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Loose Strands (Pekudei)

1. Today we’re going to try to uncover the underlying connections between a whole host of passages, strewn across the Torah, which seem, at first glance, entirely unrelated to each other. Most of these passages are familiar to us; in fact, we recite some of them on a daily basis. But our wide-ranging theory actually begins in one of this week’s two parshahs, with an unlikely starting point: the head plate worn by the Kohen Gadol. In Hebrew, this head plate is called a “tzitz (Hebrew: ציץ). Many of us don’t know much about this head plate. However, the tzitz does bear striking similarities to a ritual garment which is far more well-known: the tzitzis (ציצית), i.e., the tassels worn at the edges of a four cornered garment. To that end: Both the tzitz and the tzitzis bear blue-ish threads, which are referred to by the Torah as “pesil techeles” (Exod. 39:31; Num. 15:38). Both must be placed before one’s eyes: the tzitz is placed “on the forehead” (Exod. 28:38–reference is from parshas Tetzaveh, where the tzitz is originally introduced), while, of the tzitzis, the Torah states, “and you shall see them” (Num. 15:39). Both serve to protect against sin (Exod. 28:38; Num. 15:39). And, both remind those who wear them that they are “holy to God:” “and you shall engrave upon it: ‘Holy to the Lord’” (Exod. 28:36); “and you shall see them… and you shall be holy to your God” (Num. 15:39-40). (more…)

The Guardian Knot (Ki Teitzei)

Within this week’s parshah lies a section of laws aimed apparently at preserving the integrity of biological species.  Its first half contains prohibitions upon crossdressing (Deut. 22:5), seizing a mother bird along with her chick (ibid. 6-7), crossbreeding (ibid. 9), plowing with an ox and donkey together (ibid. 10), and wearing mixtures of wool and linen (ibid. 11). From there we proceed to a series of matters that concern various forms of forbidden union between men and women (ibid. 13-23:19).

In the middle of this section, however, we discover a law that does not seem thematically related to the subject at hand: “גדלים תעשה לך על ארבע כנפות כסותך אשר תכסה בה”—“You shall make yourself twisted threads, on the four corners of your garment with which you cover yourself” (Deut. 22:12). Why is this mitzvah—the mitzvah of tzitzis, i.e., of affixing knotted strings to four-cornered garments—included here? (more…)