After a tragedy, the most mundane phrases can become the most painful ones.
Chapter 15 begins with a poignant example. “Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: When you come to the land of your dwelling that I give you.” Words that once carried hope and aspiration now bear deep frustration, disappointment, despair for the people who have just understood that they really, truly are not going to be allowed to enter the land. With these words, the adults realize that from this point on, when Moshe speaks to Bnei Yisrael, he’s speaking past them, addressing himself to the children. The story is no longer about them.
With this reality comes a radical, but entirely logical notion, embodied by the wood-gatherer. If the story is no longer about us, if we’re no longer ‘Bnei Yisrael’, then there can be no more Shabbat, nor any other obligations. It’s such a valid point that Moshe, Aharon, and the entire congregation are left speechless. Maybe he’s right. Maybe it’s game over for the parents?
A quick consultation with God reveals that it’s a mistaken notion. The parents will still be held to the same standards, although it is primarily their children we’re concerned with.
But why? Perhaps the “randomly” placed parsha of tzitzit holds some clues.
The tzitzit remind us that, in a profound way, it is always the children that we need to be primarily concerned with in our religious lives. The moment a child is born, a person’s most important religious obligation becomes the transmission of the mesorah to him or her. This obligation occupies center stage in the exodus story (we discussed it way back in Shemot 10), and in the annual reenactment of the exodus on the Seder night, when our children are the stars of the show. Arguably the most basic religious obligation in Judaism, the learning of Torah, is actually only a derivative of the obligation to teach Torah to our children (see Kiddushin 29b).
The tzitzit, associated closely with the exodus, are a daily physical reminder of this idea. What is important is not the garment, but what sprouts, what grows (see Rashi’s explanation of the word) from the edges- that is the tachlit, the ultimate purpose.
This was the message that the wood-gatherer didn’t, or refused to understand. Creating an environment for our children that supports their religious development is not meant to be a by-product of our own religious commitment, or an after-thought.
It is every parents’ greatest, holiest, task.
This is my own little insight about the 929 chapter of the day, in 300 words or so. I’d love to hear your comments and start a conversation
What’s 929? A near-impossible challenge of consistency. A song of Jewish unity. A beautiful project worth checking out. Learn more at 929.org.il