Parshas Shelach is best known for the story of the Meraglim, the spies who were sent to scout out Eretz Yisrael and came back with a bad report. Because of this lashon hara, the Bnei Yisrael were forced to spend a total of 40 years in the desert, one year for each day the Meraglim spent in the Land.
Following the story of the Meraglim, the nation was given a series of mitzvos, culminating in the mitzvah of tzitzis. Tzitzis have an amazing ability, “וּרְאִיתֶם אֹתוֹ וּזְכַרְתֶּם אֶת כָּל מִצְוֹת יְהֹוָה” “And you will see them (tzitzis), and you will remember all the mitzvos of Hashem” (Bamidbar 15:39). Simply by looking at your tzitzis, you can recall all of the mitzvos. The Ramban explains that this is specifically talking about the Techeiles string, one string on each of the four fringes, dyed a shade of blue. The gemarah (Menachos 43b) explains that by looking at the string, you are reminded of the sea, which reminds you of the sky, which reminds you of Hashem, which reminds you of the Torah and mitzvos.
The Kli Yakar asks a simple question, how does looking at a blue string remind me of all the mitzvos? And after reading this gemarah, am I really expected to make this connection from one thing to another every time I look at my tzitzis?
He brings a medrash that says that Hashem told Moshe to tell Bnei Yisrael to observe the sky and the sea, and notice how they have kept their natural order since the beginning of time, even though they do not receive any reward for their actions. The sun always rises in the east, the sea has always remained in its place, etc. These were metaphorical explanations to tell Bnei Yisrael, who are receiving reward for their actions, that they should always remain faithful to Hashem. The medrash brings pesukim to explain how the sky represents serving Hashem out of love, and the sea represents serving Hashem out of fear.
This, explains the Kli Yakar, is how we should understand the gemarah in Menachos. The first level in avodas Hashem is serving Him out of fear. The significance of fear is that you do not change one step from what you are supposed to do. We put a string of techeiles on our clothing to remind us of the sea, and our obligation to serve Hashem without changing even the smallest detail.
However, this is not the greatest level we can reach. Serving Hashem out of fear is nothing compared to serving Him out of love; the gemarah (Brachos 8a) says this explicitly. The Kli Yakar explains that when you serve Hashem out of love, you have pleasure from the actual doing of the mitzvah, as opposed to when the act is done out of fear. Therefore, when we look at the sea, our next step should be to look at the sky, and see how much higher we can reach in our avodah; that not only can we do the mitzvos, we can enjoy them.
But what actual gain do I have from doing mitzvos out of joy rather than out of fear? This is the next step in the gemarah’s chain. When you look at the sky, i.e. when you serve Hashem out of love, you are reminded of Hashem’s presence in the highest heavens, i.e. you can truly connect to Hashem. Fear ultimately drives a person away; even though you may be forced to interact with that person, you can never truly connect to them because you are too afraid. However, when you love someone or something, you only want to become closer.
When we look at the string of techeiles, we are reminded of two things: 1) our obligation to serve Hashem without question and without change 2) our ability to come close to Hashem through the mitzvos. Both of these steps are necessary. Fear without love will drive us away from Torah, but love without fear will lead to us deciding our own way of serving Hashem, resulting in our abandoning the Torah.
The Kli Yakar concludes: the sea is completely visible to us, while we cannot truly see what is beyond the heavens. Therefore, the sea, and serving Hashem through fear, represents the visible rewards we get in this world, and the sky, and serving Hashem out of love, represents the rewards of the World to Come. It takes both of these to obtain the full possible rewards of this existence. And it all begins with a single blue string.
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