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Parashat Shlah Lekha

June 7, 2007

Looking Without Seeing
By Paul Hoffman

The Lord said to Moses saying: Speak to the Israelite people and instruct them to make for themselves fringes on the corners of the garments throughout the ages; let them attach a cord of blue to the fringe on each corner. That shall be your fringe;look at it and recall all the commandments of the Lord and observe them, so that you do not follow your heart and eyes in your lustful urge. Thus shall you be reminded to observe all my commandments and be holy to your God. I the Lord am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I the Lord your God.(Numbers 15:37-41)

So what does the command to wear tzitzit have to do with this week’s story of the twelve spies ‘ Come and learn:

Our parashah this week is well known and quite straight forward. As the children of Israel approach the promised land from the south, Moses receives God’s instruction to assemble a band of spies, one prominent man representing each tribe. Their job was to measure the strength of the inhabitants of Canaan. Are the people who dwell in it strong or weak, few or many? Is the country in which they dwell good or bad? Are the towns they live in open or fortified? Is the soil rich or poor?

After a stay of forty days, the spies return disconsolate. The land is well fortified and the natives gigantic. ‘We looked like grasshoppers to ourselves and so we must have looked to them.’ (Numbers 13:33)

Let’s contrast this to the report given some forty years later by the two spies sent by Joshua. ‘The Lord has delivered the whole land into our power; in fact, all the inhabitants of the land are quaking before us.’ (Joshua 2:9) So they saw and so they reported.

But it was the same land that they scouted with the same inhabitants ‘ why was their report so different ‘ what made the difference? Tzitzit! The spies that Joshua sent, were wearing their tzitzit. According to Rashi, the word tzitzit comes from meziz, ‘they peered through,’ (Song of Songs 2:9) which alludes to the idea of looking ‘ and seeing ‘ then as the Torah states (Numbers 15:39) they recalled all of the commandments of the Lord that they were commanded to do. Just this one reminder prevented any outside agenda from clouding their vision ‘ so ‘ they did not ‘ taturu ‘ stray, or more loosely defined, go about their own exploration blinded by human frailty. They were divinely inspired by their tzitzit as well they should have been and so they came back with a thumbs-up report. Panic and returning to Egypt could never have been on their radar.

We must always remember, as Sforno comments, that we are servants of the Almighty, from whom we received commandments on oath. This you will do when you see the tzitzit ‘ which is the seal of the king on his servants. Let’s remove our blinders and not wander in the desert a moment longer for seeing leads to remembering and remembering leads to doing.

We will do and we will listen (see) was our response at Sinai and it is our mantra now and forever.

Shabbat Shalom