Thursday, June 18, 2009

Parashat Shelach

Bamidbar 13:1 - 15:41

Haftarah - Yehoshua 2:1 - 2:4

Laws Concerning Tzitzit Threads

The threads for fringes must be spun for the purpose designated, by declaring at the beginning of production that they are being spun for making tzitzit (fringes) or by a man telling his wife, "Spin me tzitzit for the tallit." If the threads were not spun for the designated purpose of making tzitzit, they are not fit for making fringes out of them.

If, after the fringes have been attached, the eight become untwisted making sixteen, they remain valid as long as enough remains of the twined thread to form a loop or winding. For this reason it is preferred practice to tie a knot at the end of the threads so that they should not untwist.

The length of a fringe may not be less than four thumb-breadths; according to some authorities, twelve thumb-breadths, which is standard practice today. There is no maximum length, and fringes may thus be made longer than 12 thumb-breadths. If after attaching long fringes, one then shortened them, they remain valid.

The aforementioned minimum length of thread refers to its length beyond the area of required knots that fringes must have.

One of the threads must be made longer than the others for winding around the others. If it is not long enough to form all the windings, part of the winding should be made with this thread and part made with another thread. When blue wool (techelet - BaMidbar 15:37) used to be available for making fringes, it was standard practice for part of the windings to be done with the techelet thread and part with a white thread.

Choice wool is to be used in making the threads for fringes since it is a general requirement that every commandment be fulfilled in the most superior way possible. Thus, the wool should definitely not be of poor quality, full of those thorns that sheep gather in their meanderings, nor of animal hairs that cattle tend to slough off, nor of wool strands that weavers leave hanging from the garments they produce. To do otherwise is to demean the commandments.

Fringes made of stolen wool are invalid since the Torah says, "Have them make." That is, have them make from that which belongs to them, not from stolen property.

In making the aperture into which the fringe is inserted, care must be taken not to locate it higher than three thumb-breadths away from the edge because higher than three thumb-breadths is no longer considered as being in the corner of the garment, and the scripture specifically stipulates that the fringes must be "on the corners of their garments."

The apertures must also not be too low. The distance from the aperture to the bottom edge of the garment should not be less than a thumb-breadth or the distance from the end of the nail to the middle joint of the thumb. Less than the distance is no longer called "on the corners," but rather below the corners.

If after the fringes were originally inserted higher than three thumb-breadths, one wishes to enlarge the aperture so that the fringes now fall below that upper limit of three thumb-breadths, it does not help. They remain invalid by dint of the aforementioned "make-not-made" rule since the fringes were rendered invalid as soon as they were affixed above the designated limiting distance.

If one made the aperture higher than three thumb-breadths away and then, while tying on the fringes, he pulled down the knot, reducing the distance to within the prescribed proper limit, they remain invalid.

If after making the aperture properly, that is, above the lower limit of one thumb-breadth, one compressed the garment in the course of putting on the fringes so that the distance is now less than the prescribed limit, that remains valid since there is in fact sufficient distance.

Fringes were attached to a tallit (prayer shawl) and then it turned out that the tallit contained a number of linen threads, rendering it kelaim. If these threads are removed, it is necessary, according to some authorities, to detach the fringes and then attach them again.

The aforementioned limiting distances for positioning the aperture are determined by measuring along the garment rather than diagonally from the tip of the corner. The aperture must fall within the minimum and maximum distances both along the vertical and horizontal edges of the garment (length and width).

Among some people it is customary to make two apertures at every corner, placed side by side like the tzeirei vowel and to pass the fringe through both. This is accepted practice among adherents of Kabbalistic teaching. It applies, however, only to fringed garments that are worn under one's outer clothing. For prayer shawls or tallits (tallitot), the customary single aperture is made.

If the fringes were affixed into properly positioned apertures, but then in the course of time the tallit became frayed along an edge until there remained less than the one thumb-breadth minimum distance from the edge to the apertures, this does not invalidate the tallit. The fact remains that the fringe had been attached properly.

To prevent such fraying below the prescribed minimum, borders are sewn about the corners of the tallit.

If fringes are attached to a winter garment that has hooks at the edges, they should not be inserted into the hooks but placed above them. The reason is that these hooks are not regarded as being part of the garments proper for the purpose of fulfilling the requirement that fringes be attached to the garment itself. However, the hooks can be included in estimating the aforementioned minimum and maximum distances for placing the apertures.

If the hook opening is so wide that the aperture with the fringe through it would be more than three thumb-breadths from the edge of the hook, one should cut away a sufficient part of the hook to meet the required limit.

