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    Strings hanging out – Sh’lach L’cha

    wearing tzitzitWhen I was a student it was rare for anyone to have his tzitzit hanging out.

    Most of us kept our fringes inside our shirts but there were some boys who openly displayed their tzitzit.

    No wonder a non-Jewish instructor in our college teachers’ department said to a certain student, “Mr…, I think you have some strings hanging out!”

    The boy tried his best to explain the situation to the teacher, who elicited from the rest of that we also wore tzitzit but we kept them inside our top clothing.

    The Biblical basis of the mitzvah is at the end of this week’s sidra and forms the third paragraph of the Sh’ma (Num. 15:37-41).

    These days the tzitzit-wearers quite often wear tzitzit outside their garments as a sign of Jewishness and a declaration of defiance that no-one is going to stop them proclaiming their Jewish identity to the world.

    The Biblical passage that ordains tzitzit endows them, however, with an explanation that goes far beyond the idea of Jewish identity in the broad sense, important though that may well be.

    It says that the fringes are there for internal purposes, not so much to say something to the world but to remind the Jewish community to regard them as a token of our modesty and morality – “you shall look at it and not turn aside after your heart and eyes which lead you astray”.

    Our eyes constantly see things which we stare at and are tempted to follow. Our hearts often find themselves attracted to feelings and desires which need to be kept under control.

    The Targum Onkelos adds an interesting word when it puts this passage into Aramaic. Instead of telling us not to stray after our hearts it says not to stray after the thoughts of our heart.

    In Biblical Hebrew the word “heart” generally means what we would call “mind”.

    So what the Targum is emphasising is that there is not only a temptation to be governed by our feelings and desires but also a danger that our minds will be diverted by wrong and questionable thoughts and ideas.

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