A few years back, I spoke in my shul about the greatness and significance of the mitzvah of tzitzis. I quoted our Sages (Menachos 43b), who state that fulfilling the mitzvah of tzitzis is equivalent to fulfilling all of the other 613 mitzvos. I spoke about the symbolism of the mitzvah as a Jew binds himself to G-d, much as the tzitzis are tied, but hang freely. I also noted that it is foolish for a man to pass up on this tremendous mitzvah. One dons them in the morning and forgets that they are even there while the reward accrues.
While I was delivering my brilliant lecture, I noticed two congregants laughing amongst themselves. In “rabbi school” they teach you to pretend not to notice disturbances in the crowd, like the fellow reading the paper during the sermon, the guy snoring right in front of you, or the person grunting in obvious disagreement with the point you are conveying. So, I pretended not to notice, and I carried on.
After davening, one of the two related to me the undertone conversation that had evoked their laughter during my speech. As I was speaking, “Reuven” had turned to “Shimon” and noted that he had forgotten to put on his tzitzis that morning. He added that he often forgets.
Shimon then noticed a red string wrapped around Reuven’s wrist and asked what it was for. Reuven replied that it is a segula (propitious omen) for protection. At that point, Reuven realized the incongruity of his own statement and they both began to laugh. One who wears a red string, which may possibly have some significance or may be a meaningless ritual that only the distributors make money on, but not tzitzis, which are mentioned in the Torah, is quite remiss. The Gemara states that one who is wary to fulfill the mitzvah of tzitzis properly will merit seeing the Divine Presence. One who wears a red string, however, will only merit to be wearing a red string.
We like convenience. In fact, our world is driven by it. We expect no less than high-speed internet and sophisticated toys and attractions.
So, it comes as no shock that we look for segulos and “easy blessings.” Saying a certain catenation, following a certain ritual, going to a certain exotic location and doing some defined unusual kabbalistic (or not) stuff is very alluring to us.
Rabbi Zev Leff wryly notes that at Kabbolas HaTorah, Hashem proclaimed us to be His “am segula – treasured nation,” but instead we have become an “am segulos,“ a nation that looks for easy propitious omens. And how many charlatans take advantage of those in desperate situations by offering them false promises in exchange for money!
The truth is that there are no shortcuts when it comes to spirituality and divine blessings. If we want to merit greatness, we have to be ready to roll up our sleeves and prepare ourselves to grow and elevate ourselves. Then we can merit true blessings as promised by Hashem in the Torah itself. (Note this is not to belittle true segulos that are recorded in holy sources. But segulos are surely not as powerful as mitzvos and what our Sages have instructed and informed us.