Since, according to some authorities, the unwoven strands at the edge of the garment are to be included in measuring the one and three thumb-breadth limits, it is preferable to cut off these strands and thus avoid ambiguity in applying the law.

At every corner of the garment should be affixed four threads, folded over, for a total of eight. If more were inserted, the fringe is invalid.

If the ends of the folded threads are connected, they must be severed before being inserted into the aperture. If the threads were cut apart after they were inserted into the aperture and at least one knot was tied, the fringe is invalid because of the law of "make-not-made."

After one inserts the four threads into the aperture so that they now hang down on each side of it, a double knot is made. The longest of the threads is then wound about the other seven threads and a double knot is again made. This is repeated a number of times until five double knots have been made, enclosing four spaces.The number of coils at each winding is not specified, as long as the distance between the first and last knots is four thumb-breadths and the rest of the thread is eight thumb-breadths long.

It has become a general custom to make 7 coils along the first of the spaces, 8 coils along the second, 11 along the third, and 13 along the fourth. All together they total 39, the numerical equivalent of the words "G-d is one" (Yod-Heh-Vav-Heh Echad).

Among some people it is customary to draw 10 coils along the first of the spaces, corresponding to the letter Yod (numerical equivalent 10) of G-d's name, 5 coils along the second, corresponding to the letter Heh (5), 6 along the third, corresponding to the Vav (6), and 5 coils along the fourth of the spaces, corresponding to the second Heh of G-d's Name.

Some authorities caution that the fringes should be hung along the length of the tallit rather than along the width, as putting them along the width is not considered "on the corners." The requirement would then not be fulfilled by suspending them along the width.

It is forbidden to suspend the fringes along the diagonal of the tallit because that was the custom among the Karaites.

If the fringes were severed but enough remained of each of the eight threads to make a loop-plus-knot, the fringes are valid. If this much did not remain, even if only two of the eight threads were severed, it is invalid for we fear lest the two belong to one and the-same folded-over thread, in which case an entire thread would be missing.

Accordingly, if, when the fringes were affixed, one marked the threads in such a way that one knows that the two severed threads are not part of the same thread, the fringe is valid since the two other halves of those folded-over are of sufficient length to form a loop-and-knot.

A thread of the fringes was severed before they were attached to the garment and the severed thread is less than the minimum required length. If these fringes are first attached and only then is the torn thread reconnected, the fringes are invalid because of the law of "make-not-made." If, on the other hand, the thread was in order when the fringes were attached and became severed only subsequently, the fringes remain valid. The same is true if the torn thread was reconnected prior affixing the fringes to the garment.

The knots of the fringes must be tied by a Jew, and the fringes are invalid if the knots are made by a non-Jew. For it is written, "Speak to the Israelites and have them make tassels"--an Yisraelite is to make them, not a gentile.

A Jewish woman may attach the fringes.

One recites the benediction when putting on a borrowed tallit. It is permissible to use another man's tallit without his knowledge and to make the benediction over it, provided he intends to return it to its place properly folded. On the Shabbat, one may return it even unfolded.

Similarly, one may use and put back tefillin without the owner's knowledge. In contrast, it is forbidden to use another man's book without his knowledge lest he tear it while reading.

If someone left Torah texts with a scholar as collateral, the scholar may study them without their owner's knowledge.

A tallit that is owned by two people must be fringed with tzitzit since the verse says, "on the corners of their garments." If one of the partners is a non-Jew, however, the tallit is exempt from this commandment.

One may remove the fringes from one garment in order to affix them to another garment. But it is forbidden to detach the fringes without cause since that debases the commandment.

If one removes them in order to put on better ones, that is permitted. Similarly, if one of the threads was severed, without, however, making the fringes invalid, it is permitted to remove them and attach good ones. One may also remove the fringes if his intention is to make a garment out of the cloth, and he may wear that garment. It must not, however, be an unseemly garment.

What we have said (about removing the fringes) applies only to a tallit or garment whose owner is bidden to observe this commandment. Consequently, one may remove the fringes from the tallit of one who has died since he is no longer subject to commandments.

One may not cut off the fringes together with the corners and then sew them onto another garment. For the Torah says, "and have them make tassels on the corners of their garments." That is, the corners must belong to that garment to which fringes are being attached.

(A tallit must be of a certain minimum size before fringes become obligatory); it should be large enough to cover the head and the greater part of the body both in length and breadth, of a nine-year-old child. This comes out to about 6 handbreadths (rufos) in length and 1/2 cubit in breadth. A tallit of smaller dimensions is exempt from tzitzit.

