Office of the Chief Rabbi

D’var Torah: Parashat Shelach Lecha

There is an intriguing connection between the opening and closing passages of this week’s parasha, which the Chief Rabbi explains in his D’var Torah. 

Jewish men are not obliged to wear Tzitzit, though may volunteer to do as recompense for the sins of the twelve spies who defied Hashem’s word, the Chief Rabbi observes in his D’var Torah.

This week’s parasha of Shelach Lecha commences with the epic tale of the twelve spies. And the parasha concludes with the third paragraph of the Shema which includes the mitzvah of tzitzit.

What is the connection between these two passages? Why this juxtaposition? You will notice that there are some linguistic parallels within the bookends of the parasha. You see, every time in modern Hebrew usage a word is written taken from a different language, for the ‘T’ sound there will be a tet ט and not a tuff ת. So for example, in the words internet אינטרנט, supermarket סוּפֶּרמַרקֶט, universita אוּנִיבֶרְסִיטָה, it is tet and not tuff.

‘There are some linguistic parallels within the bookends of the parasha’

Recently I was in Israel and I saw in Jerusalem a sign on a bus written in Hebrew characters – ‘Egged Tours’ and the word ‘Tours’ was written with a tuff and not a tet. That is because the Hebrew word ‘Tour’ actually is taken from our parasha, not from another language. At the beginning of the parasha, the spies are told latour et ha’aretz, ‘to tour the land’. And in the third paragraph of the Shema at the end of the parasha, we read V’lo taturu acharei I’vavchem v’acharei eineichem, ‘do not allow your hearts and your eyes to take you on a tour of that which you should not be looking at’.

Also, at the beginning of the parasha the spies were told u’ritem et ha’aretz, ‘see the land’, and in the shema we are told, u’ritem oto, ‘see it, the blue cord of the tzitzit’. So these two passages are crying out to us for a thematic link. And I would like to suggest as follows.

The mitzvah of tzitzit is not an absolute obligation on men. You see, as we read in the Shema, Hashem tells us that in the event we are wearing a four-cornered garment, we should attach tzitzit thereto. What we do is, we volunteer always to wear a four-cornered garment, because we appreciate the value of the mitzvah of tzitzit.

‘We volunteer to wear a four-cornered garment because we appreciate the value of the mitzvah’

Tzitzit therefore comes as a tikun, a correction for the sin of the spies. Because the spies voluntarily decided to do something negative. Hashem did not want them to go into the land. That is why He said Shelach Lecha, ‘Moshe, send them and it will be on your head’. The nation however wanted voluntarily to go into the land because they doubted the word and the deed of Hashem.

Therefore, what we do through wearing tzitzit it to volunteer to do something positive and tzitzit therefore is the symbol of so many voluntary deeds which we can opt to perform. Of course there are numerous mitzvot that we can carry out because G-d commands us to. But life presents us with so many beautiful opportunities to come forward and to embrace chances as they arise. So from tzitzit we learn about the power of volunteering and how through enacting deeds which are tzitzit-style, we can correct the sin of the twelve spies.

Shabbat Shalom.

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