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Parshas Shelach - Searching For God And Finding Him Everywhere

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In this week's parsha we find the Mitzvah of Tzitzis.


The Torah commands us:

דַּבֵּ֞ר אֶל־בְּנֵ֤י יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ וְאָֽמַרְתָּ֣ אֲלֵהֶ֔ם וְעָשׂ֨וּ לָהֶ֥ם צִיצִ֛ת עַל־כַּנְפֵ֥י בִגְדֵיהֶ֖ם לְדֹֽרֹתָ֑ם וְנָֽתְנ֛וּ עַל־צִיצִ֥ת הַכָּנָ֖ף פְּתִ֥יל תְּכֵֽלֶת: וְהָיָ֣ה לָכֶם֘ לְצִיצִת֒ וּרְאִיתֶ֣ם אֹת֗וֹ וּזְכַרְתֶּם֙ אֶת־כָּל־מִצְוֹ֣ת יְהֹוָ֔ה וַֽעֲשִׂיתֶ֖ם אֹתָ֑ם וְלֹֽא־תָת֜וּרוּ אַֽחֲרֵ֤י לְבַבְכֶם֙ וְאַֽחֲרֵ֣י עֵֽינֵיכֶ֔ם אֲשֶׁר־אַתֶּ֥ם זֹנִ֖ים אַֽחֲרֵיהֶֽם: לְמַ֣עַן תִּזְכְּר֔וּ וַֽעֲשִׂיתֶ֖ם אֶת־כָּל־מִצְו‍ֹתָ֑י וִֽהְיִיתֶ֥ם קְדשִׁ֖ים לֵאלֹֽהֵיכֶֽם:

Speak to the children of Israel and you shall say to them that they shall make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments, throughout their generations, and they shall affix a thread of sky blue [wool] on the fringe of each corner. This shall be fringes for you, and when you see it, you will remember all the commandments of the Lord to perform them, and you shall not wander after your hearts and after your eyes after which you are going astray. So that you shall remember and perform all My commandments and you shall be holy to your God. (Bamidbar 15:38,39,40)


As we consider this Mitzvah let us ask a number of questions:

  1. Rashi (15:41) quotes Rav Moshe HaDarshan who explains why we find the Mitzvah of Tzitzis juxtaposed to the story of the Mekosheish Eitzim (the man who gathered wood on Shabbos and was put to death). Since both Shabbos and Tzitzis are as important as the sum of all other Mitzvos it is logical for them be placed together. Still we are bothered. The Mekosheis Eitzim violates the prohibition of chopping wood on Shabbos. If Tzitzis is connected to Shabbos because they are both equivalent to all of the Mitzvos then let the Torah put the Mitzvah of Tzitzis in Parshas Vaeschanan or Parshas Yisro where we find the actual commandment to keep Shabbos?

  2. The Torah seems to stress that Tzitzis need to be seen as the passuk says וּרְאִיתֶ֣ם אֹת֗וֹ. Indeed most poskim are of the opinion that Tzitzis should be worn in a fashion where they are visible (either on top of the clothing or with our Tzitzis strings hanging out). What is the idea that we have to wear our Tzitzis in a visible fashion?

  3. Lastly, the Gemara in Menachos (43b) quotes Rav Meir who explains that the Techeiles on our Tzitzis are meant to remind us of the Kisei HaKavod. Since the Techeiles are blue they remind us of the sea which in turn reminds us of the sky which in turn reminds us of the Kiesei HaKavod (both the Kisei HaKavod are described having a sapphire color). This is somewhat difficult to understand. Does this really happen? Do people really see the Techeiles and go through this mental exercise? It somehow seems like a little bit of a stretch.



Garments of Light


To answer these questions let us first delve into the inner meaning of clothing. In so doing we will hopefully be able to gain an insight into the role that Tzitzis play on our clothing.


If we want to understand something's true nature we must turn to the first time it is mentioned in the Torah. In this case, clothing play a fascinating role in the story of Adam and Chava. Let us first give the context: Adam and Chava sinned. Adam blames Chava. Chava blames the Nachash. Chava is punished with painful childbirth. Adam is punished with a life of toil. Death has been brought to the world. What comes next seems to be totally out of place.


וַיִּקְרָ֧א הָֽאָדָ֛ם שֵׁ֥ם אִשְׁתּ֖וֹ חַוָּ֑ה כִּ֛י הִ֥וא הָֽיְתָ֖ה אֵ֥ם כָּל־חָֽי: וַיַּ֩עַשׂ֩ יְהֹוָ֨ה אֱלֹהִ֜ים לְאָדָ֧ם וּלְאִשְׁתּ֛וֹ כָּתְנ֥וֹת ע֖וֹר וַיַּלְבִּשֵֽׁם:

"And the man named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all life. And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife shirts of skin, and He dressed them." (Bereishis 3:20,21)


Up until this point, Chava is only known as isha.

וַיֹּ֘אמֶר֘ הָֽאָדָם֒ זֹ֣את הַפַּ֗עַם עֶ֚צֶם מֵֽעֲצָמַ֔י וּבָשָׂ֖ר מִבְּשָׂרִ֑י לְזֹאת֙ יִקָּרֵ֣א אִשָּׁ֔ה כִּ֥י מֵאִ֖ישׁ לֻֽקֳחָה־זֹּֽאת:

"And man said, "This time, it is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. This one shall be called ishah (woman) because this one was taken from ish (man)." (Bereishis 2:23)


Only moments earlier Adam blames Chava for luring him into sin. Why now does he bestow upon her the title of Chava, recognizing her as the source of all life?


The following passuk also seems like a total non sequitur. After Adam names Chava, the Torah tells us that Hashem gives Adam and Chava כָּתְנ֥וֹת ע֖וֹר, clothing of skin. What is the connection between the naming of Chava and Hashem fashioning clothing for Adam and Chava?


Furthermore, there is an interesting parallel here. Just as Adam's mood seems to switch from blame to love so too God's mood, so to speak, seems to shift. Moments earlier God is punishing Adam and Chava with a life of pain and death. Now God covers Adam and Chava's shame by making them clothing. Until their sin Adam and Chava were not embarrassed of their nakedness. Only when they sinned did they become ashamed of their nudity. In an act of love God gives them clothing so they should not be embarrassed. What happened to shift the mood?


One last question. What was the nature of the clothing that God makes for Adam and Chava?

On a pshat level, Hashem gave Adam and Chava clothing to restore their dignity (see Rabbeinu Bechaya). Rashi suggests that it was warm, soft rabbit fur. Pirkei d'Rebbi Eliezer (chap 20) says that it was made of snake skin (a symbolic gesture if there ever was one). The last opinion will be the focus of our attention. The Rabbeinu Bechaya quotes the Medrash which says that in the margins of Rav Meir's Torah it was found written, "Garments of light". This refers to Adam's garments, which were like a torch [shedding radiance], broad at the bottom and narrow at the top. In other words, the word ע֖וֹר means skin but with an aleph it means light. The Rabbeinu Bechaya connects these garments of light to Moshe Rabbeinu descending from Har Sinai (the second time). There the passuk says:

וַיְהִ֗י בְּרֶ֤דֶת משֶׁה֙ מֵהַ֣ר סִינַ֔י וּשְׁנֵ֨י לֻחֹ֤ת הָֽעֵדֻת֙ בְּיַד־משֶׁ֔ה בְּרִדְתּ֖וֹ מִן־הָהָ֑ר וּמשֶׁ֣ה לֹֽא־יָדַ֗ע כִּ֥י קָרַ֛ן ע֥וֹר פָּנָ֖יו בְּדַבְּר֥וֹ אִתּֽוֹ:

"And it came to pass when Moses descended from Mount Sinai, and the two tablets of the testimony were in Moses' hand when he descended from the mountain and Moses did not know that the skin of his face had become radiant while He had spoken with him." (Shemos 34:29)


Here the Torah uses the word ע֥וֹר (with an ayin) and yet it indicates that Moshe's face was illuminated (Ohr with an aleph). But what is the connection between the glow that radiated from Moshe's face and the clothing of Adam and Chava? And what is the meaning of Rav Meir's comment? Why would God make Adam and Chava garments of light?


