In this week’s Parsha (Bible portion), the word Ur’eetem – And you shall see, occurs twice. The first is at the beginning in the story of the spies sent by Moses to investigate the Promised Land, and the second time is at the very end, in the chapter 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 concerning the fringes on our Tallit and told And you shall look upon them 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 Promised Land caused the people to cry for no good reason and G-d said that day would become a time of “weeping for generations.” Indeed, it 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. The second time, however, it is a good thing. 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. It all comes down to where we go looking. To see the land is to see earthiness, a materialistic perspective. To see the tzitzit (fringes) is to gaze at a mitzvah (commandment) of G-d, a heavenly perspective.
Ever watch an army of ants at work? Isn’t it fascinating how they march in a straight line? Such disciplined workers, it is quite amazing. Ants, you see, have one-dimensional vision. That’s why they follow their noses and the guy right in front of them. They have no peripheral vision and therefore no distractions from their single-minded, though limited, perspective.
I remember a farbrengen (Chasidic gathering) in Yeshiva in Montreal when I was a student. Reb Velvel Greenglass, the Mashpia and mentor (May he be well) was waxing lyrical on 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 line. It is much easier for humans to look upward, to be pensive and to contemplate that which is higher and more meaningful. (I guess that’s why the chimps and baboons that stand vertically think they are gantze mentschen.)
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 concept 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 crass and careless, 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, hence the singular Ur’eetem Otoi.
I guess, where you look always determines what you find.
Excerpted from the book From Where I Stand by Rabbi Yossy Goldman. Available at leading Jewish booksellers.