Have you ever been sitting in a synagogue service, singing along mindlessly, only to suddenly trip over a word in translation and think, “wait, what exactly did I just say?” The words of the Purim piyyut “Shoshanat Yaakov,” are traditionally sung immediately following the reading of the megillah.
It’s a moment I never paid much attention to until I learned a particular Hassidic teaching by Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev. The piyyut describes our hero Mordechai “robed in royal blue/t’chelet” a color that might ring a bell for many of us as specifically linked to tzitzit, the fringes on a tallit meant to remind us of the Torah’s commandments.
Inserting a favorite teaching on tzitzit by his teacher, founder of the Hassidic movement, the Ba’al Shem Tov, he connects the color of the tzitzit to the concept “Hashem tzilchah/God is your shadow,” (Psalm 121:5). The word "tzel" is normally translated as “shade,” in keeping with the theme of the psalm being God’s protection, but he reinterprets the verse using the second meaning of the word: “shadow.” The implications of the statement “God is your shadow,” are monumental, where whatever a person does in this physical realm, God does - so to speak - in the upper realm. That our everyday actions impact how God is manifest in the world. This is the ultimate teaching of the tzitzit, reminding us of Mordechai’s efforts to transform a time of darkness (t'chelet) into light, teaching us to take an active role in shaping our world.
This teaching resonates with me because it speaks to the way I see God in the world. I don’t view God as directly intervening in everyday life in the explicit way that God is depicted doing in the Torah. Instead, I believe that God acts in the world through human beings—our hands do God’s work in the world. Additionally, as a religious person, I also feel a responsibility for the way that God is perceived in the world as a result of my actions. It is an extremely powerful, intimidating, and overwhelming task to acknowledge that we essentially create God in our own image, that my actions define the God I experience in the world. In response to this teaching, we must ask ourselves: how would I go about my daily life if I really felt that my actions were affecting God—if and how would they be different? Indeed, it seems that it would be useful to have a reminder like tzitzit—acting as a flashing neon warning sign: Hashem Tzilchah—God is your shadow!
We at the Ziegler School wish you a happy Purim!