According to a Kabbalistic tradition (Zohar - Bereishis 36b, Arizal - Sefer Likutim Bereishis chap 3) prior to their sin, Adam and Chava were ensconced in a divine primordial light. With their sin they lost access to this light and were now ashamed of their nudity. In other words, up until this point their nakedness was not a source of shame because they were clothed in this divine light. Now that they sinned, the primordial light dissipated and their nudity was a source of shame.


But this divine light did not disappear. As we will see it appears throughout the generations. The Arizal explains that Chanoch was given the divine light. This accounts for the unusual manner in which the Torah describes his death.

וַיִּתְהַלֵּ֥ךְ חֲנ֖וֹךְ אֶת־הָֽאֱלֹהִ֑ים וְאֵינֶ֕נּוּ כִּֽי־לָקַ֥ח אֹת֖וֹ אֱלֹהִֽים:

And Enoch walked with God, and he was no longer, for God had taken him. (Bereishis 5:24)


The Targum Yonason explains that Chanoch simply ceased to exist. Like Eliyahu HaNavi, who ascended to heaven in a fiery chariot, Chanoch never actually died. (see Bereishis Rabbah 25:1 which connects the ascension of Eliyahu HaNavi and the death of Chanoch. The Arizal explicitly connects the two as well and says that both were connected to the primordial light.) Because Chanoch was ensconced in the pre-sin light of Adam and Chava, he was not subject to the death that followed their loss of the divine light.


The divine light is also seen at Har Sinai. The Gemara in Shabbos (88a) tells us that when we proclaimed naaseh v'nishma, we will do and we will listen, six hundred thousand malachim placed two crowns upon the heads of every person in Klal Yisrael. With the sin of the golden calf, one million two hundred thousand angels removed those crowns. Rav Yochanan teaches that the crowns were then given to Moshe Rabbeinu. Rashi there explains that these crown were the source of the divine light that radiated off of Moshe Rabbeinu's face.


What is the significance of this divine light? What message does it communicate to us?


Prior to the sin of Adam and Chava the state of the world was one where Godliness was more transparent than it is in our times. The transparency of Hashem in Gan Eden is reflected in the divine light that Adam and Chava wore. Had Adam succeeded in abstaining from sin the world would have been a place where God's presence is readily apparent within the physical world. When Adam sinned God's presence became more opaque. Death is now a part of life.


Adam has been told of his own mortality. Life is no longer eternal. What then will become of their mission to bring God to His creation? But in that very moment Adam has an epiphany. His wife will have pain bearing children. While they will not be immortal, they will have progeny. His children and his children's children will carry on the goal of unifying shomayim and aretz, heaven and earth. We can now understand the flow of the pesukim after Adam and Chava are punished. No longer is his wife simply isha, a helper designed to diminish his own loneliness. She is now Chava, the mother of all life. In the children of Chava there will be an opportunity to restore the light of Gan Eden, making our world a place of transparent Godliness.


And when Adam found hope in Chava and the children she would bare, Hashem contributed with a message of hope as well. The clothing that Hashem gives Adam and Chava possesses an element of the light that they wore in Gan Eden. Garments of light. In other words, while Adam and Chava had fallen from the angelic state of Gan Eden, the show is not over. It is now the mission to restore the light of Gan Eden. To make our world a place where Godliness is transparent. The dignity of the clothing that God fashioned was not only in the fact that it covered their nakedness but that it endowed them with the next phase of their mission: to bring Godliness to a world where it is not readily seen. Those that would succeed in this mission of unifying God and His creation would find themselves experiencing the divine light of Gan Eden. Thus we find that Chanoch, Klal Yisrael at Har Sinai and Moshe Rabbeinu all were adorned in this primordial light.


There is another aspect at play here as well. What is the role of sexuality? On the one hand it is the most animalistic of desires. On the other hand, it is the opportunity to imitate God. Just as God creates life so too do we create life. Prior to their sin Adam and Chava were not ashamed of their nakedness. Sexuality held no moral implications. When Adam and Chava sinned everything changed.

וַתִּפָּקַ֨חְנָה֙ עֵינֵ֣י שְׁנֵיהֶ֔ם וַיֵּ֣דְע֔וּ כִּ֥י עֵֽירֻמִּ֖ם הֵ֑ם וַיִּתְפְּרוּ֙ עֲלֵ֣ה תְאֵנָ֔ה וַיַּֽעֲשׂ֥וּ לָהֶ֖ם חֲגֹרֹֽת

And the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked, and they sewed fig leaves and made themselves girdles. (Bereishis 3:7)


Now that they sinned their eyes were opened to the moral issues at stake with regards to sexuality. They immediately covered themselves. When Adam gave Chava her name, when he saw that his children would carry out the mission of God, Hashem covers their nakedness. In other words, Hashem created the opportunity for the sanctification of sexuality. Modesty and appropriate sexuality would become a vehicle to restore the light of Gan Eden.


No wonder the light that radiated from Moshe's face was connected to his marriage. The Medrash (Sehmos Rabbah 47:28 and Medrash Tanchuma, Shemos 37) explains that when Moshe was writing the original Sefer Torah there was a little bit of extra ink. Hashem rubbed that ink on Moshe's face and his face shined from that drop of ink. But why was their any extra ink at all? The Ohr HaChaim explains that when Miriam questioned Moshe's separation from his wife she was strongly rebuked by God. The Torah then teaches us that Moshe Rabbeinu was עניו מכל אדם, the humblest of all men. However, while ordinarily the word עניו is spelled with a Yud, Moshe Rabbbeinu (as a function of his humility) spelled it ענו without the Yud. The leftover ink from the Yud that was not written into the original Torah was smeared on Moshe's face and suffused him with the original light of Gan Eden. In other words, when Hashem affirms Moshe Rabbeinu's decision to separate from his wife by declaring him to be the most humble of all men, there we find the primordial light of Gan Eden.


Fascinatingly, the Zohar (1:28b) teaches that the clothing that Hashem fashioned for Adam was a pair of Tzitzis. What is the meaning of this teaching?


Uniting Heaven and Earth


As we will see, the message of Tzitzis is unity.


The Tzitzis are comprised of five double knots. In the spaces between these knots, one of the strings, which is longer than the rest, is coiled around the others. Seven coils in the first space, eight in the second, eleven in the third, and thirteen in the fourth. These thirty nine coils have the same gematria as "Hashem Echad", God is One. In fact, the first two sets of coils total fifteen which is the gematria of Yud Hey, the first two letters of God's name. The third set of coils totals eleven which the gematria of Vav Hey, the last two letters of God's name. The final set of coils totals thirteen which is the gematria of echad. Thus we see that the Tzitzis proclaims God's unity in this world.


