Thursday, June 12, 2014

Parsha Perspective

By Rabbi Yisroel Shusterman, Dean, Cheder Chabad of Monsey

Perspective: what a difference it can make. How we look, where we look and the way we look at things always colors our impressions.

In this week’s Torah portion (Bamidbor [Numbers] 13:1-15:41), the word ur'eetem--"and you shall see"--occurs twice. The first is at the beginning of the Parshah (13:18), in the story of the spies sent by Moses to investigate the Promised Land; and the second time is at the very end (15:39), in the chapter on the mitzvah of tzitzit. In the first verse, Moses instructs the spies "And you shall see the land, what is it... are the people strong or weak... is the land fertile or lean... are the cities open or fortified?" In the second verse, we are commanded to place tzitzit--fringes--on the corners of our garments and told: "And you shall look upon it and remember all the commandments of G-d, and fulfill them."

The same word, ur'eetem, is used both times; yet look at the stark contrast between these two chapters. The first time, with the spies, it turned tragic. Their negative report of the land caused the people to reject the Divine promise; their cries of fear and despair caused G-d to decree that that day would become a time of "weeping for generations." Indeed, that day was Tisha B'Av, and the resulting 40-year delay in entering Israel was to be the first of many national calamities to befall our people on that same day.

On the other hand, the second instance of the word ur'eetem in our Parsha is a positive one: looking at the fringes is a way to remember all G-d's commandments and to observe a G-dly life.

It all depends on how we look at things. To see the land as the Spies saw it is to see earthiness, a materialistic perspective. To see the tzitzit is to gaze at a mitzvah of G-d, a heavenly perspective.

Chassidic thought discusses the difference between a human being and an animal. The animal was created in a horizontal line. The cow, naturally, looks downward, at the grass. Munching grass is its full-time occupation. All a cow thinks about all day is its food. Ever see a cow looking up at the sky and pondering the meaning of life? Human beings, however, were created in a vertical orientation. It is much easier for humans to look upward, to contemplate that which is higher and more meaningful.

To be people of vision we must look upward. There is a higher purpose to life. There is a deeper meaning to what meets the eye. The whole of Kabbalah and mysticism is based on the principle of the metaphysical. This fundamental principle is that there is not only the self-evident body but also the invisible soul; not only the universe but also a cosmic plan and a profound reason for every experience in life, whether it be obvious to us or not.

If we only look at the land, at that which is earthly and material, the world is often crass, helter-skelter and hollow. But when we raise our sights and lift our heads heavenward, we see so much more. When we utilize our unique human mind power and spiritual potential, we can better discern the wood from the trees, the lofty from the low. The Sages of the Talmud noted that by looking at the tzitzit, we not only see the commandments of G-d but we discover G-d Himself.

Where you look will determine what you find.

(Excerpts from Chabad.org - by Rabbi Yossy Goldman)

May you have a meaningful and uplifting Shabbos.

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