The Torah instructs us on almost every component of our human existence. It is our Tree of Life. It includes instructions about the type of material our clothing is to be made from. It forbids women from dressing as men, and men from dressing as women. It forbids us wearing sha’atnez, clothing that is made of a mix of wool and linen. (Deut. 22:5, 11)
There is a particularly important commandment on wearing tzitzit, or fringes. In our portion this week, Moses instructs the People of Israel to wear tzitzit "throughout the generations, so that they would serve as a reminder to our connection to God by doing mitzvot every time we look at the fringes… "so that you do not follow your heart and eyes in your lustful urge. Thus you shall be reminded to observe all My commandments and to be holy to your God. I Adonai am your God, who rought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I, Adonai your God." (Numbers 15:39-41)
Throughout our history men wore tzitzit in the form of a small prayer shawl known as talit katan, on the four corners of their clothing, at times under a shirt, or even over a shirt. The mitzvah to wear tzitzit is so important that the rabbis who composed the first prayers of the synagogue included it as one of the four paragraphs chanted each morning and evening after the Shemah.
Wearing tzitzit is so important that Rashi noted that the word tzitzit has a numerical value of 600, and that the fringe is tied with eight threads and five knots. Together the full numerical value of tzitzit is equal to 613, the number of commandments that are found in the Torah. Rashi teaches that "wearing tzitzit and looking upon them leads us to remembering them, and remembering them leads to doing them." In other words, tzitzit function as a powerful symbol to stimulate ethical behavior. (Numbers Rabbah 7:6) They save those who wear them from being careless, forgetful, and from giving in to many temptations that are "crouching at the door eager to control us". (Genesis 4:7)
Today, tzitzit continue to be worn by many Jewish men as a symbol of identity, their historic covenant with God, and as a badge of commitment to ethical and ritual responsibilities. So, why do most women not wear tzitzit?
Please do not let anyone tell you that women should not wear tzitzit because traditionally only men wear it. Do not let anyone tell you that for women to wear tzitzit is muzar, strange. Do not let anyone tell you that women are on a higher spiritual plane and they do not need tzitzit to remind them to behave ethically. As you see in our Torah portion this week, nowhere does the Torah instruct only man and not woman to wear tzitzit. We know that wearing tzitzit is a symbol of identity. It is a symbol of our historic covenant with God. It is our commitment to behave in an ethical way, and to be a "light to the nations." Ladies, why not wear tzitzit? Please wear them, and be proud of them.
May God give us ladies the inner strength to wear tzitzit and be happy and humbled with our relationship with God.
Rabbinic Intern Message by Dov Gottesfeld
How many times have we reflected after an argument with a family member, friend, neighbor or co-worker, or after we speaking lashon ha-ra about someone behind his/her back, and later we realized that the core issue was much larger and deeper, and it had to do with us. Perhaps we were feeling hurt and victimized by that person but we were too timid and therefore too angry to spell it out head on. (That is if we are willing to be honest and truthful with ourselves.)
Two separate episodes are depicted in this week’s portion, Beha’alotcha - which means ‘when you carry up’. They refer to the instructions given to Aharon the High Priest on how to kindle the lights of the Menorah in the Holy Temple.
The first episode occurred when a young man hurried to tell Moses that two young men, Eldad and Maydad “act prophet in the camp.” Young Joshua, the son of Nun who eventually became the Israelite leader, told Moses to detain the two. Moses, being a humble man, realized that young Joshua’s ego was hurting and perhaps he feared that if it was true, Moses would choose one of them to be the future leader, instead of him. Moses responded: “Are you wrought up on my account? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord put His spirit upon them?” What a
lesson in leadership!
In the second episode Moses’ brother and sister, Aaron and Miriam, sneered behind his back about the Cushite woman he had married. God punishes Miriam with leprosy, and not Aaron, because she initiated that conversation. Moses ended up crying loudly “O’ God heal her!” “El na refa na lah.” Miriam was healed.
