Parashas Shelach

At the end of this week’s parashah, the Torah presents the mitzvah of tzitzis (fringes): Any four-cornered garment that a Jewish man wears must have fringes on each corner. (It is standard practice for a Jewish man to wear a four-cornered garment regularly in order to fulfill this mitzvah.) The Torah explains the reason for this mitzvah, saying (Bamidbar 15:39-14): “And they shall be unto you as fringes, that you may look upon them and remember all the commandments of Hashem and fulfill them … I am Hashem your God, who took you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God – I am Hashem your God.” The Midrash comments (Bamidbar Rabbah 17:6):
We can draw an analogy: A person fell into the sea, and the ship’s captain passed him a rope and said, “Grasp this rope in your hand and don’t let it go. If you let it go, your life is lost.” Similarly, the Holy One Blessed Be He said to the Jewish People: “As long as you cling to mitzvos, you will remain alive.” As it is written (Devarim 4:4): “But you who cling to Hashem your God, you all are alive this day.” And similarly it is written (Mishlei 4:13): “Hold fast to moral counsel, do not let up. Guard it, for it is your life.” … The Holy One Blessed Be He said further to the Jewish People: “In this world, because of the evil inclination, you separate yourselves from the mitzvos. But in the end of days I will uproot it from you.” As it is written (Yechezkel 36:27): “And I will place My spirit within you, and I will make it so that you will follow My statutes and observe My ordinances and fulfill them.”
The Maggid sets out to explain this Midrash. His explanation revolves around our basic obligation to study Torah and serve Hashem. We serve Hashem by performing the mitzvos in their proper time and place. The obligation to study Torah, however, is not limited to a specific time. We are commanded to study, teach, and ponder the Torah day and night, in order to guard it and fulfill it. Thus, the Gemara states (Berachos 17a):
A pearl of wisdom regularly heard from R. Meir’s mouth: “Study with all your heart and all your soul, to know My ways and keep diligent watch at My Torah’s doors. Safeguard My Torah in your heart, and let the fear of Me be before your eyes. Guard your mouth from all sin, and purify and sanctify yourself from all wrongdoing and iniquity, and I shall be with you everywhere.”
Here, R. Meir describes Hashem exhorting us twice regarding the Torah: Hashem tells us to “keep diligent watch at My Torah’s doors” and to “safeguard My Torah in your heart.” The Maggid explains the double language as follows. Our obligation to perform the mitzvos necessarily entails an obligation to study their laws. We have to learn and know what we are supposed to do, when, how, and in what amount. But to perform the mitzvos, it is enough for us to study the laws of a mitzvah when the time comes to fulfill it – to study the laws of Pesach when Pesach is at hand, and so on. Moreover, it is enough for the people of each community to appoint a communal Rabbi to teach them the laws of the mitzvos, delivering lectures and answering questions about the mitzvos, each one in its time.
However, beyond fulfilling mitzvos, it is an obligation in its own right for us to pore over the Torah day and night. The realm of Torah study includes even study of laws that we cannot practice today, such as the laws of offerings and other acts of service in the Beis HaMikdash, and the laws of ritual purity and impurity. Such study is called “keeping diligent watch” – shekeidah. The Hebrew word shekeidah bears a connotation of hastening, as in the following passage (Yirmiyah 1:11-12): “And the word of Hashem came upon me, saying, ‘What do you see, Yirmiyah?’ And I said, ‘I see a staff of an almond tree (shahked).’ And Hashem said to me, ‘You have seen well, for I shall hasten (shohked) in doing what I have said.’” Studying the laws of mitzvos that will be practiced only in a future era can be viewed as hastened study. Such hastened study necessarily entails a need to remember and safeguard in our hearts the laws we have learned until the time comes to put them into practice.
Proper Torah study requires that a person review what he has learned many times, so that he will retain the material firmly in his mind. In this vein, the Gemara relates a saying (Kesuvos 77b): “Well-off is one who comes here with his learning in hand.” And, as we said just above, we are obligated to study diligently – with appropriate review – even the laws the laws that we will fulfill only at a later time. We should be as familiar with these laws as with the laws of the mitzvos we perform all the time, such as the mitzvos of tzitzis and tefillin. Now, we do not know the full extent of what we accomplish by studying the Torah’s laws, including laws not currently practiced. Only those in Hashem’s inner circle, the angels, possess this knowledge. The Gemara in Shabbos 88b relates that when Moshe came before Hashem to receive the Torah, the angels battled him and sought to smite him. They cried out to Hashem, in the words of Tehillim 8:2: “Keep Your glory [the Torah] set within the heavens.” The angels wanted to keep the Torah with them in heaven, even though they have no connection to the practical fulfillment of mitzvos. It must be that Torah study in itself brings about wondrous effects, beyond providing the knowledge needed to perform mitzvos.
As we said, we do not really know what these effects are. Nonetheless, it is fitting for us to try to gain some understanding, within our limited power of comprehension, of why Hashem obligated us to study diligently and keep firmly in our memory the laws that will be practiced only in the era of Moshiach. What is the rationale for such study and what benefit do we gain through it?
The Maggid answers as follows. As a general matter, we are obligated to act toward Hashem the same way He acts toward us. Now, when we were slaves in Egypt, we were not fit to serve as Hashem’s holy ministers. Thus, when Hashem told Moshe to tell Pharaoh to free us, Moshe asked (Shemos 3:11): “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and that I should take the Children of Yisrael out of Egypt?” Moshe saw that we were bereft of good deeds, and, as the Midrash in Shemos Rabbah 3:4 explains, he was asking Hashem what merit we had that made us deserve being taken out of Egypt. Hashem responded (ibid. 3:12): “For I shall be with you – and this is your sign that I have sent you: When you take the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.” That is, Hashem, in His great goodness, freed us on account of what He knew we would do later – that we would accept the Torah. In the same way, it is our duty to study diligently the mitzvos that we are unable to fulfill now on account of the fact that Hashem will later redeem us from our state of exile and grant us the opportunity to fulfill these mitzvos. Thus, in the passage in the Torah that presents the mitzvah of tzitzis, which is meant to remind us of the mitzvos in general, Hashem concludes by saying: “I am Hashem your God, who took you out of Egypt, to be a God unto you.” Hashem is saying: “Just as I took you out of Egypt on account of the fact that you would later accept Me as your God and pledge to serve Me, so, too, you must act toward Me, and act in anticipation of what I will do for you later.”
The Midrash in Bamidbar Rabbah 17:6, which we quoted initially, explains what benefit we gain by studying sections of the Torah dealing with laws that we will fulfill only later. The Midrash tells us that the Torah is what gives us life, and to stay alive we must hold on to it without letting up. We must cleave to Torah, and we can do so fully only if we study all of it diligently, including the sections dealing with laws that we will fulfill only in the end of days, and safeguard it firmly in our memory. The Midrash goes on to conclude by saying that in this world we occasionally separate ourselves from the mitzvos, because the evil inclination prevents us from appreciating them, but in the end of days Hashem will uproot the evil inclination from within us, and we will then be able to see the wondrous benefit we derive from them.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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