By Rabbi Avraham Gordimer
In presenting the mitzvah of Tzitzis, the Torah places special emphasis on visual symbolism. “And you shall see it (tzitzis) and remember all of the mitzvos of Hashem and perform them; and you shall not go astray after your hearts and eyes…” (15:39) Rashi explains (ibid., from Medrash Tanchuma) that “the eye sees, and the heart desires, and the body performs the sin.” If this is the meaning of the Torah’s exhortation, why does the pasuk (verse) warn against going “astray after your hearts and eyes”? Should not the eyes – which first detect the forbidden act, according to Rashi – precede the hearts in the pasuk, for the heart follows the eye? Shouldn’t the pasuk, per Rashi’s interpretation, instead read, “and you shall not go astray after your eyes and hearts”, as the eye first sees and the heart thereupon desires? Why does the sequence in the pasuk place the hearts before the eyes?
The answer is that a person who wittingly transgresses the Torah usually has an initial proclivity or interest in doing that which is assur (off-limits). Rarely does a fully committed, zealous soul suddenly stumble into intentional sin. It can certainly happen, but such an occurrence often indicates an inner lacking which was heretofore unknown. When a person’s heart is not in the right place, even slightly, it prompts him to open his eyes and pursue that which he should avoid. When the heart is not in the right place, such that the individual has an underlying interest to sin, and he finds himself in circumstances which present an averah (forbidden act), he will likely eyeball the opportunity to sin by following through.
Thus, although on a practical level, the eyes direct the heart to the averah, on a deeper level, the heart first puts the eyes on the lookout for opportunities which are not allowed. This is why the pasuk mentions the hearts and then the eyes.
Only by constantly working on ourselves and internalizing the Torah’s values and rules may we, with the help of Hashem, not stray, and may we “remember all of the mitzvos of God and do them”.
Originally appears on YUTorah