Some authorities give the minimum dimensions of the tallit as one cubit and the width as larger than one cubit, or vice versa, the excess of one side is reckoned as part of the side that has less than a cubit.

A blind person is obligated to fulfill the commandment of tzitzit. Females and gentile bondmen who converted to Judaism but have not yet received the appropriate certificates freeing them of servitude, are exempt from the commandment of tzitzit.

If a minor of less than 13 years old knows how to wrap a fringed garment about himself, his father must buy him a tallit or a tallit-katan in order to train him in the performance of the commandments. A thirteen year old, of course, is responsible for fulfilling the commandments like any other adult.

The night is not a time for wearing tzitzit. Accordingly, if one puts on a fringed garment at night, he may not recite the benediction. Similarly, if one has already prayed the Evening Service even if it is still early, he may not recite the benediction when putting on tzitzit.

According to some authorities on Yom Kippur Eve, when it is customary to wear the tallit, a person is advised to put it on early and recite the benediction.

Those who habitually rise before dawn to study or have done so on the night when Selichot are recited, do not make the benediction when putting on the tallit-katan. They should just put it on and later when it becomes light, recite the blessing.

When the person then puts on the large tallit, he should while reciting the blessing keep in mind to have it include the tallit-katan as well.

Although fringes made by a non-Jew are invalid, if a known gentile merchant sells a fringed tallit which he claims to have bought from a Jew whose name he provides, one may buy it from him. Being a trader, he will not lie.

On the other hand, it is forbidden to sell a fringed tallit to a non-Jew, lest he put it on and thereby, by gaining the confidence of some Jew, lure him to his death. For the same reason, it is forbidden to give a fringed tallit to a gentile as collateral.

Fringes that have become unfit should not be cast away for this constitutes abuse of the commandment. One should store them away instead.

One may enter a toilet while wearing a tallit-katan under one's garments but not a tallit that one puts on as a prayer shawl.

It is permissible to lie down and to sleep in a tallit. Some consider it a mitzvah to sleep at night in a tallit-katan, and this has become common practice among those who are meticulous in the observance of the commandments.

Some people are careful not to have a gentile laundress wash a tallit or a tallit katan.

A person should be careful not to let the fringes drag on the ground. To one who allows this applies the verse, "I will sweep it with the broom of destruction." (Yeshayahu 14:23)

If one purchased a new tallit or a new tallit-katan, he recites benediction of Shehechiyanu when attaching the fringes. If he did not do so at the time, he recites Shehechiyanu when putting it on for the first time just as one does when putting on any other new garment for the first time.

One should be standing when wrapping himself in the tallit. It is customary to recite the benediction before actually putting it on. When putting on the tallit, one should be sure to drape it about the head. It is not sufficient to follow the custom of draping it folded about the neck and shoulders since according to some authorities one does not the fulfill the obligation. Those who place the tallit only about the shoulders and while covering the back leave the head uncovered, do not act properly. To them applies the verse, "But You...have cast Me (oti) behind your back" (1Melachim 14:9) That is "You have cast that which My emblem ("oti"), the tzitzit which are my emblem, behind your back"; and the benediction which one recites is then invalid.

Therefore, a person should be careful to cover his head with the tallit from the beginning to the conclusion of the prayer service.

If one has no tallit, he fulfills the obligation with the tallit-katan that he wears under his garments, provided that when he put it on he wrapped it about his head for an interval of time sufficient to walk four cubits.

Both when wearing the tallit and when wearing the tallit-katan, two of the fringes stay in front and two in the back. One is then surrounded by mitzvot.

Some people mark which fringes go in the back and which go in the front, and they do not change them.

Reciting the Benediction

When putting on the prayer-shawl or tallit, one says the benediction, "Blessed are You, Hashem our G-d, King of the universe, who has consecrated us with His commandments and commanded us to put on the tzitzit."

Prior to reciting the benediction, one says, "Bless Hashem, O my soul. Hashem, my G-d, You are very great. With majesty and splendor are You attired, wrapped in light as with a mantle, extending the heavens like a curtain" (Tehillim 104:1,2)

After putting on the tallit, one then recites the verses:

"How precious and excellent is Your love, O Hashem! Therefore the children of man shelter beneath the shadows of Your wings. They are abundantly satisfied with the ampleness of Your abode; and You make them drink of the river of Your delights. For with You is the fountain of life; in Your light we see light" (Tehillim 36:8-10)

When putting on the four-cornered tallit-katan, the benediction of, "Regarding the commandment of tzitzit" is recited:

"Blessed are You, Hashem our G-d, King of the universe, who has consecrated us with His commandments and commanded us regarding the precept of tzitzit."