Chazal (Abarbanel, Bamidbar 15:40, Ohr HaChaim, Bamidbar 15:39, ) explain that Tzitzis identify as God's loyal servants. They are the seal of God so to speak. Those who wear them are making a statement of loyalty to the Jewish mission of making this world into a Godly place.

The Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 386) teaches that the Tzitzis represent the unity of the body and the soul. The white of the Tzitzis corresponds to the body which was made of the snow beneath the Kisei HaKavod (see Pirkei d'Rebbi Eliezer 3). Additionally, the Gemara in Niddah (25b) teaches that the formation of the body in its embryonic stage appears like threads. The blue of the Techeiles is like the appearance of the sky which is an allusion to the soul. This is in accordance with the Gemara in Menachos (43b) which quotes Rav Meir as saying:

What distinguishes techeiles from all the other colors (for the mitzvah of Tzitzis)? Techeiles resembles the (color of the) sea, and the sea resembles the color of the sky, and the sky resembles the color of the Kisei HaKavod (Throne of Glory).


The Sefer HaChinuch also adds that the Tzitzis represents the unity of heaven and earth (the body comes from earth and the soul comes from shomayim) which is why the Gemara in Menachos (39a) says that the Tzitzis strings should be wrapped no less than seven times and no more than thirteen. The seven coils represent the seven heavens and the thirteen coils represent the seven heavens and the six air spaces in between.


The four corners of the garment that are adorned with Tzitzis represent the four corners of the earth. No wonder that in Birchos Kerias Shema when we say the words וַהֲבִיאֵנוּ לְשָׁלום מֵאַרְבַּע כַּנְפות הָאָרֶץ וְתולִיכֵנוּ קומְמִיּוּת לְאַרְצֵנוּ, And bring us in peace from the four corners of the Earth, we gather together the Tzitzis from each corner. In this way we have expressed that God's oneness can be found in every dimension of both soul and body, heaven and earth. Even in the most remote of places, God's presence can be found. There is no place devoid of Him.


This is the fulfillment of our mission to rectify the sin of Adam HaRishon. In Gan Eden prior to the sin, the world was a place of transparent Godliness. Adam HaRishon was ensconced in a Divine Light. When he was banished from Gan Eden Hashem gave him garments of light to express that he still retained the capacity to engage that Godly light and return the world to a place where God's presence is clearly manifest. In our current world there appears to be a divide between Creator and creation. Our Tzitzis are designed to express the idea that God is present in every dimension of existence. This is in line with the statement of Chazal (Talmud Yerushalmi, Berachos 1:2) that one who is meticulous regarding the Mitzvah of Tzitzis shall merit to see the face of the Shechinah. Someone who sees God in every corner of the world, will certainly merit to experience the Shechinah, the indwelling of God's presence in our world.


We can now understand why the Gemara in Menachos (43b) teaches that when the passuk says וראיתם אותו וזכרתם את כל מצות ה, That you may look upon it and remember all the commandments of Hashem (Bamidbar 15:39), it means that once a person is obligated in the Mitzvah of Tzitzis he is obligated in all of the Mitzvos. Rashi explains that this is implied by the passuk’s reference to “all the mitzvos of Hashem”; Additionally, Rashi points out that the gematria of ציצית , is 600. When you add the five knots and the eight strands the total is 613, the total number of Mitzvos in the Torah. The purpose of a Mitzvah is to unite shomayim and aretz and make Hashem's presence transparent in our world. Tzitzis, as the ultimate Mitzvah that expresses the idea of unity, encompasses all of the other Mitzvos within it.


With this in mind we can explain an interesting Gemara in Shabbos (118b):

אמר ליה רב יוסף לרב יוסף בריה דרבה אבוך במאי זהיר טפי אמר ליה בציצית יומא חד הוה קא סליק בדרגא איפסיק ליה חוטא ולא נחית ואתא כמה דלא רמיה

Rav Yosef said to Rav Yosef the son of Rabbah: With regard to which mitzvah was your father

most diligent? He replied: With Tzitzis. One day, he was climbing a ladder, one of his Tzitzis strands was cut short, and he would not descend until he placed a new string on the garment.


What is the significance of the fact that Rabbah was climbing on a ladder? A ladder brings us to a place that is otherwise unreachable. It bridges two places so that we can climb upwards and downwards. In other word, a ladder creates unity between that which is above and that which is below. Rabbah's ladder is symbolic of his quest to unite heaven and earth. Tzitzis is the Mitzvah which most expresses this mission. If one strand is cut and short, if there is one place in all of existence that God's presence cannot be found, then Rabbah does not budge from that position until he has found God in that place. This is the inner meaning of Rabbah fixing his Tzitzis before he would descend from the ladder. The Gemara in Shabbos (153a) expounds the verse “Your clothing shall be white at all times” (Koheles 9:8) to refer to the Mitzvah of Tzitzis. Our clothing, adorned with Tzitzis, expresses that everywhere we go we are in contact with the oneness of God. No place is devoid of Him.


With this in mind we can understand the relationship between Tzitzis and the Tzitz, the golden plate that the Kohen Gadol wore on his forehead. Not only do the words Tzitzis and Tzitz share a shoresh but the Tzitz was attached to the Kohen Gadol's turban with a thread of Techeiles. What is the relationship between the Tzitzis and the Tzitz? As we have clearly demonstrated, the Tzitzis reveal the Godliness that inheres in every aspect of existence making God more transparent in our world. Though the world after the sin of Adam HaRishons's sin may seem to lack Godliness, the Tzitzis reveal that Godliness that lies within. Similarly, the Tzitz of the Kohen Gadol atones for a korban that is brought in a state of impurity rendering the korban kosher (see Rashi Shemos 28:38). In other words, even in an impure korban the Tzitz reveals the Godliness that inheres within and returns the korban to a state of kashrus.


We are now ready to understand why the Zohar tells us that the clothing that Hashem made for Adam was a pair of Tzitzis. Clothing is what allows us to engage the world. It protects us from the elements and covers our nakedness. But it is more than that. As we mentioned, the beged that Hashem made for Adam and Chava possesses an element of the divine light that they experienced in Gan Eden. Their mission was to unite heaven and earth, to reveal Godliness in every corner of creation, and to return the world to it's original state of being. The Tzitzis on our clothing remind us that as we engage the world around us we should not forget our fundamental mission of uniting heaven and earth. Tzitzis, as the Mitzvah that most embodies this mission, is the perfect beged for Adam HaRishon to wear as he begins the next stage of his journey. As Adam engages the world around him he is adorned with Tzitzis which constantly remind him of his mission. This is in line with the Baal HaTurim, (Bamidbar 15:39) who explains that when the passuk says “You shall remember it” (regarding the Mitzvah of Tzitzis) it means that God commanded there to be four tzitzit on the four corners of each garment so that anywhere a person looks he will remember God's mission. Each of the Tzitzis have five knots in order to remember the five books of the Torah. Each of the Tzitzis have eight strings so that a person will refrain from sinning with their eight organs which can lead a person to sin. They are: ears, eyes, mouth, nose, hands, feet, sexual organs and heart.


This explains why the Gemara in Shabbos (23b) teaches that one who meticulously observes the mitzvah of Tzitzis is rewarded with [the resources to afford] a nice wardrobe. When we engage the world in order to reveal Godliness, Hashem assures us that we will have the means to continue to fulfill his mission by providing us the clothing that will allow us to engage the world.


