Tuesday, June 14, 2011

“An Elephant Never Forgets”

Parshat Shelach
Bamidbar 13:1 – 15:41
16 Sivan 5771 / June 17 – 18, 2011

“An Elephant Never Forgets”
by Rebecca Karp, MH Philadelphia

Parshat Shelach (“Send”) is chock-full of amazing tidbits to riff on. Spies, threats of 40 years of wandering, promise of the death of an entire generation, the mitzvah of challah, liturgy from the high holiday services, and it goes on. So much wisdom, so much to choose from. But, as I write this D’var Torah from Israel, eretz zavat halav u’dvash (“a land flowing with milk and honey”), that the Israelites are almost ready to enter, I chose to touch on the commandment of tzitzit, a commandment to wear and remember.

Chapter 15, Verses 38-39

38. Speak to the children of Israel and you shall say to them that they shall make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments, throughout their generations, and they shall affix a thread of sky blue (wool) on the fringe of each corner. 39. This shall be fringes for you, and when you see it, you will remember all the commandments of the Lord to perform them…

Perhaps the phrase, “an elephant never forgets”, bringing up the image of an elephant with a string tied around its (non-existent) finger, comes from the far reaches of Bamidbar and the concept of tying fringes on your garment to remember the commandments of HaShem. Surely an iconic symbol in Judaism, the fringes on the corners of “your” garment represent far more many things to people than only the commandments. For me, the most prominent image this symbol brings up is huddling under my father’s talit during services because the synagogue was so cold and he would hold me and we would sing the prayers together. What does this image, the image of tzitzit, make you think of? I would venture to say not just, if at all, the concept of remembering the commandments.

When I describe a thin, red string tied around someone’s wrist, what do you think of? Kabbalah, Madonna, women begging at the Western Wall? Or when I mention two golden-colored arches? Fries, the Hamburglar, child obesity, McDonald’s? No matter what you associated these two items with, you would likely be both right and not thinking of what the original creator intended for you to think.

The common thread between tzitzit, the red string and the golden-colored arches are that all of these symbols have come to mean more than their original intentions. The symbol of tzitzit is more rich and expansive for us today than HaShem envisioned during Bamidbar, reminding us not only of the commandments, but of our families, our heritage, the Jewish people around us today and what we can give to the Jewish future. Perhaps the next time you put on a garment with tzitzit, or see them on someone else, you will even think of this D’var Torah and remember all of the great work we’re doing (and fun we’re having) in Moishe House! L’hitraot from Jerusalem!


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