פרשת שלח, תש״פ
Parshat Sh'lah, 5780
by Rabbi Sydni
Saturday, June 20th, 2020
The Mitzvah of Displaying Our Judaism
Ever since I’ve known my bearded, kippah and tzitzit-wearing husband, I’ve seen him stopped and questioned about Judaism constantly. In Shreveport, that tends to happen a lot more often. On a hike, someone ran up to him and asked, what does the Hebrew on my tattoo mean? In Kroger, one of the department managers pulled him aside to ask if some products were kosher. I experience similar questions on the days I wear a Star of David necklace, a kippah, or a t-shirt with Hebrew letters. Why bedeck ourselves in Jewish symbolism if it makes us stand out so much?
A big part of it is that it makes us stand out so much, not just to others, but to ourselves as well. When we are commanded to wear tzitzit on our four-cornered garments at the end of today’s parashah, in what we now know as the third paragraph of the Sh’ma, we are given the reason that “you shall see them and remember all of the mitzvot of Adonai, and you shall do them, and you shall not stray after your heart or after your eyes towards that which you lust after.” You shall see them and your eyes shall not lust! Tzitzit are supposed to look strange. When we see them dangling, they remind us of the commandments we are supposed to be fulfilling right now. Our command to wear tzitzit ends with a statement by God - “I am Adonai your God, who set you free from the land of Egypt to be your God - I am Adonai your God.” Our tzitzit remind us of our past - that our ancestors were there in Egypt, were there through the Spanish Inquisition, were there through pogroms and the Holocaust. Our ancestors went through the worst possible circumstances and yet lived through, with a Biblical call to remember for the sake of others who experience oppression. We remember the ancestors who lovingly passed down this tradition, who sang to us and cooked for us and taught us this Judaism they loved so dearly and wrestled with so fiercely. And we remember our slavery in Egypt to remember that we were not set free to serve ourselves, but to serve our God. To be holy because Adonai our God is holy.
When we wear tzitzit or any other clothing that marks us as Jewish - when we put up colorful mezuzot and Hanukah decorations - we bring that seeing out into the public. It is one thing to remind myself that I am Jewish in private; it is entirely another to let the world remind me of that. When we wear our Judaism quite literally on our sleeves, we are asked about our beliefs, our history, and our traditions. We are challenged to learn more, to act better; we are the unofficial representatives of the entire Jewish people. Displaying our Judaism to the world pressures us to define and enact for ourselves how we would like the Jewish people to be seen.
Even if you don’t wear tzitzit, you can live the essence of this mitzvah through jewelry, a magen David-themed face mask, or a colorful mezuzah on your front doorpost. Test this outward display of your tradition as a way to become more immersed in who you are and who you want to be as a Jew! The Talmud states about tzitzit,
שקולה מצוה זו כנגד כל המצוות כלן
Sh’kulah mitzvah zo k’neged kol ha-mitzvot kulan.
This mitzvah is equal to all other mitzvot. (Menahot 43b)
The Talmud recognizes that the mitzvah of proudly displaying our Jewish identity leads to more study of that identity, and ultimately, more practice of the actions that go along with it. Shabbat Shalom.