Similarly, the Gemara in Chullin (9a) tells us that according to Rav, a Talmid Chacham must be specially trained so that he will be proficient in the laws of Tzitzis. Rav Yehuda argues that since Tzitzis is a commonly practiced Mitzvah everyone is knowledgeable in it and therefore it does not require special training. Perhaps we can suggest that according to Rav, since

Tzitzis embodies the essence of our mission as Jews, it must be an area where a Talmid Chacham excels and we cannot chance the possibility that he will be deficient in this area. Despite the fact that he will naturally be proficient in this area, it is too critical for us to risk the possibility that he is not learned in this area.


Shem And Avraham Are Given The Mitzvah Of Tzitzis


Thus far we have learned that Tzitzis reveal the unity of God in this world which transforms our existence to that of Gan Eden prior to the sin. Adam HaRishon, through the Mitzvah of Tzitzis, has been given the hope that the divine light he experienced in Gan Eden can be brought back to reality.


With this in mind we will not be able to understand a fascinating "detail" in the story of Noach. After Noach leaves the Teiva he plants a vineyard and becomes inebriated.


וַיֵּ֥שְׁתְּ מִן־הַיַּ֖יִן וַיִּשְׁכָּ֑ר וַיִּתְגַּ֖ל בְּת֥וֹךְ אָֽהֳלֹֽה: וַיַּ֗רְא חָ֚ם אֲבִ֣י כְנַ֔עַן אֵ֖ת עֶרְוַ֣ת אָבִ֑יו וַיַּגֵּ֥ד לִשְׁנֵֽי־אֶחָ֖יו בַּחֽוּץ:

And he drank of the wine and became drunk, and he uncovered himself within his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father's nakedness, and he told his two brothers outside.(Bereishis 9:21,22)


The Gemara in Sanhedrin (70a) connects the drinking of Noach to the sin of Adam HaRishon:

ויחל נח איש האדמה ויטע כרם אמר רב חסדא אמר רב עוקבא ואמרי לה מר עוקבא א"ר זכאי א"ל הקב"ה לנח נח לא היה לך ללמד מאדם הראשון שלא גרם לו אלא יין כמאן דאמר אותו אילן שאכל ממנו אדם הראשון גפן היה דתניא ר"מ אומר אותו אילן שאכל אדם הראשון ממנו גפן היה

The verse states: “And Noah began to be a farmer, and he planted a vineyard.” In explanation of this matter, Rav Ḥisda says that Rav Ukva says, and some say that Mar Ukva says that Rabbi Zakkai says: The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to Noah: Noah, shouldn’t you have learned from Adam the first man, whose banishment from the Garden of Eden was caused only by wine? The Gemara notes: This is in accordance with the opinion of the one who says that the tree from which Adam the first man ate was a grapevine. As it is taught in a baraita: Rabbi Meir says: The tree from which Adam the first man ate was a grapevine,


The story of Noach's inebriation bares a striking resemblance to the story of Adam HaRishon.

Just as Adam HaRishon drank from the grapes of the Eitz HaDaas, so too did Noach. Just as Adam becomes aware of his nudity so too Noach finds himself undressed in his tent. And just as Adam becomes aware of the possibility of inappropriate sexuality so too Noach finds himself in a compromising position. The Gemara in Sanhedrin (70a) suggests the possibility that Noach was sodomized by Ham. It is clear that the stories of Adam and Noach parallel each other but the story is not yet finished. Just as God clothed Adam and Chava, Noach's son clothe him as well.


וַיִּקַּח֩ שֵׁ֨ם וָיֶ֜פֶת אֶת־הַשִּׂמְלָ֗ה וַיָּשִׂ֨ימוּ֙ עַל־שְׁכֶ֣ם שְׁנֵיהֶ֔ם וַיֵּֽלְכוּ֙ אֲחֹ֣רַנִּ֔ית וַיְכַסּ֕וּ אֵ֖ת עֶרְוַ֣ת אֲבִיהֶ֑ם וּפְנֵיהֶם֙ אֲחֹ֣רַנִּ֔ית וְעֶרְוַ֥ת אֲבִיהֶ֖ם לֹ֥א רָאֽוּ:

And Shem and Japheth took the garment, and they placed [it] on both of their shoulders, and they walked backwards, and they covered their father's nakedness, and their faces were turned backwards, so that they did not see their father's nakedness. (Bereishis 9:23)


Rashi quotes the Medrash which explains that the Torah uses the word ויקח (as opposed to the plural ויקחו) to indicate that Shem exerted himself more than Yafes when it came to covering Noach. Though they both participated in covering their father and both deserved a reward, the reward would be commensurate with the effort they invested. Shem merited that his descendants would fulfill the Mitzvah of Tzitzis and Yafes was rewarded with burial for his descendants.


Both Shem and Yafes are appropriately rewarded for restoring dignity to their father's naked body. Shem is given the dignity of clothing his body with Tzitzis. Yafes is given the dignity of burying the body. And while both are meaningful rewards, clearly the reward of Shem is far greater as he enjoys the dignity of the body while alive in this world. In contrast, Yafes only experiences dignity in death. Furthermore, Shem is rewarded with having descendants who will have the opportunity to fulfill a Mitzvah while the reward of Yafes comes with no Mitzvah. Why is there such a great disparity between the two rewards? Covering someone with a blanket does not require intense levels of energy. How much more could Shem have exerted himself to merit such an incredible reward?


The effort that the brother's displayed was a function of their worldview. Yafes wanted only to remove his father's disgrace. Shem wanted to dignify his father with a covering. Our lives should be more than just the absence of shame. There is a Godliness that is accessible in this world and when we are in touch with that Godliness we can lead dignified, sanctified lives. The difference between these two approaches is reflected in their disparate rewards. Yafes merits that in death his descendants bodies will not be disgraced. The descendants of Shem are given the dignity of clothing while alive and the opportunity to sanctify the world around them. It is now clear why Shem was given the Mitzvah of Tzitzis. Just as Adam HaRishon's bigdei ohr, clothing of light, was a pair of Tzitzis so that he would be capable of bringing dignity to the world by revealing God in all aspects of this world, so too Shem and his descendants will carry on that very same mission.


And where do we see that Avraham Avinu (as the descendant of Shem) was gifted with the Mitzvah of Tziztis? After Avraham goes to war with Chedorlaomer and co to rescue Lot, the King of Sodom offers for Avraham to keep the wealth that he has captured (that belonged to Sodom) but asks that his people be returned to him. Avraham responds:

וַיֹּ֥אמֶר אַבְרָ֖ם אֶל־מֶ֣לֶךְ סְדֹ֑ם הֲרִמֹ֨תִי יָדִ֤י אֶל־יְהֹוָה֙ אֵ֣ל עֶלְי֔וֹן קֹנֵ֖ה שָׁמַ֥יִם וָאָֽרֶץ: אִם־מִחוּט֙ וְעַ֣ד שְׂרֽוֹךְ־נַ֔עַל וְאִם־אֶקַּ֖ח מִכָּל־אֲשֶׁר־לָ֑ךְ וְלֹ֣א תֹאמַ֔ר אֲנִ֖י הֶֽעֱשַׁ֥רְתִּי אֶת־אַבְרָֽם:

And Abram said to the king of Sodom, "I raise my hand to the Lord, the Most High God, Who possesses heaven and earth. Neither from a thread to a shoe strap, nor will I take from whatever is yours, that you should not say, 'I have made Abram wealthy.' (Bereishis 14:22,23)


The Gemara in Chullin (89a, see also Bereishis Rabbah 43:13) explains that as a reward for not accepting even a thread from the King of Sodom, Avraham merited the thread of the Mitzvah of Tzitzis. (The Meshech Chochmah writes that we don our Tallis specifically during Shacharis because that is the Teffilah of Avraham Avinu.) In fact, the Gemara is a little more specific. Avraham was specifically zocheh to the thread of Techeiles. Why is the Mitzvah of Tzitzis a fitting reward for refusing the wealth of the King of Sodom? Why is there a specific focus on the Techeiles aspect of Tzitzis?


