Is the Torah dead?

It’s a hot day today and I could really use some air conditioning. On a cold day, I could really use the heater. Why don’t I just go with the flow? Because I won’t allow myself to be dictated to, by my surroundings. I will not just adapt myself to my surroundings; I will adjust my surroundings to me. I want to be comfortable, and my comfort is somewhere between 68 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

Homeostasis, means keeping our body at a specific temperature. If a body regulates its internal heat to a specific temp that is a sign that it is alive (If it doesn’t and the body is cold, that is a sign of the opposite). Similarly, we keep our surroundings at a specific temperature - we want to impact the world around us, to fit our needs.

The same applies to shelter, transport, food etc. with all of these things, we don’t just make use of them the way the world presents them to us, rather we make changes and tweaks, so that we can add to our efficiency, comfort, pleasure etc.

This is because we are alive. And central to life is change!

And the Torah is alive too!

The Torah is known as Toras chaim – a Torah of life. This is not just because the Torah is a guide for life, but also because the Torah is alive.

What do I mean?

All the way at the end of this week’s Sedra of Shelach, the Torah instructs us to wear Tzitzis. When you have a (four) cornered garment, you should attach strings – Tzitzis to them. Why? As the Torah says (Numbers 15:39): “when you will see it, you will remember all the commandments of Hashem to fulfill them, and you will not follow after your heart and after your eyes…” 

The mitzvah of Tzitzis is to remind us of the mitzvos. How so? The Talmud (Tractate Menachos) says, that the blue string of the Tzitzis reminds of the ocean which then reminds of heaven, which of course is symbolic of Hashem’s presence. By wearing the Tzitzis we are reminded to fulfill the mitzvos of Hashem.

There is only one problem: today (and for more than a thousand years already) we don’t have the special Techeiles color to dye the strings blue. So how do we remember Hashem and the mitzvos when looking at the Tzitzis today???

Enter Rashi, who gives us a different take on how the Tzitzis remind us of the mitzvos.

Each letter in the Hebrew Alef Bet has a numerical value (called Gematria). The numerical value of the letters of Tzitzis are: tzadik - 90, yud – 10, tzadik - 90, yud – 10, taf – 400, = 600. Plus the five knots and the eight strings = 613; which is the total amount of mitzvos in the Torah. When looking at the Tzitzis we are able to remember the mitzvos, despite not having the Techeiles blue thread to remind us of the heavens.

Why are there two different methods to remember the mitzvos? Perhaps this is because of the following. So long as we had the blue thread, the first method worked just fine. But once we lost the identification of the blue dye, we lost the reminder as well. And so Rashi gives us another way to remember the mitzvos through wearing Tzitzis which still works today (post Techeiles), as well. This preserves the spirit of the Mitzvah, despite the minor change in its observance.

This is one of the secrets to the Torah’s ability to be still relevant today (despite being thousands of years old), and applicable to our lives today. The Torah is alive, and just like when we are alive, we adapt to our surroundings and we also adapt our surroundings to us. The Torah is alive and it adapts to the realities of each generation, (of course this doesn’t mean throwing the Torah out the window when it is confronted with a conflict of modern sensibilities. But it does mean) within the Torah system there is the ability to relate to each situation that arises, it just takes committed and creative minds to find that relevance.

On a practical note, I encourage you to get hold of a pair of Tzitzis, which you can wear each day. It will do an amazing job of keeping you aware and conscious of Hashem and his Torah day to day (and of course, during the winter the extra layer of warmth doesn’t hurt either). Please reach out to me and I will guide you how to fulfill this powerful mitzvah.

Shabbat shalom!

Rabbi Levi P