Equal to all Mitzvos

מרן הגאב"ד שליט"א
  • הדפסה

In this week's parsha we learn about the mitzvah of tzitzis, as the Torah states:

וַיֹּאמֶר ה' אֶל מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר "דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם וְעָשׂוּ לָהֶם צִיצִת עַל כַּנְפֵי בִגְדֵיהֶם לְדֹרֹתָם."

Hashem spoke to Moshe and said, "Speak to Bnei Yisrael and tell them to make for themselves tzitzis on the corners of their garments throughout the generations."[1]

The Tur comments on the importance of this mitzvah as follows:

אף על פי שאין אדם חייב לקנות טלית בת ארבע כנפות כדי שיתחייב בציצית אלא דוקא אם רוצה להתכסות בטלית בת ד' כנפות חייב להטיל בה ציצית מכל מקום טוב ונכון להיות כל אדם זהיר וזריז במצות ציצית שיהיה לו בגד קטן מצוייץ שילבש אותו כל היום. כי עיקר מצותה על זכירת המצות ובכל שעה ובכל רגע צריך לכך. דוגמא לדבר כאדם המזהיר לחבירו על ענין אחד שקושר קשר באזורו כדי שיזכרנו. ועל כן יש בה ה' קשרים כנגד ה' חומשי תורה וד' כנפים שבכל צד שיפנה יזכור. … גדולה מצות ציצית ששקולה כנגד כל המצות דכתיב "וראיתם אותו וזכרתם את כל מצות ה' " … רשב"י אומר כל הזהיר בציצית זוכה ורואה פני שכינה.

There is no obligation to wear a four-cornered garment on which to hang tzitzis.  Only if a person happens to wear such a garment, is he obligated to hang tzitzis from it.  Nevertheless, it is still good and proper for every man to be careful and zealous in the mitzvah of tzitzis, by wearing a four-cornered garment with tzitzis throughout the day.  The main point of tzitzis is to serve as a reminder of the other mitzvos, which is necessary at all times and at every moment.  This can be compared to a person who wants to ensure that his friend does not forget something, so he ties a knot in his belt as a reminder.  So too (since tzitzis serves as a reminder for the entire Torah), it has five knots corresponding to the five volumes of Chumash, and four corners so that wherever one turns one will be reminded….

The importance of tzitzis is so great that it is equal to all other mitzvos, as it is written, "You shall see it (the tzitzis) and remember all the mitzvos of Hashem" … Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai taught that anyone who is careful to fulfill the mitzvah of tzitzis will merit to behold the presence of the Shechinah.[2]

Since our Sages attach such great importance to the mitzvah of tzitzis, comparing it to all other mitzvos combined, it is quite interesting that this mitzvah was left as optional.  Strictly speaking, a man may choose not to wear a four-cornered garment and thus be entirely exempt from this mitzvah.  If tzitzis is so important, why did the Torah not make it obligatory, like tefillin?

Perhaps we can explain based on the Gemara which states:

תניא היה רבי מאיר אומר גדול עונשו של לבן יותר מעונשו של תכלת. משל למה הדבר דומה, למלך בשר ודם שאמר לשני עבדיו. לאחד אמר הבא לי חותם של טיט, ולאחד אמר הבא לי חותם של זהב, ופשעו שניהם ולא הביאו. איזה מהן עונשו מרובה?  הוי אומר זה שאמר לו הבא לי חותם של טיט ולא הביא.

Rebbe Meir taught: the punishment for failing to wear white strings of tzitzis, is greater than the punishment for failing to wear techeiles.  This is comparable to a mortal king who issued orders to two slaves.  One slave was told to bring a seal of clay.  The other slave was told to bring a seal of gold.[3]  Both slaves failed in their assignments.  Which slave was punished more severely?  The one who failed to bring a seal of clay.[4]

Tosefos explains the comparison between tzitzis and a seal by noting that it was once customary for slaves to wear a medallion made of clay or metal, bearing the seal of their masters.[5]

Tzitzis is a sign, for ourselves and for others, that we are enchained to the service of our Master, Hashem.  This recognition is equal to all the other mitzvos combined.  Besides the particular significance of each individual mitzvah, the central premise of them all is allegiance to HaKadosh Baruch Hu.

The Gemara states:

האומר על קן צפור יגיעו רחמיך משתקין אותו ... מפני שעושה מדותיו של הקדוש ברוך הוא רחמים, ואינן אלא גזרות.