Examining the Tzitzit

Before one actually puts on a tallit or tallit-katan, he is to examine the fringes to see if they are in order. Should they prove unfit, the benediction recited over them will have been said in vain.

It is not sufficient to check whether the upper part of the threads are intact. One must examine their entire length from the holes where the fringes are affixed to the garment all the way down to their tips, to make certain that none of the threads are cut, invalidating the fringes.

On Shabbat it is especially important to examine the fringes. For if they are unfit, one not only becomes liable for reciting a benediction in vain, but he may become guilty of violating the prohibition against carrying something in the public domain on Shabbat.

(Now that the unfit tallit or tallit-katan is no longer a proper garment, it is no longer considered to be worn, which is permissible, but, rather, carried.)

Some people have erroneously concluded that it is forbidden to wear on Shabbat a tallit-katan of cotton, claiming that only woolen ones are permitted. This is a serious mistake and only results in nonobservance of the commandment of tzitzit on Shabbat. The contrary should be true since this commandment is to be observed on Shabbat more meticulously even than on a weekday.

It is thus our duty to make it known that every kind of tallit-katan is permitted on Shabbat, both during the daytime and at night, even though fulfillment of this commandment is not obligatory during nighttime. One may wear it in the public domain even where no eruv exists.

As already emphasized, however, one must be sure that the fringes are in order. Furthermore, if the threads are entangled, they must be separated prior to reciting the benedictions.

If one arrived in the synagogue after the congregational prayer has already begun and there is thus no time available for him to examine the tzitzit, he may join the prayer service without making the examination.

When wrapping the fringes about himself, a person should have it in mind that he is fulfilling all the commandments that G-d has bidden us to fulfill. For the Torah has specifically written, "You shall remember all of G-d's commandments..." (BaMidbar 15:38)

During the entire day, therefore, he should be aware of the tzitzit and thus remember.

If one is wearing a number of four-cornered garments, he recites one benediction for all of them. If, however, there was a lull between putting on one garment and another, he recites the benediction over each in turn. He does the same if, when he was reciting the benediction, he failed to keep in mind that it applied to all the garments.

Our sages are divided in their views on the question whether, having recited the benediction over the tallit-katan, one recites it again over the prayer-shawl tallit. Those who require this consider the spatial distance (between the home where the tallit katan is put on, and the synagogue where the tallit is worn) to constitute a "lull," while others do not qualify this as a "lull."

Many people rise and dress before daybreak, when the wearing of tzitzit is not obligatory and it is forbidden to recite the benediction. Later, however, they may forget and thus end up not reciting it at all. This problem affects not only those who rise early on occasion for personal reasons, but is of general concern, especially in the month of Elul, when people get up for the Selichot prayers, and also during the winter months.

The best procedure is for them to put on the tallit-katan when dressing, but without saying the blessing; and then, when they recite the benediction over the tallit, to touch the fringes of the tallit-katan and keep in mind to fulfill by this benediction also the requirement pertaining to the tallit-katan.

The same procedure should be followed by those who pray at home for reasons of health or age or whatever, and by those whose homes are located in the same residential complex as the synagogue.

By following this recommended procedure, one fulfills the commandment properly in reciting the required benediction, and one also avoids the possibility of reciting one benediction unnecessarily.

Clearly, the recommendation of putting on the tallit-katan without reciting the benediction applies to one who puts it on prior to the morning prayers. For those, however, who may sleep during the day---on the Sabbath, for instance, as has become customary or on a holiday---and they do so without wearing the tallit-katan---when they put it on again, they should recite the benediction.

If, inadvertently, the tallit fell off, when putting it on again the person recites the benediction, provided it fell off completely. If it only partially slipped off, it is not necessary to repeat the benediction.

If a tallit fell off during the Amidah and someone draped it about him, he recites the benediction after concluding the Amidah. The same ruling applies to a bridegroom upon whom a tallit is thrown. Even though others have cast it upon him, he is required to recite the benediction.

If one puts on a garment for which fringes are required and he fails to affix fringes, he is guilty of ignoring a positive commandment of the Torah.

One may enter a cemetery wearing a tallit-katan, provided he wears it so that the fringes beneath the other garments do not drag on the floor and cannot be seen from the outside.

If the fringes are visible from the outside, it is forbidden to enter a cemetery. For one is then guilty of "ridiculing the deprived" (Mishlei 17:5) That is, it then appears as if he mocks the dead who are deprived of the obligation to fulfill the commandments. By flaunting his fringes he is as if saying scornfully, "Look! You are removed from the commandment of tzitzit while I carry the responsibility of fulfilling it."

