Shlach: A Talit Meditation

Two meditations fill our minds as we don the Talit in the morning.

Rabbi Lazer Gurkow, | updated: 11:05

Judaism Rabbi Lazer Gurkow
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow

The Talit is a shawl that we wrap around ourselves during prayer. It has four corners, from each of which, hangs eight fringes. Everyday, before we wrap ourselves in the Talit, we separate each fringe from the others and tighten the knots that bind them to the Talit.

As we run our fingers through the fringes and tighten the knots, we are meant to reflect on our relationship with G-d. You see, G-d is like the Talit and like the fringes. His expanse is infinite, but at the same time, His focus is laser sharp. This is an unusual combination. Infinity is usually associated with an endless expanse. Laser focus usually means a concentrated undistracted bearing on a single point. The two don’t mesh. But in G-d, they do. G-d brings His infinite expanse to bear on single points.

We think of infinity as a number that lies beyond the highest number. There is one, ten, a hundred, a thousand, a million, a trillion, quadrillion, etc. The last step is the googolplex and then we finally reach infinity. If laser focus is one and infinity is the number beyond googolplex, the two can’t merge.

But for G-d it is different. G-d can experience one in finitude and He can experience one as infinity. It depends on the mode He chooses. If He chooses his finite mode, one is just one. If He chooses His infinite mode, one can be infinite. This is because G-d is neither infinite nor finite. G-d is something that contains both infinity and finitude. Better put, G-d is something from which both infinity and finitude emerge. While they are opposites in concept, they are unified in origin. Where they are born, they are one.

This is similar to cellular generation. A single stem cell has the capacity to differentiate into any of the body’s particular cells. As differentiated cells, the heart cell and the toe cell are different cells and they cannot stand in for each other. But in the stem cell, from which emerge, they are part of the same singularity. Since the stem cell is neither a heart cell nor a toe cell, but rather the cell from which both emerge, they can be singular within it.

Talit and Fringes
Now that we got the complicated nuances out of the way, we return to the Talit and the fringes. G-d operates on two levels. On one level He relates to the world through His infinite light. It is too large to be received in the world, but it envelops the world in its infinite fold—it is a Divine embrace. G-d’s second mode is finite. On this level, He issues a highly tailored light that is specifically measured to the capacity of each individual person, animal, insect, plant, or stone. This light is highly particular to the item that it creates and vivifies.

We endeavor to develop a relationship with G-d on both levels. Our response to G-d’s infinite expanse is utter and complete surrender. We allow ourselves to be enveloped and enwrapped like a baby. We acknowledge that compared to G-d, we know nothing. We are nothing. There is only G-d. Our role is not even to receive, but to be enveloped. Completely enwrapped in His mesmerizing embrace.

Our relationship with G-d’s finite focus is to be grateful for each aspect of our lives, the good and the bad. We recognize that they are all orchestrated by G-d and all with good reason. We observe the incredible precision of the vast universe and the wonderous complexity of the human body. We realize that every single part of the system is integrated and holistic. Each detail is perfectly designed so that the entire system works seamlessly and flawlessly. Then we behold a single aspect of our lives that doesn’t make sense to us. We can’t understand why it is so, and we want to complain. But when we remember that this too is part of the masterful overarching system it all falls into place.

Imagine visiting an engineering plant, where every machine was precisely built and located, every lever played a critical role, and every screw was carefully measured. Imagine further there was one screw that didn’t seem to serve a discernible purpose. Would we assume that the builders mistakenly added a needless screw, or would we assume that the screw is strategically placed for a valid reason? We would assume the latter because the rest of the plant is so precisely designed.

The same is true of life. If G-d only related to us from His infinite expanse, we might have suggested that the small details aren’t important to Him and that He overlooks our suffering. But G-d also relates to us in a laser focused way. Every single detail of our universe, our bodies, and our lives, are precisely measured and designed. If one or two things don’t seem to figure into the plan, we accept that they are there for good reason and that they are indeed part of the overarching masterplan.

The Envelope and The Detail
These are the two meditations that fill our minds as we don the Talit in the morning. When we wrap ourselves in the Talit, we imagine ourselves enfolded in G-d’s infinite embrace. We invoke the verse, “You enwrap yourself with light like a garment”and imagine the Talit as a garment of Divine light. We wrap it around ourselves and stand enfolded in its embrace as we meditate on surrendering in total submission to be carried aloft to transcendental spiritual heights.

Then we take hold of the fringes and spread them out, separating out each thread and ensuring that each stands alone. As we run our fingers along each thread, we associate it with a particular aspect of our lives. For example, one thread represents our son, the next thread represents our daughter, the next thread is our spouse, then the house, the car, the plans for the day, the budgetary concerns, the family issues, etc.

There are a multitude of issues in each of our lives good and bad, happy and sad, uplifting and dejecting, in the course of each day. As we run our fingers along each fringe, we unfurl the issue we’ve associated with it and iron out its wrinkles. We sperate it from the others and focus our full attention on it. And as we do, we dedicate those concerns to G-d. I am about to receive good news today, that good news comes from you. I am expecting to hear bad news today, that bad news comes from you.

The fringes are made of the same material as the Talit. This means that the particular concerns in our lives, which are animated by G-d’s focused lights, are part of the very same infinity that envelops us and to which we surrender. We well on this as we tighten the knots that tie the fringes to the Talit.

This reminds us that whether we are in the Synagogue at prayer, at home with family, at work with colleagues, or at leisure with friends, whether we luxuriate in comfort or are stressed by worries, we are constantly in the embrace and under the uplifting and exhilarating protection of the infinite G-d. As we blissfully surrendered to G-d within the embrace of the Talit, so do we surrender to G-d the highs and the lows, the victories and the defeats, that are represented by the fringes.

Our entire life belongs to G-d. He fashioned it, He nurtures it, and He orchestrates it. We are just living it; He is the landlord and we are the tenants. If a leak springs in the roof, the tenant need not worry. Leaks are the landlord’s concern. The tenant’s concern is to pay the rent. On time.

We pay the rent by trusting in G-d, believing in G-d, and above all, treating life as G-d would want us to treat it.




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