Techeiles shares the same root as the word tachlis, purpose. As the Gemara (ibid.) explains, when one looks at the blue of the Techeiles it ultimately reminds them of the Kisei HaKavod. The Techeiles express the purpose of our existence which is to unite the Kisei HaKavod with this world. Avraham Avinu's entire life was dedicated to this mission. All of his wealth was designed to glorify God's name in this world. In this way he would unite shomayim and aretz. Knowing that the King of Sodom would take credit for Avraham's wealth, Avraham could not accept his offer. It would mean abandoning his mission as a Jew. As an appropriate reward Avraham Avinu is given the Mitzvah of Tzitzis, and specifically Techeiles, which symbolizes the purpose of our existence, to unify God and this world.


Yosef HaTzaddik Connects to Eishes Potiphar Through The Mitzvah Of Tzitzis


Continuing in the theme of the dignity of Tztitzis (as we saw by Shem) let us examine a fascinating Gemara in Menachos (44a).


The Gemara tells us that there was once a man who was scrupulous in observing the mitzvah of Tzitzis. This very same man heard that there was a prostitute across the sea who charged 400 golden dinars. The unnamed man prepaid and scheduled an appointment. The prostitute arranged seven beds for him, six of silver and one of gold. Between each and every one of them there was a ladder made of silver, and the top bed was the one that was made of gold. As the prostitute lay on the bed of gold, the man began to undress. While doing so, his Tzitzis “hit him in his face", and he went and sat on the floor. She, too, went to sit on the floor, demanding to know what defect he saw in her. He responded by taking an oath proclaiming he had never seen a women as beautiful as she but regarding the mitzvah of Tzitzis, the Torah twice tells us that, “I am the Lord your G-d: I am the one who will exact punishment and I am the one who, in the future, will grant reward.” Now, said the man, the four Tzitzis appeared to me as if they were four witnesses who will testify against me. She then said to him, ‘I will not allow you to go until you tell me: What is your name, and what is the name of your city, and what is the name of your teacher, and what is the name of the study hall in which you studied Torah?’ He wrote the information and placed it in her hand. The prostitute was so impressed that she took her possessions and gave one-third to the government (so that she would be allowed to convert) and one-third to the poor. A third she kept for herself including the beds of gold and silver.

She then entered the Beis Medrash of Rav Chiya and asked that Rav Chiya convert her. He responded: “My daughter, perhaps you have set your eyes on one of the students”.  She then handed him the piece of paper from the man and Rav Chiya, converted her and said “’Go take possession of your purchase’. Those same beds that she had arranged in a forbidden fashion, she now arranged in a permissible fashion”.  


Several questions arise as we consider this Gemara?

  1. Who is this mystery man?

  2. How could someone who is a student of Rav Chiya, someone who so diligent in the Mitzvah of Tzitzis fall to such incredible depths?

  3. Why does the Gemara tell us in gory detail the arrangement of the beds? Is the layout of a prostitute's bedroom critical to our understanding of the story?

  4. What is the significance of the ladders that are between each bed?

  5. Why does the Gemara tell us that the Tzitzis slapped him specifically in the face? Would it have been less effective if he simply noticed his Tzitzis?

  6. Why does the prostitute take her beds with her? Why not sell them along with her other possessions? I would imagine it is not easy traveling with seven beds of gold and silver?

  7. What is the significance of the fact that ultimately she marries this man and uses these beds in a permissible fashion? One would imagine that a woman who engages in such an immoral profession and leaves that life behind would want to move on and leave no trace of that life. Not only does she not disassociate from these beds but she actually brings them into her marital bedroom! One imagines the shalom bayis issues that would come from such an arrangement. Why does the Gemara highlight that she used these beds in a permissible fashion?

  8. What does Rav Chiya mean when he says "go take possession of your purchase"? When did this woman purchase this man?

The Arizal (Sefer HaLikkutim, Parshas Vayeishev) tells us that the mystery man in our Gemara is a Nitzotz of Yosef HaTzaddik and the prostitute is a Nitzotz of Eishes Potiphar.


Fascinatingly, regarding the incident between Yosef and Eishes Potiphar, the Torah tells us:

וַתִּתְפְּשֵׂ֧הוּ בְּבִגְד֛וֹ לֵאמֹ֖ר שִׁכְבָ֣ה עִמִּ֑י וַיַּֽעֲזֹ֤ב בִּגְדוֹ֙ בְּיָדָ֔הּ וַיָּ֖נָס וַיֵּצֵ֥א הַחֽוּצָה:

So she grabbed him by his garment, saying, "Lie with me!" But he left his garment in her hand and fled and went outside. (Bereishis 39:12)


Keeping in mind that Yosef and the Eishes Potiphar story are repeated in the above Gemara, perhaps we can suggest that the garment Yosef was wearing was his Tzitzis. Because Eishes Potiphar grabbed him by the Tzitzis he was reminded of his mission in this world to rectify the sin of Adam HaRishon. As we have previously stated, the original clothing (Tzitzis) that Hashem fashioned for Adam was to sanctify the realm of sexuality. When confronted by Eishes Potiphar grabbing him by the Tzitzis Yosef found the strength to remove himself from the situation.


The Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah (87:5) records the following conversation between Yosef HaTzaddik and Eishes Potiphar as he explains to her why he cannot engage in inappropriate sexual relations with her:

דָּבָר אַחֵר, הֵן אֲדֹנִי, אָמַר לָהּ מִתְיָרֵא אֲנִי, וּמָה אָדָם הָרִאשׁוֹן עַל מִצְוָה קַלָּה נִצְטַוָּה וְעָבַר וְנִטְרַד מִגַּן עֵדֶן, זוֹ שֶׁהִיא עֲבֵרָה חֲמוּרָה, גִּלּוּי עֲרָיוֹת, עַל אַחַת כַּמָּה וְכַמָּה

I am afraid. Adam HaRishon was kicked out of Gan Eden as a result of only a minor sin. Inappropriate sexual misconduct, which is a grave offense will certainly come with a harsh punishment.”


Why does Yosef require a kal vachomer? Why not simply explain that gilui arayos is a serious aveira in and of itself!


In light of what we have said, we can conclude that Yosef is not simply making a logical deduction from Adam HaRishon. He is impressing upon Eishes Potifar that his mission is to rectify Adam's sin. Just as Adam HaRishon was given Tzitzis by Hashem so that he would be enabled to fulfill his mission, so too Yosef is reminded of his mission to rectify the sin of Adam HaRishon through the Mitzvah of Tzitzis.


The Medrash in Bereishis Rabbah (85:2) teaches that Eishes Potiphar was told by her astrologers that she was destined to be a part of Yosef's family. What she did not know if is would be her or her daughter Osnat who would have children with Yosef. In the end, both Osnat and Eishes Potiphar would marry Yosef. Osnat in Yosef's lifetime and then Eishes Potiphar's Nitzotz many years later. Only this time the Tzitzis would end up being a catalyst for their union.


