Shema: Tzitzit 2
The Gemara tells a famous story of how Tzitzit function. A yeshiva student once overheard a description of a gentile prostitute who lived far away, and who was considered the world’s best prostitute—and the most
expensive. Her fee was four hundred gold coins for a day and evening’s services. The description of this woman and how much pleasure she could give ignited this yeshiva student. He scrimped and he saved until he had four hundred gold coins. He made an appointment weeks and weeks in advance. And he waited with great anticipation.
Finally, the time came and he traveled very far to the woman’s house. There, he was led to room with seven beds stacked to the ceiling. Six of the beds were made of silver, and the seventh bed was made of gold. And there were stepladders between each bed so he could ascend from one to the next. The bottoms of the stepladders were cast of silver, and the tops are cast from gold.
He saw the prostitute sitting on the top of the first stepladder in front of the first bed. She was gorgeous! When she signaled to him, he climbed up, and she began to undress him. As she started removing his Tzitzit, the strings hit him in the face. And the young man went into shock.
Aghast, he climbed down the ladder and sat on the floor in distress. “What’s wrong?” she asked. He answered, “Nothing is wrong with you. You are the most gorgeous creature I have ever set eyes on. But my Tzitzit are there to remind me not to do this.” And with that, he got dressed and left. Before he got out the door, she climbed down the ladder and asked him his name and where he was from.
After he left, she shut down her business. She sold everything she owned and she gave a third of it to the Roman government for taxes, a third she gave to the poor, and a third she kept for herself. And then she followed him to his hometown and went to see the rabbi of his yeshiva, who was Rabbi Chiya, declaring, “I want to convert and marry one of your students.” And she told him the whole story. Rabbi Chiya agreed to convert her and then called the yeshiva student. “You see,” he told him, “all you had to do was wait.”
What is the Gemara teaching us through this story? We all have urges, but we must direct them properly. God is not asking us to repress, but to redirect. And we understand that we are “holy”—as in, “you are holy, because I [your God] am holy.” Holy means that we take our experiences and redirect them positively. And that is how we become “holy to God,” as we declare in the closing to the third paragraph.