by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – June 3, 2010
Towards the end of the Torah portion Shelach, G-d tells His messenger, our teacher Moses: “Speak to the children of Israel and you shall say to them that they are to make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments throughout their generations…and you shall look upon it and remember all the commandments of the L-rd…” (Bamidbar 15:37-41).
By way of this precept of tzizit, all four cornered garments are to be entwined and entangled in a number of fringes in each corner thereby reminding us of the many commandments that entwine and entangle the people of Israel in each corner of the four corners of the world.
Like tzizit, we find throughout the Torah where we are enjoined to institute and heed various signs as reminders of our relationship with G-d and the truth of his ways.
In His discussion with our forefather Abraham, G-d commands his devoted subject: “This is my covenant that you shall heed, between Myself and yourselves and your offspring after you, you shall have circumcised every male. And you shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be for a sign of the covenant between myself and yourselves.” (Bereshit 17:10-11). It is “the flesh of your foreskin” where the male’s strongest individual lust, emotion and physical pleasure manifests itself, a lust that, if not checked, so envelops, drives and propels the male to expend time, energy and money on various forms of licentious behavior instead of more lofty and rewarding activities. It is this “flesh of your foreskin,” from which sensual lust ultimately expels the seed from the male body that is intended to create human life, that we are to cut into by way of circumcision, remaining with the male as a sign. The point manifesting the execution of the intense emotion of sensual pleasure in particular must be cut, a sign that serves to remind us that emotional pleasure in general must be cut, i.e. regulated so that emotional pleasure should not overcome us to the detriment of the immortal pleasure for which G-d’s Torah prepares us.
“And an eight-day old shall be circumcised among you, every male throughout your generations” (Bereshit 17:12). Ideally, this covenant is to be exercised on the eighth day of the male’s life on earth. As the first man, Adam, initiated his activity – mental and physical – in the world on the eighth day of the universe’s existence (after the six days of creation and the seventh day of Sabbath), so every individual male on the eighth day of his own existence initiates his trek on the path paved by G-d leading towards everlasting bliss. In any case, even if it cannot be done on the eighth day, the circumcision must, nevertheless, be executed at the earliest possible moment, for one “who has not had the flesh of his foreskin circumcised,” G-d warns Abraham, “he has broken my covenant” (Bereshit 17:14).
Later in the Torah, four passages (Sh’mot 13:1-10; Sh’mot 13:11-16; Devarim 6:4-10 and Devarim 11:13-21) were enjoined upon us to be instituted “for a sign upon your arm and for a memorial between your eyes” (Sh’mot 13:9). These passages are written on parchment and encased in phylacteries tied unto the arm and head each day of the week other than the day of Sabbath or a holiday. As the phylactery and its four passages on the arm – source and symbol of might – serves to remind us that the arm’s might must be subject to and guided by the word of G-d, the phylactery and its four passages on the head – symbol of human intellect – serves to remind us that the intellect is to be subject to and guided by the word of G-d.
Also “on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Devarim 6:9; 11:20), we place encasements containing two passages in the Torah written on parchment. One passage tells us, “Hear O Israel, the L-rd is our G-d the L-rd is one. And you shall love the L-rd your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your capacity. And these words which I command you today shall be upon your heart. And you shall teach them diligently to your children and you shall speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road and when you lie down and when you rise. And you shall bind them for a sign on your hand and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Devarim 6:4-9). This message is further echoed in the second passage: “And it will be that if you hearken to My commandments that I command you today, to love the L-rd your G-d, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul. Then I shall provide rain for your land in its proper time … I shall provide grass in your field for your cattle and you will eat and you will be satisfied. Beware for yourselves lest your heart be seduced and you turn astray and serve other gods … Then the wrath of G-d will blaze against you; He will restrain the heavens so there will be no rain, and the ground will not yield its produce; and you will be swiftly banished from the goodly land that G-d gives you … You shall teach them to your children to discuss them, while you sit in your home, while you walk on the way, when you retire and when you arise … In order to prolong your days and the days of your children” (Devarim 11:13-21). Thus, on the doorposts of all rooms in permanent dwellings in which extended activity is engaged in, the above two passages are affixed, thereby serving to help remind us of our relationship to G-d and His Torah.
Let us not allow these signs to go for naught. Let us look upon them, contemplate them and consider their message and, thus, help fortify us in the truth set before us by G-d, truth set forth in His Torah.