One who says in his prayers, "Your mercy is upon the bird's nest (by commanding us to send away the mother bird before taking her eggs)," should be silenced… for presuming to interpret mitzvos according to our notions of mercy, while in fact they are decrees of HaKadosh Baruch Hu.[6]

Rashi explains:

והוא לא לרחמים עשה, אלא להטיל על ישראל חקי גזרותיו; להודיע שהם עבדיו ושומרי מצותיו וגזרות חוקותיו, אף בדברים שיש לשטן ולנכרים להשיב עליהם, ולומר מה צורך במצוה זו.

Hashem did not institute this mitzvah just for the sake of mercy upon the mother bird.  Rather, it was to place His decrees upon Bnei Yisrael, to make known that we are His slaves and observe His mitzvos, decrees and statutes even in areas where there is room for the yetzer hara and the foreign nations to question their necessity.

Whether or not we think we understand the reason for a mitzvah, we fulfill it with the simple intention to obey the will of our Creator.  For this reason, when we say Shema twice each day, we place the paragraph of Shema (in which we accept Hashem's mastery) before the second paragraph (which includes the reward and punishment for the mitzvos), to show that our basic acceptance of Hashem's mastery must come before our commitment to any particular mitzvah.[7]

Both the general acceptance of Hashem's Mastery, and the specific commitment to each particular mitzvah, are signified by tzitzis.  The Gemara tells us that that the color of techeiles was chosen for the tzitzis, since it resembles the blue color of Heaven, which itself resembles the color of the Heavenly Throne.[8]  Thus by contemplating the color of tzitzis, we are reminded of the Heavenly Throne and He Who sits upon it and rule the entire world.

Furthermore, the word tzitzis equals 600 in gematria.  Together with its eight strings and five knots, it equals 613, representing all the mitzvos.  By constantly glancing at the tzitzis, we are reminded to obey all 613 mitzvos of the Torah.[9]

Embracing Hashem's Service

As we have often discussed, the unique quality that distinguishes our service to Hashem from the service of a slave to any mortal master, is that our slavery is a service of love.   "I love my Master … I do not want to go free,"[10] we say, and joyfully embrace Hashem's service.[11]

Therefore, the mitzvah of tzitzis, which signifies our slavery to Hashem, had to be optional.  When slavery is forced upon a person, it can at best be service of bodily labor.  Only when we willingly accept His service, can our slavery be that of heart and soul.  This is what Hashem truly wants of us, as we say in Shema: "You shall love Hashem with all your hearts, with all your soul and with all your abilities."  Such love cannot be forced upon a person.  It must be willingly accepted.

  In truth, there is no service that we can offer Hashem but the service of our hearts, as the Zohar states:

קם רעיא מהימנא ואשתטח קמי קודשא בריך הוא ובכה ואמר "כן יהא רעוא דיליה דיחשיב לי כבר דעובדין דילי לגבי קודשא בריך הוא ושכינתיה יהון לגביה כברא דאשתדל בהון בתר אבוי ואמיה דרחים לון יתיר מגרמיה ונפשיה רוחיה ונשמתיה. וכל מה דהוה ליה הוה חשיב לון לאין למעבד בהון רעותיה דאבא ואמא ולמפרק לון בהון ואף על גב דידענא דכלא ברשותיה רחמנא לבא בעי."

 בההוא זמנא אתא קודשא בריך הוא ונשיק ליה ואמר "רעיא מהימנא ודאי אנת הוא ברא דילי."

The Faithful Shepherd (Moshe Rabbeinu) arose, prostrated himself before HaKadosh Baruch Hu and cried, "May it by Your will to consider me like a son.  May my deeds before HaKadosh Baruch Hu and the Shechinah be like the service of a son who loves his father and mother more than he loves his own soul and spirit; and that everything he owns is as nothing to him, in his desire to obey the will of father and mother and help them.  Although I know that everything belongs to You, the Merciful One desires only our hearts."

At that moment, HaKadosh Baruch Hu came, kissed Moshe and said, "O Faithful Shepherd, you are truly My son."[12]

Such a heartfelt commitment to Hashem, like the love of a son for his father, can never be forced upon a person.  It can only be accepted of one's own free will.  Therefore, the mitzvah of tzitzis could only be voluntary.


[1] Bamidbar 15:37-38

[2] Tur, Orach Chaim 24

[3] Techeiles, even in the time of the Gemara, was a rare and expensive dye.

[4] Menachos 43b

[5] See also Shabbos 57b

[6] Berachos 33b

[7] Berachos 13a

[8] Chullin 89a

[9] Tur, ibid

[10] Shemos 21:5

[11] See Minchas Asher: Behar 5771, "Labor of Love"

[12] Zohar III, Ki Seitzei p. 281