Weekly Story: Continuing The Conversation

by Rabbi Sholom DovBer Avtzon

Since the Weekly Story became my larger classroom, I am sharing with you a thought that I would say in my regular class on this week’s parsha, and perhaps one day we will post the long story that came along with it.

At the end of this week’s parsha we find that the mitzva of tzitzis comes immediately after the story of a Jew who was chopping or gathering wood on Shabbos. One may ask, why do these two ideas appear consecutively?

The Daas Zekainim explains that Moshe Rabeinu had a conversation with Hashem about the punishment that was to be meted on the woodchopper.

Moshe argued on behalf of the accused.  He stated that Hashem caused the person to sin. As if to say, it was Hashem’s fault.

Hashem inquired, “How is that so?”

Moshe replied that the person sinned only as a result of fulfilling and following another mitzvah, so technically it wasn’t his fault. He explained, the Torah commanded us to wear tefillin daily and notes that tefillin is a reminder to bnei Yisroel of their special connection to Hashem. However, the halachah is that one is not to wear tefillin on Shabbos. Therefore, by obeying this mitzvah of not wearing tefillin that Shabbos, he lost this reminder and subsequently sinned on that Shabbos.

Hashem replied, “I will be giving bnei Yisroel another reminder about our connection. The difference though is that this reminder is 24/7. You can have it on Shabbos, you can have it by night, and you can even have it when you are in an impure place; times and places where the tefillin can not be worn.”

And that is the uniqueness of the mitzvah of tzitzis. We wear it on Shabbos, and yes, we also wear it when we go to sleep at night (as the Frierdiker Rebbe stated in 5702, when he was on Chicago), and yes, it is not removed when we enter the restroom.

A question that is often asked nowadays is, “If the mitzvah is to wear tzitis at all times, why is it a mitzvah for only a four cornered garment that is worn during daytime?”

And the answer is simply, because that is the only way that it is able to serve as a reminder for one to do all the mitzvos. If there would be a commandment to place tzitzis on one of the garments that one is wearing, it would merely be one of the many mitzvos that one is obligated to follow, just like we are obligated to recite a brocha after we eat a meal. However, the commandment is not that one must wear tzitzis, rather one must wear tzitzis only when he is wearing a four-cornered garment.

Therefore, when one chooses to place a four-cornered garment on himself on a daily basis, it demonstrates that he wants on his own initiative the reminder of his unique connection to and with Hashem.

This declaration that I desire to be connected to Hashem, is an affirmation of my love to Hashem, and as the Alter Rebbe states in Tanya, that Ahava, our love to Hashem, is the foundation to one’s fulfillment of all positive mitzvos.

So Hashem intentionally made it that one can be walking around without tzitzis and he is not doing anything wrong. Since he is not wearing a four cornered garment, there is no obligation to have tzitzis. But if he wants to feel that special connection with Hashem, he will wear it even when halachacilly one is not obligated to wear it.[1]

In other words, Hashem’s response was that if you want a reminder of this connection, I am giving you the opportunity to create it. It is a mitzvah, if you want it, but I won’t obligate it. I am telling you that it has special abilities and powers that you can harness if you wish to.[2]

This is brought out in the explanation that the Alter Rebbe gave to the question of how the Avos were able to fulfill all the mitzvos if they weren’t given yet. He explained that since Avrohom and the other Avos loved Hashem, they instinctively knew what Hashem desired, even though it was not yet commanded.

So too, we accepted upon ourselves to wear a four cornered garment, in order that we can fulfill the mitzvah of tzitzis at all times. We understand that that is what Hashem appreciates even though He didn’t command us to do so. Conversely, by not putting on a four cornered garment, we are making a different statement.

So yes, even when we are biking, playing sports or sleeping, we choose to put on a garment of four corners and proudly allow ourselves to wear Hashem’s uniform.

Rabbi Avtzon is a veteran mechanech and the author of numerous Seforim on the Rebbeim and their chassidim. He is available to speak or farbreng in your community and can be contacted at avtzonbooks@gmail.com

[1] I should note that once it was accepted by generations of Jews to wear a four cornered garment, it has a similar status of a voluntary vow that we must continue to uphold.

[2] In Chassidus it is taught that a reshus and minhag have an aspect in which they are higher than a mitzvah, as this is something the person chooses to do and demonstrates his bittul. Here it has both qualities, it is a mitzvah, but we choose to do it, and do it  properly.

3 Comments

  • 1. Reader wrote:

    1. Why wasn’t a yarmulka commanded? Does a yarmulka also show a connection? Doesn’t a bris milah show a connection ( story of Dovid Haelech) ? How are women connected?

    Reply
  • 2. Anonymous wrote:

    Rabbi Avtzon wrote that the uniqueness of the mitzvah of tzitzis is that while it is a mitzvah, one is not obligated to obligate them self in this mitzvah.

    Therefore, if a person doesn’t wear a four cornered garment (as sadly many decided to), technically they are not doing anything wrong, besides giving the expression that i don’t want to express my love to Hashem.

    That concept doesn’t apply by the two you mentioned.

    Reply
    • 3. Mivtzoyim wrote:

      If Tzitis is SO important – why wasn’t it included in the Mivtzoyim?

      Many chilled among us (sometimes called Chabad Light) keep the mivtzoyim like never missing teffilin or kashrus or candle lighting. We do so in respect of the Rebbe MHM, but often choose to neglect tzitzis, tznius etc. especially in summer.

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