Was it the fact that Moses married a Cushite woman that really troubled Miriam? I don’t think so. If we read closely in the story, we shall notice that Moses was grooming a young man, Joshua, to take over for him. Just recently he had chosen seventy elders to assume high positions within his kitchen cabinet’, so to speak. He had given his brother Aaron an important position as the high priest. Yet, he had not given her -- the sister who had saved his life when he was a baby, and to whom he owed his life, any meaningful position in the leadership.
Why, then, didn’t she confront Moses? Why didn’t she request an official position? Was it beneath herself? Is it possible that Moses did not want her to be burdened in the desert because she was older than he was? We will never know. However, it is clear that her ego was deeply hurt and the only outlet she could think of was to speak badly about her baby brother.
Before we open our mouths to say anything about others, let us remember the lesson from Pirkei Avot, the ”Wisdom Sayings of our Fathers”: “A person who guards his tongue, [in essence] is guarding his life [from getting into trouble.]
May HaShem bless you and keep you; May HaShem make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; May HaShem turn his face toward you and give you peace
Having the Priestly Blessing in this week’s Torah portion brings up some questions for me. First, how do the priests prepare to bless people today. Secondly, who has the right to use the priestly blessing - only the priests among us?
Just a month ago, our congregation participated in the city wide Israel Independence Day Celebration at Rancho Park. It was a wonderful and blessed day for our booth. It was decorated beautifully, we gave treats to anyone who engaged in dialogue with us, and at the end we gave away the treats to everyone. In addition to the Israeli flag and mobiles that decorated our booth, we had a sign outside reading, “Our Rabbi is here and would love to bless you.” At first I felt like Charlie Brown from the famous Peanuts cartoon… but not for long. I was delighted to experience the many people, from all walks of life, Jews and non-Jews, who came into our booth for a blessing from the Rabbi.
As most of you know, I often mention in my Ethics class and in our services that Emet – Truth, is the most important building block in a relationship, whether the relationship is between “me and you,” or in the relationship is between “me and God.” Without truth, as beautiful as it may be, the relationship will deteriorate over time, and crumble at the end. My challenge in the booth was to create TRUTH in my blessing of strangers.
How can I bless them from a truthful space in my heart and desire to connect with God when the loud sound of different park music bands was blaring, and people were waiting in line to be blessed?
The moment a person stepped into our booth and wanted to be blessed, I invited him/her to sit close and across from me, so we were facing one another. At that moment the outside noisy world did not exist any more. I looked into the person’s eyes and thanked the person for being there. I shared my desire to know a little about him/her so that I might bestow upon them a blessing from a truthful space in my soul. I listened intently to every word that they expressed. I empathized and felt their concerns or worries. I never limited their time with me. I was focused on them and their spiritual need. Even in that limited time, the two of us were able to create some precious closeness and intimacy.
I waited for a minute, when I was sure that the person was done sharing his heart with me, I stood up, gently placed my hands on his/her head and proceeded to bestow a personal blessing and also the Priestly Blessing upon him/her. When I was done, I waited another fifteen seconds or so before I took my hand off his head.
My prayer and blessing lasted about two minutes. But in those two minutes I felt as if his world and mine were united. I felt the truthfulness of that moment. In those two minutes I felt almost like a conduit for his “I & Thou” connection. I felt the purity of that moment. I felt the holiness of the moment. Almost everyone was moved, and at times to tears, including myself.
I was not able to prepare myself for the Priestly Benediction the way our priests, the Kohens, prepare in our synagogue. They first wash their hands, remove their shoes, silently recite a short prayer beseeching God that the forthcoming blessing be a “perfect blessing; that it should have no impediment or iniquity.” The Kohen than covers his/her head and upper body with his/her Tallit, and awaits for me to start the benediction in English before their own benediction of our congregants in Hebrew. I had no possibility for most of this preparation, however, I always made time to beseech God in their behalf so that my heart-felt blessing I bestow upon them be from the space of Emet, truth.
May God continue to provide each of us good health and the opportunity to be “Truthful Blessers” of others.
About Rabbi Miriam
Rabbi Miriam E. Hamrell MHL, M.Ed., has served as our religious and spiritual leader at Ahavat Torah Congregation and helped it grow since it was founded in 2003.