the Hand of G-d that miraculously guarantees the survival of the Jewish people against all odds.
Why The Mitzvah of Tzitzis Is Voluntarily As Opposed To Obligatory
Rav Asher Weiss in his Minchas Asher on Chumash asks a very interesting question. The Gemara says that the mitzvah of Tzitzis is equal to all other mitzvos in the Torah [Nedarim 25a]. This is a very easy mitzvah to perform. All a person needs to do is to go to a Judaica store, buy himself a Tallis Katan for twenty dollars and wear them in order to fulfill the mitzvah of Tzitzis.
The irony of the fact is — and many people do not know this — that a person is not required to wear Tzitzis at all. The technical requirement of the mitzvah of Tzitzis is that someone who wears a four-cornered garment must attach Tzitzis to the corners of the garment. If a person does not wear a four-cornered garment — and technically speaking all the clothes that we wear today do not have “four corners” — he does not need to wear Tzitzis. Even someone who wears a long Lithuanian style frock (as is common among many Roshei Yeshiva) which has a slit in the back, giving the appearance of a “four cornered” garment is not required to attach fringes to the frock. This is because one of the corners is always rounded — check it out next time you see one who wears such a frock.
Technically speaking, then, a person does not need to put on Tzitzis. Of course, the Tur writes that any person who has brains in his head will avail himself of this special mitzvah because of the guarantee that “you will glance upon them and you will remember all the commandments of the L-rd”. There is a special segulah and reward that comes from wearing Tzitzis so anyone with any sense of spirituality and desire for closeness to the Almighty and His mitzvos will buy himself a special four-cornered garment to fulfill this wondrous commandment. However, technically speaking that is not required.
The Minchas Asher asks — if this is such a special mitzvah why didn’t the Torah make it obligatory? We do not say “If you have a pair of Tefillin, put them on in the morning.” No. You must put on Tefillin in the morning. Failing to put on Tefillin makes you in violation of neglecting a positive commandment. Someone who does not recite Krias Shma is in violation of neglecting a positive commandment. If someone does not hear Shofar on Rosh Hashanah, he is in violation of neglecting a positive commandment. Why then, if on does not put on Tzitzis is everything is fine and dandy. How could this be the case when we are talking about a mitzvah that is “equal in weight to all other mitzvos“? It is a paradox. It is an anomaly.
Rav Asher Weiss addresses this issue by quoting a Gemara in Menachos [43b] — Rabbi Meir used to say: “Greater is the punishment (for not wearing) the white (threads) than the punishment (for not wearing) the techeles (threads).” The Torah requires that the fringes we place on the corners of our garment contain both white threads and blue-like, techeles, threads. Many people say we do not have techeles today so all we have are the white threads. Techeles was always much more expensive and much harder to come by. They need to be made from the dye of a chilazon aquatic creature. Therefore, the Gemara says that if a person fails to put Techeles on his Tzitzis, the punishment is not that bad. However, a person who fails to put on the white threads, which are easy to come by, then the Almighty has a significant complaint against him.
Rabbi Meir backs up his statement with an analogy: “This can be compared to an earthly king who gave instruction to two servants. He asked one servant to bring back a seal made out of clay and he asked the second servant to bring back a seal made out of gold. Both were negligent and did not do what they were asked. Who will receive the greater punishment? Clearly, the servant charged with bringing back the clay seal, which is readily available, is deserving of greater punishment than the servant charged with bringing back the hard to acquire gold seal.”
The analogy of the Gemara refers to Tzitzis as a “seal of clay”. Tosfos there explains that seals of clay were typically attached to the bodies of slaves to show they belonged to a particular owner. Likewise, Tosfos writes, our Tzitzis is our “seal” indicating that we too our slaves. Even though the word “slave” (eved) or even “servant” offends the ear and the sensibility of modern man, in Judaism that is not the case. We take pride in the fact that “avadei hem” (they are My slaves) [Bamidbar 25:42; 25:55]. We are “servants of the L-rd.”
How do we demonstrate that we are servants to the Almighty? This, explains Tosfos in Menachos [43b; D.H. “Chosam shel Tit“], is by wearing our “clay seal”. What is our “clay seal?” It is our Tzitzis!
If that is the case, says the Michas Asher, it is a much bigger statement when someone volunteers to be the “slave” of the Almighty than when someone is forced into wearing that mark of slavery. This is why Tzitzis is not an obligatory mitzvah. Tefillin? Yes. Shofar? Yes. Matzah? Yes. However, the whole purpose of Tzitzis is a statement, a demonstration of “I am Your slave. I accept You as my Master.” If a person is forced to put them on, the statement is not as loud. It is not as clear. When I go out and voluntarily buy that pair of Tzitzis, I am declaring, “Almighty, I want to be your slave.”
Transcribed by David Twersky; Jerusalem [email protected]
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Baltimore, MD [email protected]
This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly Torah portion. A listing of the halachic portions for Parshas Sh’lach is provided below:
- 016 Mixed Seating at Weddings
- 061 The Minyan: Who Counts?
- 105 Tallis: Does it Cover Only Married Men?
- 150 Tzitzis: Must They Be Worn?
- 197 Carrying Medicine on Shabbos
- 243 The Concept of Prison in Jewish Law
- 287 Women and Tzitzis
- 333 Techeiles Today
- 377 Tzitzis: Must They Be Seen?
- 421 The Issur of Histaklus
- 465 Donning a Tallis for The Amud
- 509 Ain Ma’averin Al Hamitzvos
- 553 Women and Tzitzis Revisited
- 597 Davening at the Graves of Tzadikim
- 641 K’rias Shema and K’eil Melech Ne’eman
- 685 Art Museums
- 729 Making Tzitzis
- 773 Kavanah When Wearing Tzitzis
- 817 Davening for a Rasha to Change – Does It Work?
- 861 Do We Knead Challah in America?
- 905 The Tallis Over Your Head
- 949 The Shul’s Tallis−Bracha or No Bracha?
- 992 Your Talis Katan: Is it Big Enough?
- 1036 Our Tallis – Should It Be Beautiful? Is It Really Chayav in Tzitzis?
- 1080 Doing An Aveira for the Best Reasons?
- 1123 Taking Off Your Tallis – Must You Make A New Bracha?
- 1165 Tallis Falling off During Davening / Cleaning Glasses With Your Tallis?
- 1208 Going to Daven at a Cemetery – Not As Simple As You Think.
- 1253 Carrying Nitroglycerin on Shabbos for a Heart Patient / Candy for a Diabetic? Mutar of Asur
A complete catalogue can be ordered from the Yad Yechiel Institute, PO Box 511, Owings Mills MD 21117-0511. Call (410) 358-0416 or e-mail [email protected] or visit http://www.yadyechiel.org/ for further information.