Since a person must be very, very conscientious in the observance of the commandment of tzitzit, he should not take off his tallit-katan during the entire day so as to have before him at all times a reminder of G-d's mitzvot.

For this reason there are five knots in the fringes corresponding to the Five Books of the Torah, and four corners to remind him of the mitzvot no matter in what direction he turns.

When reciting the Shema, one is required to grasp the fringes in his left hand. He then holds them against his heart, in fulfillment of the enjoinder that "These words which I am commanding you today must remain on your heart" (Devarim 6:6)

And when one is saying the words "and when you see them" (u're-item oto;" BaMidbar 15:38), he should actually look at the fringes. He is also to bring them close to the eyes and follow the beautiful custom of kissing them. One should likewise look at them when reciting the benediction when putting them on.

When a person is angry he should look at the tzitzit and his anger will pass. Significant in this regard is that the word kanaf (corner) has the equivalent numerical value of 150 (80 + 50 + 20), as does the word "ka'as," anger (60 + 70 + 20), suggesting that the fringes are a palliative against anger.

If one habitually passes the fringes before his eyes when reciting the Shema, he is assured of never becoming blind. For in addition to the straightforward meaning of the words, ("these shall be your tassels, tzitzit,"), they bear the connotation of, "you will have vision," (the word tzitzit being related to the verb l'hatzit, to glance or look at).

This connection of the commandment of tzitzit to sight is related to the fact that one looks at the two front fringes which, together, contain 10 knots, corresponding to the Ten Sefirot, and 16 threads. Their combined total is thus 26, corresponding to the Tetragrammaton (Y-H-V-H, 5 + 6 + 5 + 10 = 26).

An eminent authority has written that when reciting the tzitzit portion of the Shema during the morning prayers, one should grasp the fringes in his left hand, keeping them at chest level until he has said the words "Your teaching and words place upon your heart" of the Emet Ve'Yatziv hymn. Then he touches them to his lips. It is done at this point because the word "yasim" is the acrostic for Yehi Shem Hashem Mevorach, "May the Name of Hashem be exalted," and the tzitzit, as we have just noted, allude to G-d's Name.

It is customary among some to kiss the tzitzit at the words La-ad Kayamet, "eternally existing," since the word la'ad has the numerical value of 104 (30 + 70 + 4), and the fringes also comprise a total of 104 items: 4 fringes of 8 threads each (32) multiplied by 2, corresponding to the fact that when the tallit is inverted, the fringes again serve their purpose (+ 32); plus five knots on each of the 4 fringes (+ 20); also taken twice (+ 20) for a total of 104.

We have already noted that when the numerical equivalent of the word tzitzit (600) is combined with the number of knots (5) and threads (8), the value of 613 is obtained, corresponding to the 613 precepts of the Torah. Therefore, when saying the words "la-ad kayamet," one should, while grasping the tzitzit, focus on the thought that the commandments and the Torah are to last forever, that they will never be changed or replaced. For as we chant the Yigdal hymn every Sabbath Eve:

His Law G-d will not replace nor change for any other...

This Proclaims that the holy and exalted Torah that G-d has given us will never be exchanged or altered.

A great sin is committed by any man who avoids the commandment of tzitzit by not wearing a tallit katan. About such a person the scripture says, "Take hold of the ends of the earth that the wicked might be shaken out of it." (Iyov 38:13) That man, on the other hand, who is meticulous in the observance of this commandment, is considered as if he had fulfilled all the commandments of the Torah, and he will merit to behold the luster of the Divine Presence.

-Yalkut MeAm Lo'ez - Vol. 13 - Shelach

Yehoshua's Name Change

Yehoshua, whose previous name had been Hoshea until Moshe changed it to Yehoshua. Prior to this time the Torah referred to him often as Yehoshua, but it does so in anticipation of Moshes changing his name and calling him Yehoshua.

The Midrash relates that when G-d changed the name of our matriarch Sarah "Sarai your wife, do not call her by the name Sarai, for Sarah is her name" (Bereishit 17:15) the letter yod of Sarai took wing and appeared before the Throne of Glory, declaring,

"Because I am the smallest of letters, You have removed me from the name of the righteous Sarah!"

Where upon G-d said,
"There will come a time when I will install you in what is an even more favorable position. While until now you were [the end] part of a woman's name, you will then stand at the head of a man's name."

It was this yod that Moshe now placed at the head of Yehoshua's name.


-Yalkut MeAm Lo'ez - Vol. 13 - Shelach
-Akedat Yitzchak

-Bamidbar Rabbah

-Yalkut Shimoni