I, like many others I presume, often find myself with many tasks before me. I usually have a sense of where I want to end up when I finish my tasks. I can see what my home is supposed to look like when Shabbat starts or I have a sense of what this project will be in the end. And yet, these tasks can often feel paralyzing. The end goal seems so far away from me, that I cannot do a thing. So, what do I do? In my case, I usually call my mom. If she senses my anxiety, which is one of her great skills, she will ask me about my current situation. Usually, by the end of the conversation, she will advise me, “What is the first thing you need to do? Just think about that. Don’t worry about the rest.” This usually refocuses my attention and helps me get started with the work ahead.
This week, we read from Parshat Shlach Lecha, in which we are given the mitzvah of fringes/tzitzit/ציצית along with the mitzvah of the blue cord/petil techeilet/פתיל תכלת. It comes in the verses we say twice daily during the recitation of the Shma. The verses read (Num. 15:37-38) “The Lord said to Moses: Speak to the Israelites, and tell them to make fringes on the corners of their garments throughout their generations and to put a blue cord on the fringe at each corner/וַיֹּאמֶר ה’ אֶל-מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר. דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם וְעָשׂוּ לָהֶם צִיצִת עַל-כַּנְפֵי בִגְדֵיהֶם לְדֹרֹתָם, וְנָתְנוּ עַל-צִיצִת הַכָּנָף פְּתִיל תְּכֵלֶת.” In the Talmud (BT Menahot 43b), Rabbi Meir points out that the reason for the additional color of techeilet is that techeilet is similar to the sea, and the sea is similar to the firmament* and the firmament is similar to the Throne of Glory**.
The Noam Elimelekhꜜnotices (Parshat Shlach pg. 466) that Rabbi Meir’s point could have been much shorter. If the goal is for techeilet to eventually remind us of the majesty that exists under God’s throne, then why do we need the additional steps of the sea and the firmament? The Noam Elimelekh teaches that although it is our desire to be connected directly to God, it is not normal for one to just jump to that level of connectivity. One cannot just jump from one to ten. That is why the Sages set up this order for us, so that we could climb up steadily until we reach our destination. The “sea” is the Sea of Learning, the Sea of Torah. One needs to learn regularly in order to move through the world properly. The “firmament” represents a very spiritual level where one is cleaving to God. Then, one can get to the “Throne of Glory”, which is the highest level, where one’s soul is truly connected to the Throne. And now one can understand the purpose of the cord/petil, that it ties us to that which is above. It helps us climb up, little by little, to where we want to be.
It is both difficult and anxiety ridden to think about getting to our end goals. Of course, I want to be closer to God. But how can I achieve something so amazing as that? This week, let us look at the techeilet for guidance. What is the next thing that we need to do? Let us just focus on that. One step at a time. Learn. Pray. Reflect. God willing, we will get to where we need to be when we need to be there.
*For our purposes, firmament=the sky/heavens
**For prooftexts, he combines two verses, (Ex. 24:10 “Under His feet there was something like a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness”, and (Ezek. 1:26), “there was something like a throne, in appearance like sapphire.”
ꜜElimelech Weisblum of Lizhensk (1717–March 11, 1787), a Rabbi and one of the great founding Rebbes of the Hasidic movement, was known after his hometown, Leżajsk (Yiddish: ליזשענסק-Lizhensk) near Rzeszów in Poland. He was part of the inner "Chevraya Kadisha" (Holy Society) school of the Maggid Rebbe Dov Ber of Mezeritch (second leader of the Hasidic movement), who became the decentralized, third generation leadership after the passing of Rebbe Dov Ber in 1772.
Rabbi Ezra Balser has been the rabbi at Temple Beth Sholom since July 1, 2016. He received his “smicha” (ordination) in June 2017 from Hebrew College while also earning a Master’s Degree in Jewish Studies. He has also received the iCenter's Certification in Israel Education.