The ability to see the “big picture” is the key to success in all of life’s endeavors, especially with regard to our relationship with God and other people.
By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
This week’s Torah portion in Israel is “Shlach” (Numbers 13:1–15:41) and boy is it action packed! Its main focus is the infamous episode of the spies. Moses sends 12 scouts to spy out the Land of Israel and to return with a report. The mission and its aftereffects were disastrous. The result was 40 years of wandering the desert, instead of being led into the Promised Land after a short journey of a week or so.
A short passage at the end of the Torah portion includes the commandment to wear tzitzit. The tzitzit, also known as a tallit, is the Jewish prayer shawl. There is the “small” tallit worn under one’s clothes all day long, and the “large” tallit that is worn during morning prayers.
Looking closely at both the story of the spies and the passage of the tzitzit, one might notice that nearly identical language is used, including one key word in both readings. With regard to the mission of the spies, the verse says “U’ritem et ha’aretz” (and you shall see the Land) and with regard to the blue tzitzit string, the verse says “U’ritem oto u’zechartem” (and you shall see it and remember).
The commentators note the similarities of the reference and teach that there is a connection between the eternal mitzva of the tzitzit and the disastrous mission of the spies.
Specifically, the spies failed to internalize the message and meaning of the tzitzit in the following manner.
The Talmud tells us that the strings of the tzitzit are meant to remind us to fulfill the mitzvot of the Torah. This is kind of like the old fashioned string-on-the-finger reminder that parents use with young children to help them remember to do things.
How do the strings remind us to perform the mitzvot of the Torah?
It is explained that the tzitzit, most notably the threads of blue, resemble the color of the sea, and the sea resembles the sky, and the sky reminds us of God’s throne in Heaven.
This constant all-encompassing reminder instills in a person a sense of awe and reverence for God and His mitzvot, which leads to fulfilling them. Therefore, by extension, the tzitzit represent thinking about the “big picture”–thinking ahead and “outside of the box,” and remembering that there is more than meets the eye.
When the spies returned from their tour of the land, they reported seeing giants, fortifications, and other intimidating deterrents from entering the land. The spies said they would not be able to conquer the land militarily. The people freaked out, God got angry, and the result was 40 years of wandering in the desert. The spies didn’t see the big picture. They didn’t think ahead. They didn’t see the big picture. They didn’t open their eyes (“U’ritem”).
The lesson of tzitzit is to think big, to think outside of the box. There is more than meets the eye. There is a bigger picture. We can avoid many poor decisions if we remember the message of the tzitzit: to always look at the bigger picture and remember that there is more than meets the eye.
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