2018-06-06 / Religion Column

Integrate reminders of kedusha, holiness, in everyday life

RABBI TIFERET BERENBAUM
Temple Har Zion

Parashat Shlach Lecha
Num. 13:1-15:41

I am always wearing purple. Except on Shabbat, when I wear white. But even then, my glasses are purple! My choice to wear purple each and every day is influenced by the end of this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Shlach Lecha. There, we find the third paragraph of the Shema, Numbers 15:37-41, where we receive the mitzvah to put tzitzit, sacred fringes, on our garments. The purpose of tzitzit is for us see them and bring to mind all of G!d’s mitzvot, our instructions for how to navigate life’s decisions, and follow them. The reason given is that we “lo taturu,” not seek after that which our eyes might desire or our hearts might cause us to lust after. Unfortunately, many Jews only wear tzitzit on their tallit in synagogue, when we are already quite focused on G!d and mitzvot, and not out in the world where we face temptations that can pull us off the derech, from the path that G!d wants us to follow, and we desperately need the reminder.

Tzitzit also help us remember what happens when we do not trust in G!d’s plan for us. In the beginning of the parsha, we read about the spies who went up into the land to check it out and report back to the people on the veracity of G!d’s promises. The word used throughout for “scouting” is tur, meaning to explore. The spies traversed the land as instructed and returned to give a negative report. They famously said, “we seemed like grasshoppers in our eyes, and we must have in their eyes as well.” Their report spread panic throughout the people and caused that generation to lose out on the Promised Land, G!d’s plan for the Israelites.

Lo taturu” in the mitzvah of tzitzit calls us to remember the tur of the spies. They believed what their eyes told them and as a result lost out on G!d’s promise, a new life and blessings beyond what they ever could have imagined. In the same way, tzitzit serve as reminders to us not to trust just our eyes and emotions, but to rely only on the path that the Holy Blessed One has set for us.

Many Jews do not have this reminder because they put their tzitzit away at the end of Shabbat services. When I was younger, I had tzitzit on all of my four-cornered garments. Wearing a tallit katan did not feel natural to me, so I put tzitzit on my pashmina scarves. In biblical times, four-cornered garments were more common than they are now, especially for men. So, how can we get the blessed reminder of G!d in our lives when we do not regularly have four cornered garments?

The essence of the mitzvah of tzitzit is the techelet, the skyblue strand. Its coloring reminds us of the sky, which in turn reminds of G!d’s throne, as we learn from Ezekiel 1:26: “And above the sky that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne…” The dye that makes the color of tzitzit is ultimately blue, but the true color of techelet is purple, and it only becomes sky-blue when exposed to UV rays. I learned this when I visited Ptil Tekhelet, a tzitzit manufacturer and education center outside of Jerusalem.

Some biblical archaeologists argue that ancient dye-makers may not have known how to change its color via the sun. Rashi, in his commentary on techelet, describes the color as dark blue or violet. So, it could be that purple was the color originally intended to remind us of mitzvot and to keep us on the derech. I have taken this to heart and wear purple almost exclusively. It is more natural for me than a four-cornered garment that I may not always wear. When I see purple, I am reminded of my own G!dliness and to stay on the spiritual path that I follow in order “to be holy,” as the verse says. With my purple wallet, I am reminded to spend with kedusha (holiness); with my purple glasses I am reminded to see with kedusha; and with purple clothing I am reminded to carry my whole self with kedusha.

So, if wearing tzitzit regularly is not a part of your practice, I highly recommend exploring how to integrate them into your spiritual practice. If that does not feel authentic for you right now, one way to begin is by finding a constant visual reminder of the Holy One of Blessing and its power in our lives. However you take on this practice, you will be changed by the reminder of kedusha in your life.

Bivracha (with blessing). 

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