Two of the most iconically gendered concepts in Jewish prayer — that “tenth man” for a minyan, on the one hand, and taking challah, one of three “women’s commandments,” on the other — come from this week’s portion. But gender issues can, I think, distract from other prayer ideas suggested by these same verses.
Bamidbar/Numbers 15:37-41 is found in most prayerbooks at the third paragraph of Torah study after the Shema:
…Speak to the Israelite people and instruct them to make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments through the ages; let them attach a chord of blue to the fringe at each corner….”
It is interesting to note that Mishkan T’filah [tent/sanctuary of prayer], the Reform movement’s new (2007) siddur, restores this passage, with the following explanation:
This text was omitted from many Reform prayer books when it was not customary for Reform Jews to don tallitot [prayer shawls, with fringes on the corners] for prayer. Now that many Reform Jews find meaning in this custom, Mishkan T’filah has restored the full paragraph as an optional recitation.
The first Great Source(s) post for Shelach (Lecha) included a long, century-old poem and several academic references. For a different approach to this week’s — or any Torah portion, visit Rabbi Shefa Gold’s Torah Journeys.
Rabbi Gold notes that the Torah portion Shelach (Lekha) [“send out (for yourself)”] (Numbers 13:1 – 15:41) includes the story of spies sent to scout out the promised land and ends with the instruction to tie fringes [tzitzit] as a reminder of the commandments. Like the portion’s spies, we all experience odd moments that hint at “the infinite that is the source of our finite world,” she writes. She then explains that this portion is a challenge:
“to remember what I have glimpsed, to plant the glimpse, like a seed, in the soil of my life. And Shelach Lekha warns me that if I deny that glimpse – if I doubt its validity – then I will be denied entrance to the Land of Promise – the state of consciousness that witnesses Divine Presence filling the whole world. To plant the seed of that glimpse requires that I acknowledge and celebrate it, and that I nurture its growth with my loving attention.”
by Zachary Lynch, mixed media/sgraffito board
For me, this piece of art –“From Dirt to Life,” by Zachary Lynch — offers a powerful visual embodiment of this teaching. (This work — mixed media, sgraffito board — was created through the Washington Very Special Arts “Articulate Gallery,” which is sadly no more; the piece can now be found at Temple Micah).
the Book” series was originally presented in cooperation with
the independent, cross-community Jewish
Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group that for many years
pursued spirituality from a woman’s perspective at Temple Micah
(Reform). “A Song Every Day” is an independent blog,
however, and all views, mistakes, etc. are the author’s.
The portion “Shelach” [“Send out”] — Bamidbar/Numbers 13:1 – 15:41 — contains the famous story of the spies sent out to scout the land of Israel and the aftermath, resulting in most Israelites doomed to death in the desert. It also includes the passage about wearing of fringes [tzitzit] (Bamidbar/Numbers 15:38), well-known as the final portion of the Shema reading in most prayerbooks.