A Water from the Well blog post,
Written by Rabba Kaya Stern-Kaufman
June 6, 2021
Dedicated to my Dad, Larry Stern, on the approach of his first yahrzeit on June 15.
My first experiences of a tallit and tzitzit was sitting next to my father in shul, in a very cold, overly air-conditioned sanctuary, with my father’s arm around my shoulders, his tallit draped over me. There, under his woolen tallit in shul on shabbes, I felt the warmth of connection. I felt protected and I felt loved.
At the very end of this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Sh’lach, the mitzvah and gift of tzitzit is given. The garment shall have fringes on all four corners. The S’fat Emet (a 20th century Hasidic teacher) brings in the idea that when we wear a tallit we create a unification of all four corners of the garment, symbolizing the four corners of the earth. Just wearing the tallit is an act of unification, the same way that Shabbat itself is an experience of oneness and connection with the Divine Source.
When we recite the Sh’ma, we make a statement that God is One, that all is connected, all is One. And just before we make this statement, we have the custom to bring together all four corners of the tallit into one hand in a symbolic act of unification.
Some ask, why does this mitzvah of tzitzit appear here, at the conclusion of this Torah portion in which we learn the story of the spies? Let’s take a brief look at that story. The Israelites are nearing the Promised Land. Moses sends out spies to tour the land and ascertain whether it is a good land and what the people are like. When the spies return, all but two express grave fears that they will not be able to take the land. Their lack of faith leads the entire nation to become paralyzed with fear. God responds to their lack of faith with the consequence that this generation will be barred from entering the Promised Land. Our Rabbis considered this to be the first galut/exile of the Jewish people.
There are times when we too feel the pain of exile; when we desperately want to experience a sense of connection, the desire and need to simply go home, but oftentimes that longing goes unsatisfied. This year has indeed been a period in which many of us have felt that sense of exile in new and profound ways.
Yet, this Torah portion concludes with a gift from God, l’dorotam – for all generations and this is the gift of tzitzit. Torah offers us this call:
In every generation, even when you are separated to the four corners of the earth,
even when you cannot come home,
even when you experience any sense of galut, of exile from your Source or from your community, wrap yourself in these tzitzit, a garment with fringes on all four corners.
Gather all the corners and direct your mind and heart toward unification, toward connection with all the generations, with all the ages, with your community, with your Divine Source. Experience unity and wholeness in this centered and connected space.
And to my father I say- ufros alay sukkat shlomekha- you spread over me your sukkah of protection and peace, your tallit of love and of wholeness. I am forever grateful.