Let us return to examine the Gemara. We now understand how a student of Rav Chiya, someone who was meticulous in his observance of the Mitzvah of Tzitzis, could end up at the house of a zonah. Just as Yosef went down to Mitzrayim so that Klal Yisrael could recover the sparks of kedusha in the greatest place of Tumah (this is the inner meaning of the wealth that Klal Yisrael took out of Mitzrayim) so too this talmid of Rav Chiya, the Nitzotz of Yosef, went down to this Zonah to recover the Nitzotz of Kedusha that was within Eishes Potiphar.


With this in mind we can understand why the Gemara goes into such great detail about the seven beds and the six ladders that were in between each bed. Earlier we mentioned that the Gemara in Menachos (39a) says that the Tzitzis strings should be wrapped no less than seven times and no more than thirteen. The seven coils represent the seven heavens and the thirteen coils represent the seven heavens and the six air spaces in between. So too the beds of this Zonah are literally arranged like a pair of Tzitzis. Seven beds relate to the seven coils and the six ladders relate to the six spaces between the seven heavens. Furthermore, we mentioned that the Gemara in Shabbos (118b) said that Rabbah refused to refused to budge from the ladder until he fixed his Tztitzis. (And as an interesting side note it was Rav Yosef who asked Rav Yosef the son of Rabbah in which middah his father was most diligent. Perhaps we could suggest that this is an allusion to Yosef HaTzaddik.). Just as Rabbah on the ladder was bridging the gap between shomayim and aretz so too this student of Rav Chiya confronted the message of the Tzitzis as he climbed up the ladders of this Zonah's bed.


As someone who had been meticulous in the Mitzvah of Tzitzis, Rav Chiya's student was hit in the face by the message of the Tzitzis all around him. Above we quoted the Yerushalmi (Berachos 1:2) which said that one who is meticulous regarding the Mitzvah of Tzitzis shall merit to see the face of the Shechinah. This explains why the Tzitzis slapped Rav Chiya's talmid in the face and he was enabled to leave the house of this zonah.


Just like Yosef generations earlier, with great strength and courage our hero is able to extricate himself from this situation. Only this time instead of Eishes Potiphar ensuring that Yosef is thrown in jail she draws closer to him. She sells all of her possessions except for her beds and travels to Rav Chiya to convert. Rav Chiya, understanding the inner nature of this repentant Zonah's soul, asked her: “My daughter, perhaps you have set your eyes on one of the students”. Clearly Rav Chiya understood that his talmid, the Nitzotz of Yosef and the Nitzotz of Eishes Potiphar were destined to unite at last. When she handed Rav Chiya the piece of paper from the man, Rav Chiya, converted her and said “’Go take possession of your purchase’. This is an allusion to Yosef HaTzaddik who was purchased by Poitphar in Mitzrayim.


We can now understand why the Gemara concludes that those same beds that she had arranged in a forbidden fashion, she now arranged in a permissible fashion. Tzitzis tell us that even in the lowest of places there is a Godly spark waiting to be aggregated. These beds, used for so much tumah, were literally expressing the idea of Tzitzis. When the Nitzotz of Yosef had the courage to leave this Zonah (Eishes Potiphar) he revealed the inner Godliness of these beds. Now they were able to be used in the service of Hashem and fulfill the mission for which they were created.   


Finding Kedusha In An Aveira Lishma


We can now return to our original question about the relationship between the Mekosheish Eitzim and the Mitzvah of Tziztis. Just because Tzitzis and Shabbos are equivalent to all of the Mitzvos doesn't mean that these two Parshios should be juxtaposed. In fact, they seem to be thematically at odds with one another. The Mekosheish violates the Shabbos while Tzitzis remind a person to find Godliness even in the lowest of places.


In order to understand the connection between these two Parshios we must first examine the motivation of the Mekosheish Eitzim. Tosafos in Baba Babra (119b), quotes the Medrash which says that actually the Mekosheish Eitzim was acting lishem shomayim. The generation of the Midbar that was destined to die in the desert were saying that since it was decreed that they would not enter Eretz Yisrael they were no longer obligated to observe the Mitzvos. In order to teach Klal Yisrael that they were still obligated to observe the Mitzvos the Mekoshesh Eitzim violated Shabbos so that he would be put to death and Klal Yisrael would learn the lesson.


Just as the Tzitzis of the talmid of Rav Chiya (the Nitzotz of Yosef HaTzaddik) was able to reveal the Godliness in the home of the zonah, the Mekoshesh Eitzim is able to reveal that there is a Godly spark even in an aveira when it is done lishma. And ultimately Hashem arranges for a tikkun of the Mekosheish Eitzim. The Gemara in Shabbos (150b) tells us that there was a man that had a hole in his fence and he decided to fix the breach. The man then remembered that it was Shabbos so he decided that not only would he not fix the hole now but he would allow it to remain broken forever (explanation of the Maharsha, see also the Turei Zahav, Orach Chaim 307:14). A miracle occurred and a caper tree grew in that hole, sealing the breach and providing the man with sustenance. The Arizal (Sefer HaGilgulim 35) teaches that the protagonist in our story is Rav Yehuda Bar Ilai. The Gemara in Shabbos (25b) tells us that on Erev Shabbos Rav Yehuda bar Ilai would wrap himself in a fringed linen cloak (Tzitzis) resembling a Malach.

Perhaps we can suggest that just as the Mekosheish Eitzim was able to reveal the Godliness of an aveira when done lishma, so too Rav Yehuda Bar Ilai was able to reveal the Godliness of a breach in the fence (a reference to an aveira). By resolving never to fix that hole, Hashem performed a miracle and turned the breach in the fence into a source of sustenance. Sometimes the areas where we feel most removed from Hashem become the source of our connection when we can mine the nugget of Godliness.


This explains why Rav Yehuda Bar Ilai would wrap himself in Tzitzis when preparing for Shabbos. The Gra writes that the thirty nine melachos of Shabbos are related to the thirty nine times that the main string is coiled around the other strings on the Tzitzis. (The Gra also points out that just as the Tzitzis coils are divided into four sections (the first segment has seven coils, the second has eight coils, the third segment has eleven coils and the fourth segment has thirteen coils) so too the Melachos are divided up into four sections (seven melachos are related to hunting and tanning deer, eight melachos are general issurim on Shabbos, eleven melachos are related baking bread, thirteen melachos are related to weaving). Both Tzitzis and Shabbos encompass all other Mitzvos in the Torah because these two Mitzvos embody the idea that Hashem can be found in all areas of life. To prepare for Shabbos, Rav Yehuda bar Ilai (the Mekosheish Eiztim) who revealed the Godliness of the whole in the breach donned his Tzitzis to reveal the union of shomayim and aretz.


With this in mind we are now able to understand a fascinating story brought in the Yerushalmi (Sanhedrin 51b, see also Talmud Bavli, Yevamos 49b for a variation of this story). We know that Menashe murdered Yeshayah as he judged him to be a false prophet. Yeshayah chose not to defend himself fearing that Menashe would kill him anyway and he would be an intentional murderer. Instead Yeshayah uttered the name of Hashem and was swallowed up by a cedar tree. Menashe's servants chopped down the cedar tree (which contained Yeshayah) and when they arrived at Yeshaya's mouth he passed away. The Gemara explains that since Yeshayah spoke negatively about Klal Yisrael (“And I dwell among a people with impure lips.”) he was punished accordingly. How did they know that Yeshayah was in that cedar tree? While Yeshayah was swallowed up by the cedar tree his Tzitzis protruded from the tree and gave away his hidden location.


