Shelach 5781


The reminder of tzitzis[1]

ויהיו בני-ישראל במדבר וימצאו איש מקשש עצים ביום השבת: דבר אל-בני ישראל ואמרת אלהם ועשו להם ציצת על-כנפי בגדיהם לדרתם וגו’‏
While the Jews were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering wood on Shabbos…Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: “In all generations, make tzitzis on the corners of your garments…”[2]

The Torah juxtaposes two seemingly unrelated and disconnected points. The first is an episode where a man was caught brazenly violating Shabbos. Immediately after this story is told, the mitzvah of tzitzis is described. Why are these two things put next to each other? One explanation is[3] that Moshe had a claim against Hashem[4]. The Jews are commanded to wear tefillin on their heads and arms six days a week. The mitzvah of tefillin reminds them to keep and observe the Torah properly. The one day that the Jews don’t wear tefillin is on Shabbos[5]. As such, this man was susceptible to forgetting the mitzvos. How could it not be expected for someone to desecrate Shabbos? Hashem responded with the mitzvah of tzitzis, which apply all seven days of the week. Tzitzis are also a sign that Jew wears to remind them of all the mitzvos. This way, there’s no need to worry about someone forgetting the laws of Shabbos, or any other mitzvah. The problem with this explanation is we are taught[6] that the person who desecrated Shabbos knew full well what they were doing. They didn’t forget anything. How then can we understand this approach[7]?

Even though this man transgressed Shabbos, there are those who say[8] that his intentions were for the sake of Heaven. The Jews had just experienced the sin of the spies. Ten giants of the generation went into the land of Israel to scout out the land. Their report upon their return was disastrous. They spoke badly about the land, and the Jews believed them. As a result, they were all sentenced to die in the wilderness, and only their children would merit to enter the land of Israel. This person who transgressed Shabbos was concerned. Maybe the Jews will think that since they were sentenced to death in the wilderness, the mitzvos no longer apply. He therefore got up and transgressed Shabbos, and was subsequently punished. This was to show the people that indeed they were still obligated in the mitzvos[9].

It turns out then that this man’s entire intention was so that the Jews not forget the mitzvah of Shabbos, as well as the other mitzvos. However, if the Jews had had a sign, something with them at all times, such that they would never forget the mitzvos, the same thing could be accomplished. There wouldn’t have been a need to transgress Shabbos. Therefore, Hashem commanded the Jews with the mitzvah of tzitzis. It would be a sign that they wear on their garments, in order to remember the mitzvos. Perhaps this is why the Torah wrote that tzitzis were to be for all generations[10]. We might have thought they were to just be for that generation, who were sentenced to die in the wilderness. They needed to be reminded of all the mitzvos. Hashem is teaching us that that is not so. Even we are prone to forget the mitzvos. That’s why we were all commanded with the mitzvah of tzitzis.

Good Shabbos

[1] Ta’amah D’Krah to Numbers 15:33, by Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlita

[2] Ibid v. 32,38

[3] Da’as Zekeinim to v. 32, based on Tanna D’Vei Eliyahu Rabbah Chapter 26, brought in Yalkut Shimoni Shelach § 650 with some differences. It also appears in Rosh Al HaTorah ad. loc. A similar Midrash appears in Midrash Aggadah ad. loc. See also Ibn Ezra to v. 2 and Paneach Razah Shelach § 45 who write similarly. See as well Kol Bo § 31. Cf. Chizkuni to v. 40

[4] Da’as Zekeinim loc. cit.; In Tanna D’Vei Eliyahu it was Hashem who initiated this dialogue. In Yalkut Shimoni it’s closer to how the Da’as Zekeinim present it

[5] Menachos 36b

[6] Sanhedrin 41a and Sifrei Bamidbar § 113. He also wouldn’t have been executed if he was an unwitting transgressor. For some reason what Ta’amah D’Krah quotes from the Sifri is really what it says in Sanhedrin

[7] See Tzidkas HaTzaddik § 55 who differentiates between knowing in one’s mind and knowing in one’s heart that Hashem commanded against this act

[8] A Midrash brought by Tosafos to Bava Basra 119b s.v. אפילו. See also appears Targum “Yonasan” to v. 32 who says a similar idea (although not the exact same, so it’s surprising that Ta’amah D’Krah equates the two)

[9] See Maharsha to Bava Basra 119a s.v. וראויה and Minchas Asher Bamidbar 27:3 for an interesting dispute as to how it was permitted for this man to do this

[10] See Ta’amah D’Krah to v. 38, who gives another explanation for לדרתם