Breathing. Sleeping. Eating. We have no choice. We live, but not without following conditions. Life is not a free-for-all: there are vital strings attached. We don’t perform these actions simply for pleasure, but because we die sooner if we ignore them. Against our will, we were created, and do we continue to exist. This is our inescapable design. The Creator determined these conditions. He could have created mankind like rocks, without the need for air, sleep and food…but He didn’t.
These physical matters are daily reminders of our dependency. That’s God’s intent. We rely on God’s creations of air, sleep and food. And just as we are coerced to follow natural laws, God also gave mankind spiritual laws. By the same methods we prove creation and design of this universe, we also prove that at Mount Sinai, God commanded the Jewish nation to follow the Torah. This same Creator who designed mankind and said it is necessary to breathe, eat and sleep, also designed the Torah. His message is that just as we require the physical world to exist physically, we require the spiritual world of Torah commands and knowledge to sustain our existence past our Earthly stay. It is our free choice; we can ignore God’s conditions for air and food, and die. Or we can breathe, sleep and eat and live a full life. But we all die in the end. Do we choose to ignore God’s Torah and die both physically and spiritually at the end of our lives? Or, do we choose to enjoy an endless existence after we leave Earth? An existence the Creator promises is far more enjoyable than all Earthly pleasures. And not only should we choose an eternal life, but a life here that is of the deepest fulfillment. As we defer to doctors to advise us on how we treat our bodies, let us certainly defer to God as to how to treat our souls. We admit through our breathing, eating and sleeping that God’s natural laws are best for us. So we must ask ourselves why we ignore His spiritual laws. Does He not know what is best for our happiness? Or are we that arrogant to reject His counsel, and ignore a Jewish lifestyle following all the laws He commanded?
One of the most serious problems in Jewish life today, is the failure of most Jews to live a Jewish life. It is then the obligation of us – the observant Jew – to reach out to our brothers and sisters. If we do not educate them on Judaism, no one else will. Their lives will be lost. But if we do reach out, sharing the beauty of the Mitzvahs and Torah wisdom, we benefit another human being to the greatest degree: we give them eternal life. However, if we don’t possess this care for others and we fail to act, this displays a severe sin requiring immediate remedial measures and Teshuvah. A friend recently quoted Rav Moshe Feinstein z”tl, “We must give 10% of our time teaching Torah to others”.
This reasoning above alone should stop a non-practicing Jew in his or her tracks. This succinct and penetrating point cannot be ignored once heard. This is reality. But the best life is not one that is lived based on fear, but based on love. This latter type of life, of loving what we do, is developed only once when we apprehend the sensibilities in such a life, where we find principles that appeal to our minds and ring true to our hearts. Where such a life far surpasses all other options. Therefore, to reach other Jews, we must take time to share the many rational principles and beautiful explanations for our Torah laws and ideals. For a person is most impressed with wisdom, not with how far one can indulge his lusts. So if we can get past the resistance of our fellow Jews and help them to admit they do not know better than God, and that God didn’t simply say to “be a good person” but said volumes more…we might perform the greatest good.
The Mitzvah of Tzitzis embodies our discussion. God commanded us to wear them for this reason: “And you shall see them and you will remember all God’s commands, and you shall perform them, and you will not follow after your hearts and your eyes, after which you go astray”. (Numbers 15:39)
Tzitzis is a reminder. How does it work? Well, the design of Tzitzis as strings is to parallel human hair. Just as hair is light, moves easily and this motion catches our attention, Tzitzis are also intended to attract our eyes, from all four corners, and cause us to ponder the objective as stated above, to remember all the commands. They are intended to restrain us from mistakes and from rebelling against God by following our eyes and hearts…our lusts. Seeing the Tzitzis, and the blue thread that mirrors the sapphire under the Heavenly Throne, we are reminded of God’s laws we must follow if we wish the best spiritual life, just as we follow natural laws to remain physically alive. Accepting that our physical existence depends on abiding by nature, we can also accept that our spiritual lives also require guidance.
Emotional attractions are very enticing, so God gave us a number of reminders, such as Tzitzis, Tefillin and Mezuzah. The Rabbis teach that one who wears Tefillin and Tzitzis, and affixes a Mezuzah on his home will not easily sin. Our instinctual drive is relentless, and only by countering it with our minds regularly, by viewing a physical, Torah-commanded object close to us on our garments, will we recognize our lives are not intended for physical gratification but for a deeper pleasure: profound Torah insights. We can then overcome the temptation for short-lived lusts, and gain the upper hand over our emotions. Controlling our emotions will then become easier, and as we delve more into God’s lessons, we will become more amazed by His brilliance.
It is interesting how Tefillin, Tzitzis, and Mezuzah are related. This is because psychologically, a person invests great importance into his home, his clothes and his body. Each of these is an area in which we identify; we feel these three represent us more than other objects. So we build beautiful homes, wear lovely dresses and suits, and care for our bodies with exercise, diets, jewelry and make up. Since in these three we invest most importance, God commands us to place reminders on all of them. God created our psyches and our emotions; He knows precisely how to counter our overestimation of ourselves. This is so we might redirect our attention away from petty egoistical desires, and towards God…towards understanding our true purpose in His creating each one of us.
So important are these three laws, that God commands us in reciting the Shema Yisrael twice each day. In the Shema, we read of these three commands. Thereby, we are not only occupied with the physical performance of these commands, but in discussing them upon waking up, and prior to going to sleep. Thereby, our days are “book marked” in a manner of speaking: we start the day mindful of not rebelling against God’s laws (as we wish to do based on impulses) and we conclude our day, again mindful of whether we abided by God’s laws. The Shema also teaches us of many fundamentals, such as God’s Reward and Punishment system, that He knows all, He can do all, and more.
Tzitzis remind us that we are not created to simply do as we please. Such a life will cause the death of our souls, and we will not be gratified here on Earth, as we live as animals…chasing any impulse as it rises. Such individuals are of low stature and not worthy of any honor or our admiration.
Tzitzis remind us that just as our physical life must follow God’s natural laws, so too, our spiritual life has “strings attached”.