A Knotty Issue

Thursday, 29 February, 2024 - 9:55 pm

This past Monday, Malkie and I had the privilege of participating in the Bris of our grandson, Mordechai, born to Mushka and Yossi Cohen. A family Simcha is always wonderful. This was particularly meaningful for me as this baby was named for my grandfather, Reb Mordechai Rivkin, OBM who passed away nearly 16 years ago. Having left home to attend school in New York at the age of 11, I spent a lot of time in my grandparents’ home. I became exceedingly close to my grandparents, who were almost like surrogate parents to me when I was living far from home. I lived in close proximity to them for 14 years, and during that time I spent countless hours in the company of, and in conversation with my grandfather. I can say without hesitation that he was one of the greatest influences on my life and he played a significant role in molding me into the person that I am. We proudly named our son after him 15 years ago. To now have a grandson who bears his name is very moving.

There is an old common practice of tying a knot to remember something. What are the origins of this practice? Does it have any value?

There is a fascinating passage in the Zohar on this week’s Parsha that mentions two sages who would tie knots to remember their studies. The connection to the Parsha is that following the sin of the Golden Calf, Moshe prays to G-d for favor and when it is granted, he asks G-d that He show him (Moshe) His glory. To which G-d replies “you shall see My back, but My face you will not see.” Upon this Rashi cites a passage from the Talmud, “G-d showed Moshe the “knot of His head Tefillin.” Obviously, this is all anthropomorphic. G-d does not have any form. Face, back, neck, and knot of the Tefillin are all metaphors for varying Divine manifestations. Yet the metaphor is employed because there is something to be garnered from that connection.

What’s up with the knot? A knot is a connecting point that, when formed, actually serves to bring the two ends closer. When we speak of the connection between Hashem and the Jewish people, a knot features prominently in two Mitzvahs, Tefillin (which is knotted on the bicep and at the nape of the neck – see above), and Tzitzit, the fringes that hang off the corners of a Talit or Talit Katan. (Last week someone asked me to explain the “cat-o-nine-tails” sticking out of my pants pocket.) Each of the four corners has a series of five knots and eight strings.

The common denominator is that each of these Mitzvahs is connected to remembrance. Concerning the Tefillin is states in Exodus (13:9), “They shall be a remembrance between your eyes.” Regarding the Tzitzit is states in Numbers (15:39), “This shall be fringes for you, and when you see it, you will remember all the commandments of the L-rd.”

When Moshe was trying to invoke G-d’s mercy following the Golden Calf it was expressed by way of a knot, which repairs a breach and brings the two ends closer. The Mitzvahs that are connected to knots, serve to remind us of our commitment and closeness to Hashem. By remembering and acting upon our special connection, we will merit the Redemption through Mashiach speedily.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel RIvkin

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