Three times in our Torah reading the Jewish people are challenged to take ownership of some entity that is before them. The first time is the challenge of taking ownership of the land that God had promised to give them. However, the report of the scouts, meant to be a preparatory step toward taking ownership of the land, became, instead, the trigger for the people to refuse that challenge, to repudiate it and run from it.
The second time is found in the last section of our Torah portion. This is the section commanding us to make tassels (tzitzit) on the four corners of our garments. The Torah explains that by looking at these tassels we will be saved from straying after false perceptions and, instead, perform God’s Will. But this result is not actually guaranteed. The tassels are not magic charms. Rather, the Torah, after commanding us to make these tassels and before telling us to look at them, adds a short phrase, often overlooked: “And it shall become tzitzit for you.” (Num. 15:39) The very tzitzit mentioned in the previous sentence as already being the site for the tassels, is in need of becoming for you such a significant corner of fabric. That is, even though the tzitzit exist objectively, they must yet become owned as personally significant if they are to be significant at all. We must take ownership of them and make them our own, just as we were meant to take ownership of the land sitting right before our eyes.
Finally, the Torah concludes with one more challenge for us. God tells us that the Divine Liberator took us out of Egypt for a purpose. That purpose is none other than “so that I might become Almighty God for you; I, Who am the Eternal, your Almighty God.” (v. 41) Just so. God is already and is ever our Almighty God, but it is still up to us whether we will take ownership of God as our own. Just as the tzitzit can be transformed from a meaningless artifact into a richly evocative spiritual trigger, so can God be transformed from a theological abstraction into a Divine Partner.
We failed the first of our challenges – to take ownership of the land. But the other two challenges are still before us, to succeed or fail at them every day.
Rabbi David Greenstein
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Thank you to John Lasiter for suggesting the title and selecting an image for this Torah Sparks – Rabbi Greenstein
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