When I was asked to write an article for the summer edition of Kol Torah, I immediately signed up for my Bar Mitzvah Parsha, as this will year will mark twenty years since my Bar Mitzvah. Truthfully, my memories of my Bar Mitzvah are rather hazy, as was my tone-deaf style of reading the Torah. The easiest parts of the Parsha for me were the first Aliyah, because it is basically a list of names, and the Maftir, because it is the last paragraph of the Shema. While the story of the spies is the center of the Parsha, the Pesukim regarding Tzitzit are the most intriguing to me. I have always been fascinated by the Mitzvah of Tzitzit, yet it is very difficult to verbalize what it is about these seemingly simple strings that has been captivating us for thousands of years.
There is currently a resurgence in the seemingly continual debate regarding the proper source of the dye that is to be used for the Techeilet. Though some Rabbanim have come up with proofs, there are so many variables that it is quite difficult for Poskim to come to a solid conclusion. This is important not only on a Halachic level, but also on a symbolic level, as the message of the Tzitzit is incomplete without the Techeilet strings. The Techeilet is a reminder of Hashem’s presence, as it “resembles the sea, and the sea resembles the sky, and the sky resembles Hashem’s holy throne” (Menachot 43b). The majestic quality of the blue of the Techeilet strings is a constant reminder of the sovereignty of Hashem and the interconnectedness of the heavens (“sky“) and the earth (“sea“).
While the source of the Techeilet is a very intriguing and worthy debate, it might be important for us to take a step back to look at the remaining white strings. The color white is a regular or standard color. Perhaps the way that the Techeilet string is intertwined with the remaining strings shows the relationship between Hashem and Bnei Yisrael. Again, emphasizing the inherent connection between the heavens (Hashem) and the earth (Bnei Yisrael) is a foundation of the Mitzvah of Tzitzit. After all, the Tzitzit are supposed to remind us of the Mitzvot—more specifically Hashem’s Mitzvot, as the Pasuk (Bemidbar 15:40) uses the possessive form, “Mitzvotai,” “My Mitzvot.” This emphasizes the principle that the Mitzvot are not merely a list of legal or moral concepts, but are a set of guidelines inextricably linking us to Hashem. Observing Mitzvot out of habit is not the point; one must be aware that each Mitzvah is not just one act unto itself, but is a piece of a spectacular and wondrous, divine puzzle. Every act that we do is like a twist of the string on the Tzitzit; every knot is an advance along the way on a divine path.
The wearing of Tzitzit is also a link between modernity and the world of the Torah. Wearing Tzitzit today forges a link between us and the figures in the Torah. We can connect with our ancestors through the wearing of Tzitzit in a way that cannot be forged through any other Mitzvah. Biblical figures expressed their Kavod and Ahavah for Hashem through sacrifices, something that many in the modern world have difficulty fully identifying with. So many things have been altered, yet the Mitzvah of Tzitzit remains.