For those of you who were unable to join us this past Shabbat, this is the drash that was given during our community-wide service this past weekend. I hope you find it meaningful.
Several of us in this room are wearing tzitit, or fringes, because in the portion we read just moments ago, we were commanded to do so. We are to look upon the fringes, remember the mitzvot and do them. The fringes are to remind us not to go after what our eyes and heart desire, but, rather, to be holy unto G-d.
There are many things in our surroundings that might guide us similarly. When we look at the Torah and consider what it teaches, when we look at a family heirloom and think about what our ancestors sacrificed so that we may be free to live Jewishly, when we cover our heads and are reminded of the respect for G-d this represents and when we hold our prayer books with reverence because they hold holy words, we are further reminded to follow mitzvot. It isn’t a sign of weakness at all that we need these helpers any more than setting an alarm to wake us up, tying a string around our fingers or jotting things down on our ever-expanding to-do lists might be. It is, perhaps, a sign that we’re committed and just don’t want to forget.
When I was studying to receive my smicha (rabbinical ordination), I wrote an essay on the tangible objects in houses of worship. Many people had criticized the statues, stained glass windows, chalices, candle holders and sacred songs as being idols that were worshipped by the parishioners. This, really, couldn’t be further from the truth, at least for most of us.
Our home surroundings are meant to uplift, soothe, warm and inspire as are the many social, academic, professional and commercial environments in which we find ourselves. In synagogues, mosques and churches, the hymns uplift, the windows beautify, the paintings tell stories and the statues help people connect with those stories. The fringes? They remind us of who we are and who we can be.
Sacred objects, like sacred spaces, are meant to inspire and to motivate. They help connect us to our souls so that we are not seduced by our eyes rather than being, in and of themselves, objects of veneration. Only G-d occupies that position and we connect to HaShem in such a special way when wrapped in knots and tassels.