Throne, Heel, and Holidays

And whenever God sits upon His Throne of Glory He immediately thinks of the blue thread of the fringes worn by Israel, and bestows upon them blessings.
— footnote in Soncino edition, Chullin 89a

Does the color sapphire [sapir] somehow remind God of tekhelet [the blue of ritual fringes]? Or are the blues and God’s thoughts linked some other way? Are blessings contingent on the fringes? The process or causality described here is obscure to me. But I think the image can still inform this thread exploring tzitzit and “light” (minor) commandments. The key seems to be the importance of connection.
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Light and Weight of Fringes

Rabbi Nathan’s story of the tzitzit and the prostitute is introduced to illustrate the reward of a “light” commandment.(Menachot 44b; see also yesterday’s “Power of Tzitzit“). This post continues exploring the intersection of “light” commandments and tzitzit.
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The Power of Tzitzit

“Something Borrowed, Something Blue,” posted last week, mentions a 30-day grace period before a four-cornered garment requires tzitzit [ritual fringes].

This ruling is attributed to Rav Judah. It appears in his name in tractate Chullin (110a-110b) within a story that appears to be challenging strictures that serve as barriers to observance. The same ruling is mentioned following a very different story:

It was taught: R. Nathan said, There is not a single precept in the Torah, even the lightest, whose reward is not enjoyed in this world; and as to its reward in the future world I know not how great it is. Go and learn this from the precept of zizith.

[There follows the story of a pious man visiting a prostitute: he is stopped from sin when his four tzitzit stand up and strike him in the face. As a result of the encounter, the prostitute seeks out the pious man’s teacher and converts to Judaism. Eventually, the pious man and the woman wed.]

Those very bed-clothes which she had spread for him for an illicit purpose she now spread out for him lawfully. This is the reward [of the precept] in this world; and as for its reward in the future world I know not how great it is. Rab Judah said, A borrowed garment is exempt from zizith for the first thirty days, thereafter it is subject to it.
— B. Talmud, Menachot 44a

This is followed by brief mention of a similar 30-day grace period for affixing a mezuzah to a new residence. The grace-period comments are apropos of nothing apparent to me in the prostitute-convert story, and I’ve never studied this. But the stated context is the reward of “light” commandments and, more broadly, the relationship of effort to commandment and reward.

The concept of “reward in this world and… in the future world” is one I generally steer around. But I have been interested in this idea of “light” commandments ever since Gerry Serotta introduced me to it some years ago.
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Sanctifying the Day

The Torah did not tell a Jew to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem on Shabbat [as on festivals]. There is no need. On Shabbat the Shekhina [Presence] knocks on the door. All we have to do is let Her in.
— comment on the “Sanctification of the Day” blessing**
Koren Mesorat HaRav Siddur, p.520

**On Shabbat/Festivals, one “Sanctification of the Day” blessing replaces the middle 13 blessings of the daily Amidah. The first three and the final three remain unchanged: Avot [ancestors], gevurah [strength], Kedushat Hashem [sanctification of the Name]; Avodah [worship], Hodaah [thanks], Shalom [peace]. This gives the Shabbat Amidah a symbolic seven blessings.
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On-Line Resources for Torah and More

To avoid repeatedly typing the same citations, I set up the “Source Materials” page several years ago. As National Blog Posting Month has progressed, I’ve been updating resources and links. There are now 30 new or updated sources, including some very cool interactive tools, on this revised on-line learning page.

As part of NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month), a cousin of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), “A Song Every Day” plans thirty daily posts with some connection to the number 30.

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Something Borrowed, Something Blue: prayer shawls and fringes

Rami bar Tamri, a traveler from another town, engaged in behavior contrary to local custom and apparently contrary to Jewish law. He was brought before R. Hisda. After inquiring into several other matters, R. Hisda asked Rami bar Tamri why his coat was missing tzitzit [required ritual fringes].

[Rami] replied. ‘The coat is borrowed, and Rab Judah has said. A borrowed coat is, for the first thirty days, exempt from the zizith.’ While this was going on a man was brought in [to the court] for not honouring his father and mother. They bound him [to have him flogged], whereupon [Rami] said to them. ‘Leave him alone, for it has been taught. Every commandment which carries its reward by its side does not fall within the jurisdiction of the Court below.’** Said [R. Hisda] to him. ‘I see that you are very sharp.’ He replied. ‘If only you would come to Rab Judah’s school I would show you how sharp I am!’
— Babylonian Talmud, Chullin 110a-110b

**The commandment to honor parents is listed with its reward “by its side”: “Honour thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.” (Exodus 20:12)

Leaving for another day’s discussion the relationship of tzitzit, commandment and reward…
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Purposefully Blue

The peculiar blue [תכלת, tekhelet] thread used in tzitzit [ritual fringes] (Numbers 15:37-41) also appears prominently in the construction of Tabernacle (Exodus 25ff). It is used in the inner curtains and the loops that connect them; it also appears throughout the priestly vestments.

