Fringe Benefits: Shelakh Lekha 2016

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pregame Chatter: Do you have a system to remind you of important tasks? What does the system involve? Is it electronically-based? Does it center around your refrigerator or a strategically-placed cork board? Have you been able to stick with your system for a while, or are you constantly looking for better methods?

Perhaps we can see the end of this week’s Torah portion as the precursor to Google Alerts – a wearable one at that.

The Pitch: “Speak to the Israelite people and instruct them to make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments throughout the ages; let them attach a cord of blue to the fringe at each corner. That shall be your fringe; look at it and recall all the commandments of Adonai and observe them, so that you do not follow your heart and eyes in your lustful urge. Thus you shall be reminded to observe all My commandments and to be holy to your God.” (Numbers 15:38-40)

Swing #1: “The fringes are a commandment whose only importance and meaning is to remind us of all the commandments. Thus, one way to understand the importance of this section and its inclusion in the daily reading is to see it as the substitute for reading each and every one of the commandments, which, according to the tradition, are 613 in number.” – Reuven Hammer, Entering Jewish Prayer

Swing #2: “For Saul persecuted David and it would have been permissible for David to kill him, but he was punctilious about the commandment to wear tzitzit, as it is said: “And David arose and cut off the corner of the robe that Saul wore … and David’s heart smote him” (I Samuel 24:4). He said, “Woe is me, for I have prevented him from observing the mitzva of tzitzit for a short time” – for the mitzvah requires the presence of all four tzitziyot [and David had cut off one corner].” – Midrash Gadol

Swing #3: “Moses stated, ‘… not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, [which you are inclined to go after wantonly]’, and yet Qohelet has said, ‘Talk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes.’ [Accordingly, he would imply] there is neither justice nor a Judge, so the penalty of flogging has been annulled! But when [Qohelet further] stated, ‘But know that for all these things, God will bring you judgment [11:9]’, they stated, ‘Well has Solomon spoken.’” – Leviticus Rabbah

Late-Inning Questions: The mitzvah of tzitzit is a visual and touchable reminder of God’s commandments. Is following this mitzvah the best way to remember our Jewish responsibilities, even if we only wear tzitzit while donning a talit? Are there better ways? Is the need for constant reminders a simple aspect of the human condition? Or, if we need constant reminders to act, is that action worth remembering at all? Shouldn’t we reach a point with our Jewish knowledge and identity in which we don’t need reminders? Or is that proposition unfair?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: I’m quite excited for our Torah- and Haftarah-reading program that will take place tomorrow. I hope it will help enable us to follow our sacred texts in a new way. Please join us for “Shema Yisrael: Torah With All Our Senses” during services tomorrow, beginning at 9:30AM.

The Big Inning at the End: Madison Bumgarner, the ace pitcher of the San Francisco Giants, is such a skilled batsman that the team declined to use a designated hitter at his start this week in Oakland. Bumgarner rewarded the decision of his manager, Bruce Bochy, by hitting a double in one of his at-bats. It’s the first time in seven years that a pitcher batted in an American League ballpark. Why is this so unusual? Should we not expect pitchers to bat just as position players do?

Shabbat Shalom!