Why is Yeshayah HaNavi, who spoke disparagingly about Klal Yisrael, exposed through his Tzitzis? The Ben Yehoyada explains that the Mitzvah of Tzitzis tells us that even the lowest of Jews are considered God's children. The eight fringes and five knots of the Tzitzis total thirteen which is the gematria of echad. The four corners that each contain a set of Tzitzis indicate that we should multiply thirteen by four which is fifty two, the same gematria as ben (son). We can therefore see that the Tzitzis teach us that each and every Jew is the child of the Hashem Echad.


The Ben Yehoyada explains that the reason we have two Tzitzis in front and two in back is because the Tzitzis in front represent those that keep Torah and Mitzvos while the two in the back represent those that don't. He cites the Gemara in Kiddushin (36a) which references a machlokes between Rav Yehuda and Rav Meir as to whether or now we are still called God's children when we do not follow Halacha. Rav Yehuda says that only when we follow the halacha are we considered God's children and Rav Meir maintains that we are always God's children regardless of our levels of observance. Yeshayah followed the opinion of Rav Yehuda and therefore spoke disparagingly about Klal Yisrael. He could not see that even in the lowest Jews there are sparks of Kedusha that are waiting to be elevated. This is the message of the Tzitzis. All types of Jews, those in the front of the Tzitzis and those in the back, are all God's beloved children regardless of their levels of observance. Appropriately, for speaking negatively about Klal Yisrael Yeshayah was discovered by the strings of his Tzitzis that protruded from the cedar tree.


The Inner Vision of Tzitzis


Continuing in the theme of Rav Meir that all of us are God's children even when we stray from the derech, let us examine the role that Rav Meir plays in understanding the Mitzvah of Tzitzis.


Above we quoted the Gemara in Menachos that quoted Rav Meir as explaining why the Techeiles are blue. (Techeiles are the color of the sea and the sea is similar to the and the sky is similar the Kisei HaKavod.) We also find that Rav Meir explains that the punishment for not attaching white strings to the Tzitzis is greater than if one does not attach Techeiles (since white strings are readily available and for a small cost). What is the significance of the fact Rav Meir contributes to this halachik conversation?


Earlier we asked, what is the idea that one needs specifically to see the Tzitzis? One does not need to see the Teffilin? Even the word Tzitzis means to see (Rashi 15:38)!


Seeing as how we have traced the idea of Tzitzis all the way back to the sin of Adam and Chava let us return there once again.


וַתִּפָּקַ֨חְנָה֙ עֵינֵ֣י שְׁנֵיהֶ֔ם וַיֵּ֣דְע֔וּ כִּ֥י עֵֽירֻמִּ֖ם הֵ֑ם וַיִּתְפְּרוּ֙ עֲלֵ֣ה תְאֵנָ֔ה וַיַּֽעֲשׂ֥וּ לָהֶ֖ם חֲגֹרֹֽת

And the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked, and they sewed fig leaves and made themselves girdles. (Bereishis 3:7)

The language of the Torah is very precise. It does not say that Adam and Chava became aware that they were naked but rather that their eyes were opened. Adam and Chava always knew that they were undressed but after they sinned they "saw" the dangers of the immorality that were contained within sexuality. As we have already shown, Tzitzis are designed to ensure that we behave appropriately in this area that contains both opportunities for animalistic base behavior or the ultimate sanctification. We can now advance this theory one step further. Tzitzis rectify the vision of Adam and Chava. A Jew sees the arena of sexuality not as a danger but as the opportunity to bring Hashem into every aspect of our being.

This explains why Rav Meir contended that if someone does not attach white strings to their Tzitzis they are punished more severely than if they don't attach Techeiles. On a simple level it is because Techeiles are more expensive and less readily available than white strings. On a deeper level it is because Tzitzis tell us that even in the lowest realms (and even in the lowest people according to Rav Meir) we can find Godliness. Techeiles represent the heavens where God is more clearly manifest and so a beged that lacks Techeiles, while deficient, is not as bad as a beged that lacks the white strings that represent this world.The chiddush of Tzitzis is that even in the white strings of this world that represent our base desires one can find God. Missing the white strings is clearly deserving of a greater punishment.


The Gemara in Eruvin (13b) tells us that Rav Meir's actual name was Rav Nehorai but he was called Rav Meir because he "illuminated" the eyes of the Sages in halacha. In fact Rav Yehuda HaNasi said that he was keener than his colleagues because he had seen the back of Rav Meir but had he seen Rav Meir's face he would have been keener still as it says in the passuk, "But thine eyes shall see thy teacher". It is clear that Rav Meir is uniquely identified with the attribute of sight. As we pointed out above, it is Rav Meir who is able to see the inner spark of Kedusha in even the lowest Jew (represented by the back of the Tzitzis) who is till called God's child. This theme is seen throughout many statements of Chazal.


The Gemara in Yoma (83b) tells us that Rav Meir would always pay careful attention to people's names. In Judaism a name is not merely a handle but a gateway to understanding a person's essence. Rav Meir with his keen sense of sight always looks beyond the surface.


This is expressed most clearly in the relationship between Rav Meir and his Rebbe, Elisha ben Avuyah. Elisha ben Avuyah (Acher) became an apostate but Rav Meir continued to learn Torah from him and to try and convince him to return to Hashem. (Only as Elisha ben Avuyuah was on his deathbed was Rav Meir successful in helping him do Teshuva.) The Talmud Yerushalmi (Chagiga 2b) records that Rav Meir was asked, if it is offered to you in the next world, who would you like to visit first? Your father or your teacher? He said to them, I will approach my teacher first and then my father. So they said to him, Will they accede to your request? He responded, have we not learned as such: we save the case of the scroll with the scroll, the case of the Tefilin with the Tefilin, and we likewise save Elisha, Acher, in merit of his Torah.

Rav Meir was not unaware of his Rebbe's failings but he was able to see beneath the surface of Acher's actions and connect to his true nature.


Thus we find that the Misha in Avos (4:2) says: Elisha ben Avuyah would say: One who learns Torah in his childhood, what is this comparable to? To ink inscribed on fresh paper. One who learns Torah in his old age, what is this comparable to? To ink inscribed on erased paper… Said Rabbi Meir: Look not at the vessel, but at what it contains. There are new vessels that are filled with old wine, and old vessels that do not even contain new wine.

In other words, Elisha ben Avuyah sees the surface level. When someone is old it is difficult for them to change. Rav Meir alwasy has a vision that sees beneath the surface and therefore maintains that was is on the inside is far more important than what is on the outside.

(As a fascinating aside: earlier we mentioned that Chanoch never dies. The Targum Yonasan on Bereishis 5:24 tells us that ultimately Chanoch becomes known as Malach Metatron the great scribe. The Gemara (Chagigah 15a) tells us that it was this an episode with this Malach that caused Elisha ben Avuyah to go off the derech.)

The Mishna in Sotah (49a) tells us that when Rav Meir died, the composers of parables ceased. How many parables would Rav Meir employ in his lessons? The Gemara in Sanhedrin (38b) teaches that Rav Meir's shiurim were a third halacha, a third Aggadah and a third parables. Rav Yochanan said that Rav Meir had three hundred parables of foxes and we only have three left. What is the significance of a parable? A parable allows for a complex message to be distilled so that its essence can be communicated to the student. Rav Meir who always sees beneath the surface is the master of the parable so that he can communicate the essence of an idea to his talmidim.