Why this blue?

It has been taught: R. Meir used to say: Why is blue [תכלת] specified from all the varieties of colours? Because blue resembles [the colour of] the sea, and the sea resembles [the colour of] heaven, and heaven resembles [the colour of] the Throne of Glory, as it is said: And they saw the God of Israel and there was under His feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone [לבנת הספיר], and as it were the very heaven for clearness (Exod. 24:10) and it is written: The likeness of a throne as the appearance of a sapphire stone [אֶבֶן-סַפִּיר] (Ezek 1:26).
— Sotah 17a (also: Menachot 43b and Chullin 89a)

Kedushat Levi links the above passage about blue, תכלת, to the stages of a creative act, beginning and ending with its purpose [תכלית]:

[A project from thought to completion] has undergone four distinct stages. 1) original mental image of the project; 2) clarification of the details, etc. 3) translating thought into deed. 4) carrying out the intention which originally prompted the project. [Punctuation follows translation.] When the original mental image of the project is seen reflected after its successful completion, the person inhabiting this building will experience a sense of satisfaction and joy.
— Kedushat Levi, p. 475 (see Source Materials for full citation)

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Folding, Half-Shekels, and Ego

One of the 30-cubit, goat-hair curtains on the outside of the Tabernacle is folded over the front of the tent (Exodus 26:9; see Thirty Cubits and Cloaking) for more on the curtains). Two aspects of this are emphasized in the commentary of Kedushat Levi, among others:

Folding: Folding [כפל, khaphal] is related to the idea of “klipah” [קלפה], the protective shell covering God’s Light in the world, according to mystical teaching. Kedushat Levi links the folding of the curtain and God’s cloaking, to protect humans from what they cannot withstand, adding that “folding over” implies reinforcing something not otherwise as strong as necessary. (Kedushat Levi, p. 473; full citations for Kedushat Levi, Stone Chumash in Source Materials.)

Half: Kedushat Levi also emphasizes the fact that the curtain is folded in half. He links “half” to “awe” through a play on the Hebrew words: the curtain, folded in “half” [חצי, chatzi], is linked via “crush” [מחץ, machatz] to “awe.” (More below.)

Additional thoughts on the concept of “half,” regarding the command to collect a half-shekel as part of the census embedded in the Tabernacle story, suggest a different direction:

Many commentators interpret homelitically that the requirement of half a coin alludes to the concept that no Jew is complete unless he joins with others; as long as we are in isolation, each of us is only “half” of our full potential.
— Stone Chumash, on Exodus 30:13

Combining these views on folding and half seem to suggest that any approach to God is best accomplished in community.
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Cloaking Improves Vision

Readers of Moby Dick have long skimmed the whaling sections. Love-story followers generally hurry through the “war” part of War and Peace, while others skip through the boring relationship stuff to focus on land distribution. Likewise, many Bible readers’ eyes glaze over at the close of Exodus: Some 200+ Torah verses describe plans for the Tabernacle and its furnishings. Another 200+ verses describe the actual work. Four entire weekly Torah readings are dedicated to the details of the Tabernacle, with Ki Tisa’s story of the Golden Calf in between.

Some teachers focus on general messages extracted from these passages: the importance of working collaboratively, supporting community infrastructure, or honoring the arts, for example. But others take an allegorical view, mining details rather than glossing over them. Kedushat Levi (Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, 1740 – 1809) is one of the later. And some of those details surround the number 30.
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Thirty Cubits in the Tabernacle

The inside of the Tabernacle, the desert worship space of the Israelites, is 30 cubits long. (This is worked out from directions for various components, described in Exodus 26-27.) An inside covering is composed of ten panels of “twisted linen, and indigo and purple and crimson, with cherubim, designer’s work,” each measuring 28 cubits by 4 cubits (Alter’s translation; citation below). Eleven goat-hair panels of 30 cubits by 4 cubits create an additional covering over the whole construction. (Explicit instructions in Exodus 26:1 and 26:7).

The inside coverings are joined so “that the Tabernacle be one whole” (Exodus 26:6).

26:6) that the Tabernacle be one whole
This phrase leads Abraham ibn Ezra to muse over how unity in the greater world is constituted by an interlocking of constituent parts that become a transcendent whole, as in the unity of microcosm and macrocosm. One need not read this section homelitically, as he does, in order to see the power of summation of this particular phrase.
— Alter, Robert. The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary. (NY: Norton, 2004)

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