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Parsha Sh'lach

06/27/2019 08:26:43 PM


The bookends of the Parsha are the infamous sin of the miraglim portraying Eretz Yisrael in a negative light and the mitzva of tziztis.  Besides the obvious connection in terms of juxtaposition, there is a unique verb that is used both in regard to the miraglim and the idea of tzitzis that further connects the two topics.  The point of tzitzis is "to remember all the mitzvos of God and to keep them, not straying after your heart and after your eyes," with the verb "sasuru"- to stray- being the salient point of the Pasuk.  The same verb is used earlier in the Parsha to describe the mission of the miraglim- "v'yisru"- contextually interpreted as "they shall spy," but perhaps also containing a deeper message in the subtle connotations of its meaning.

The order in the phrase of "not straying after your heart and after your eyes" is particularly interesting.  In placing heart before eyes, the Pasuk implies that the act of straying begins from the heart, a theme which Rashi himself seems to contradict in his comments on the Pasuk-"The eyes see and then the heart desires..."  What is the correct order to describe the process of sin; does sin originate from the eyes or the heart?  As a good Jewish thought, the answer emerges that both ideas are true.  In the actual order of events, the eyes are the catalyst for the heart's desire and the body's action of sin, as described by Rashi, but the Pasuk is reflective of a tremendous insight as to how the eyes see.  Our perceptions are filtered through our beliefs and emotions, and as such, what we feel affects what we see, our eyes controlled by our hearts.  In the conscious, the eyes first see and arouse the desire of the heart, but subconsciously, the heart first affects the perception of the eye to begin with.  In describing this highly psychological idea, the Torah uses the verb "lasur"- to stray- because instead of having clear perspective and impeccable vision, our emotions are surreptitiously "straying" our vision, bending and turning it to an image far different than what could be seen otherwise. 

The miraglim were on a mission of gathering information about the topography of Israel and about the Ca'naanim who lived there, a mission accomplished solely through their eyes.  They all saw the exact same images, and yet the report of the 10 diverged sharply from the report of the 2.  By divine orchestration, the Ca'naanim were burying their casualties of a sudden plague, a sight which was meant to precipitate confidence in the eyes of the miraglim, but somehow their eyes perceived a land full of plagues.  Likewise, the size of the incredible fruits of Israel were seen by the miraglim as signs of abnormality and creepiness.  A key phrase in their report is "in our eyes we were like grasshoppers compared to them, and so we were in their eyes."  The size of the giants of Canaan made them feel like nothing in their own eyes, their insecurities and uncertainties affecting their vision and reports.  The downfall of the miraglim was that their mission was defined by the verb "lasur," their attitudes and preconceived ideas filtering and misconstruing their vision.  

Rashi explains in next week's Parsha that Korach "saw" a vision of his descendants, and reasoned that if the great Shmuel was destined to come from him than he must be correct in his dispute with Moshe.  Korach was blinded through his own emotion, his jealousy and desire for power controlling his perception of how Shmuel could emerge from him, never thinking of the possibility that he was wrong and his sons would repent.  Our technological era makes this concept truly a formidable task, because we can instantly see anything going on anywhere, making it difficult to imagine that we could be mistaken in our sight.

This is a very frightening insight in the fallibility of Mankind.  How can we ensure that our vision is correct and that we are not controlled by our hearts?  The Torah presents the antidote in the form of tzitizis, both literally in its mitzva and in its metaphoric sense.  Tzitizis are comprised of the "white strings," the total makeup of everything we see in life, and a "blue" string, meant to remind us of the color of the sea, which looks like the sky, and can remind us of the color of God's throne. (Meseches Menachos)  The lesson of tzitzis is in the "u'reissem oso," to "see" the tzitzis, to see all the white in life through the blue of God's will.  Tzitzis comes to help us keep the omnipresence of God in our cognizance, to help us associate everything we see with God, and to help us see clearly from that perspective.  Why does the Techeles string first remind of the sea, than the sky, than of God- why not directly associate the blue with God's throne?  The answer is that the whole point of tzitizis is to expand our horizons, to heighten our associations, to spread our Godly vision to anything we see.  To combat the perceptions controlled by pure emotion and desire, we must find positive associations for God and Judaism in everything we do.  

Our power of memory does not seem to work in the most logical of ways.  We cannot remember information necessarily by just learning it, and even review may not guarantee memory, but throw in a song, a scent, or a good feeling, and the association somehow jogs our senses and penetrates to the depths of our minds.  Tzitzis accentuates the importance of forming positive associations to remember God and think in different terms, ensuring that our perceptions are coming from our innate holiness and not form pure emotion or desire. 

Wed, May 29 2024 21 Iyyar 5784