Interestingly, in the story above regarding the student of Rav Chiya (the Nitzotz of Yosef HaTzaddik) who was able to walk away from the zonah, Tosafos quotes the Tosefta that he was actually a student of Rav Meir and not Rav Chiya. When we consider that Rav Meir is the one who always sees to the essence of the person it makes sense to strongly consider this girsa.


Fittingly, the Gemara in Eiruvin (13a, see also Megillah 18b) tells us that Rav Meir is a sofer (a scribe). The Medrash Tanchuma (Bereishis 1) tells us that the Torah is black fire on white fire. A true Sofer doesn't just see ink on parchment but sees the light that is hidden within every letter in the Torah and its scroll. Just as Moshe Rabbeinu is a scribe (see Sotah 13b where Moshe Rabbeinu is refered to as the Safrah Rabbah, the great scribe) and a little bit of extra ink illuminates Moshe's face with the divine light of Gan Eden prior to the sin, so too Rav Meir is able to tap into the inner fire of the Torah and is illuminated by the divine light that inheres within. No wonder it is Rav Meir who records in the margins of his Sefer Torah that the Tzitzis that Adam wore were garments of light.


Finally, we can now understand what appears to be the tenuous connection between the Techeiles and the Kisei HaKavod. Earlier we asked, when someone sees the blue of the Techeiles will they really think of the sea, the sky and then the Kisei HaKavod? The answer is that for some perhaps this is a stretch but the Torah is challenging us to become people who focus on developing an inner vision. Those who do so will remember the mission of revealing Godliness in this world and will tap into the divine light that shone in Gan Eden.


Tzitzis and Mashiach


Having developed a deep appreciation for the inner meaning of the Mitzvah of Tzitzis we can now understand the unique role that Tzitzis play in the coming of Moshiach.


In the story of Yehuda and Tamar, after Yehuda has relations with Tamar (who he thought was a zonah) she asks him for collateral to ensure that she will be paid. The Torah tells us that she requested three specific items:

וַיֹּ֗אמֶר מָ֣ה הָעֵֽרָבוֹן֘ אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֶתֶּן־לָךְ֒ וַתֹּ֗אמֶר חֹתָֽמְךָ֙ וּפְתִילֶ֔ךָ וּמַטְּךָ֖ אֲשֶׁ֣ר בְּיָדֶ֑ךָ וַיִּֽתֶּן־לָ֛הּ וַיָּבֹ֥א אֵלֶ֖יהָ וַתַּ֥הַר לֽוֹ:

So he said, "What is the pledge that I should give you?" And she said, "Your signet, your cloak, and the staff that is in your hand." So he gave them to her, and he came to her, and she conceived his likeness. (Bereishis 38:18)

Rashi explains that וּפְתִילֶ֔ךָ means the cloak that Yehuda used to cover himself. The Ramban questions Rashi. How could Yehuda have given away his clothing leaving himself naked? The Gur Aryeh answers for Rashi and explains that Yehuda did not give away all of his clothing but rather he gave away his Tzitzis (the word פתיל also means thread which is an allusion to the Mitzvah of Tzitzis).


Two questions now confront us:

  1. Women don't wear Tzitzis. Why would Tamar request Yehuda's Tzitzis?

  2. Rashi explicitly says that she asked for the garment that Yehuda used to cover himself. Assuming the Gur Aryeh's position, why are the Tzitzis the garment that Yehuda uses to cover himself? Wouldn't his other clothing be considered the covering?

Tamar understood that this union would ultimately result in the birth of Moshiach. In fact, Chazal tell us that throughout the entire episode with Yehuda, Tamar was davening for the birth of Mashiach. Though the situation with Yehuda seemed immoral on the outside, Tamar takes the Tzitzis of Yehuda so that she will ultimately be able to communicate to him that even in this seemingly impure situation there is a hidden spark of Godliness that will ultimately blossom into Mashiach.


We can now understand the Torah's description of the place where Yehuda and Tamar met:


וַתָּ֩סַר֩ בִּגְדֵ֨י אַלְמְנוּתָ֜הּ מֵֽעָלֶ֗יהָ וַתְּכַ֤ס בַּצָּעִיף֙ וַתִּתְעַלָּ֔ף וַתֵּ֨שֶׁב֙ בְּפֶ֣תַח עֵינַ֔יִם אֲשֶׁ֖ר עַל־דֶּ֣רֶךְ תִּמְנָ֑תָה כִּ֤י רָֽאֲתָה֙ כִּֽי־גָדַ֣ל שֵׁלָ֔ה וְהִ֕וא לֹֽא־נִתְּנָ֥ה ל֖וֹ לְאִשָּֽׁה:

So she took off her widow's garb, covered [her head] with a veil and covered her face, and she sat down at the crossroads that were on the way to Timnah, for she saw that Shelah had grown up, but as for her she was not given to him for a wife.


The passuk indicates that she was sitting at a crossroads but the literal translation of the words פֶ֣תַח עֵינַ֔יִם is the opening of the eyes. The Gemara in Sotah (10a) teaches that this means that like Avraham Avinu, Tamar opened up the flaps on her tent on all four sides. She then gazed (with her eyes) in every direction.


What is the connection between Avraham Avinu and Tamar?


Above we mentioned that Avraham Avinu only used his material possessions to glorify the name of God and this is why he merited the Mitzvah of Tzitzis. One could even suggest that his tent, opened on four sides, resembles the four cornered garment of the Tzitzis. Because the entire episode is one in which a Godly spark is being retrieved from a seemingly low situation it is appropriate that Tamar (like Avraham) sits at her tent which also resembles a pair of Tzitzis. And of course the Torah describes this as פֶ֣תַח עֵינַ֔יִם the opening of the eyes which is connected to our obligation to see our Tzitzis.


And while ordinarily Tzitzis are not a garment that we use to cover ourselves bare in mind that the original Tzitzis given to Adam HaRishon were used to cover himself. Perhaps we can suggest that the Tzitzis of Yehuda were like the Tzitzis of Adam HaRishon. Just as Adam engaged the world with his Tzitzis to find God even in the lowest realms, so too Yehuda engages even in the most lowly situations in order to reveal a spark of Godliness.


The passuk in Zechariah (8:23) says:

כֹּֽה־אָמַר֘ יְהֹוָ֣ה צְבָאוֹת֒ בַּיָּמִ֣ים הָהֵ֔מָּה אֲשֶׁ֚ר יַֽחֲזִ֙יקוּ֙ עֲשָׂרָ֣ה אֲנָשִׁ֔ים מִכֹּ֖ל לְשֹׁנ֣וֹת הַגּוֹיִ֑ם וְֽהֶחֱזִ֡יקוּ בִּכְנַף֩ אִ֨ישׁ יְהוּדִ֜י לֵאמֹ֗ר נֵֽלְכָה֙ עִמָּכֶ֔ם כִּ֥י שָׁמַ֖עְנוּ אֱלֹהִ֥ים עִמָּכֶֽם:

So said the Lord of Hosts: In those days, when ten men of all the languages of the nations shall take hold of the corner of a Jewish man's garment, saying, "Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you."


Rashi explains that the corner of the garment here is an allusion to the Mitzvah of Tzitzis. In the times of Mashiach when the nations of the world come to the Jews to learn about Hashem they will hold on to our Tzitzis. Through the Mitzvah of Tzitzis we will be able to reveal the Godliness in every single person.




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