Shelach Lecha 5780

June 17, 2020

THE JEWISH AGENDA

In this week’s parasha we are introduced to the mitzvah of Tzitzit. If we look carefully at the Torah’s language, it is curious that the Torah uses almost the exact same language when the Torah talks about the Meraglim. In connection with the spies the instruction was given “U’Reitem et haAretz” (and you shall look at the Land) and in connection with the mitzvah of Tzitzit it says also “U’Reitem oto” (and you shall look at the Tzitzit).

I think that the Torah is trying to tell us that there is a connection between the “U’Reitem oto” of parshat Tzitzit and the “U’Reitem et haAretz” of parshat Meraglim: The spies failed to learn the message of parshat Tzitzit. What is the message of parshas Tzitzit? The Gemara in Menachot (quoted by the Ramba”n on this week’s portion) explains the Torah’s linkage between looking at the Tzitzit and “remembering all the commandments of Hashem” (as indicated by the verses) as follows: The Tzitzit contains within it the Techelet, the blue thread. The Techelet resembles the Sea, the Sea looks like the Sky, the Sky reminds you of the Kisseh haKavod (the Divine Throne), and the Kisseh haKavod reminds you of all the commandments of Hashem.
Thus we see from Tzitzit that a human being is capable of seeing much more than meets the eye—he can see a simple thread of blue, and trace that symbolism to the Sea and to the Sky and to the Heavenly Throne and to all the commandments of Hashem.
The Spies were told to see the Land, but what did they see? They only saw that which was in front of their noses—they saw big people, they saw giants, and they saw a land that was intimidating and scary. Did they see that Eretz Yisrael is the “Chariot” for G-d’s Divine Presence? Did they see the holiness of the Land? No. They were myopic. They were near-sighted in what they were able to view.
This is what Chaza”l are trying to tell us A human being is capable of so much… seeing implications, seeing ramifications, seeing results…if only he will look. But, as the expression goes, there are none so blind as those who will not see.
Why did the spies refuse to see? Because they had a “negiut”(selfish-motivation). Chaza”l tell us that each of the Spies were leaders. They each had positions of honour in the community. They were afraid that if they went into the Land of Israel, they would lose their positions of honour and leadership. When a person has a “negiut” that perhaps he will have some loss of honour, he cannot see… in fact, he refuses to see.
This is the lesson of Parshat Tzitzit: We are capable of seeing very very far, but only if we open up our eyes and be honest enough to see things as they really are.
The verse at the end of the Parasha states, “…and you shall not stray after your hearts and after your eyes…” The Sifri says the purpose of this verse is to elucidate the verse in Kohelet that says “Rejoice young man in your youth and go after the dictates of your heart”. I would not know, says the Sifrei, if the verse in Kohelet means “Do whatever you want” or if it means “Go on the straight and narrow path”. Therefore, the verse in this week’s portion says “Do not stray after your hearts.”
What kind of mistaken assumption were we to have made from Kohelet that the verse in parshat Tzitzit had to inform us otherwise? This Sifri begs for explanation. The Netziv in his commentary on Chumash gives a beautiful interpretation of this Sifri: He explains that the Tanna is bothered by the expression “Lo Taturu” (You shall not stray). This verb has the connotation of going out and charting new paths (as in “Latur et haAretz”—to spy out the land, to find new paths). He asks, why does the Torah specifically use this expression about not charting out new ways? The Sifri answers that it is because we we might be misled by the verse in Kohelet. Shlomo HaMelech tells us, as human beings—follow the dictates of your hearts. Perhaps that means a person can do whatever he wants… the Torah says No! Sure, follow the dictates of your heart…but within the context of Torah. Within the context of Torah Law, you can do your own thing.
The Talmud says in many places that various Amoraim had their “own” special Mitzvot. They specialised in particular commands that they found a particular affinity with, in terms of their own personalities and proclivities. This is an appropriate application of the dictum of Kohelet’ “Go after the dictates of your heart”. It means that if I have an inclination to specialise and excel in a particular Divine Command, then I should do my own thing and excel in that area.
The Torah is an individual Torah. Not everyone has to do all the Mitzvot the same way. But perhaps I would think that if Shlomo HaMelech is telling us “Do your own thing” then you can literally do whatever you want… Therefore, the Torah must clarify: “You shall not stray after your own hearts.” One must not chart out new courses (taturu), which are not in the context of Torah. Why not? Because “I Am the L-rd your G-d who took you out from the Land of Egypt”. In Egypt, before you had a Torah you were allowed to do whatever you wanted. But once the Almighty gave us his Torah, then, individuality has to be channeled within the context of that Torah.
There is no room, according to Chaza”l, to make up “new customs”, “new mitzvot” or “new ceremonies”. This is not Da’at Torah. “You shall walk according to the dictates of your heart”: In the context of Torah you may do things, but do not stray. Do not be innovative. We have a Ribbono shel Olam Who gave us the Torah, we don’t have to invent our own Torah. We do not need a “New Jewish Agenda”, the “Old Jewish Agenda” works very well and has done for centuries. Let’s work hard to keep it that way.