Noach after leaving the ark embarked on becoming a vintner, shortly afterwards he was in possession of wine and it wasn’t long before he became intoxicated. In his drunken stupor Noach became exposed and disgraced, Cham his son, saw and reveled in his father’s ignominy and hastened to inform his siblings so that they too can delight in this sport. Shem and Yefes’s response was quite the opposite and they hurried to cover Noach’s nakedness. Shem being the more urgent of the two merited the Mitzvah of Tzitzis.
It is appropriate that his reward is associated with apparel, for his alertness was in covering his father with clothing. However besides for Tzitzis there are other commandments connected with clothing such as Shatnez and Priestly Vestments what is unique about Tzitzis that it is singled out for his reward?
Tzitzis is one of the few commandments in which the Torah proscribes a purpose in this law – “in order that you should remember all the precepts of Hashem, and not stray after your heart and eyes”. Tzitzis is a Mitzvah that assists us in seeing what we are meant to see and more importantly avoid that which we are not meant to see. This is diametrically opposed to the path which led Cham astray; the Torah introduced Cham’s involvement with “Cham saw,” this was the root of his downfall, he was prying into areas not meant for his eyes. Shem was rewarded with an edict which will forever influence his offspring to avoid that behavior.
When you see Tzitzis what do you see?
Once a man, who was very scrupulous about the precept of Tzitzis, heard of a certain prostitute in one of the coastal towns, who charged four hundred gold coins for her hire. He advanced her four hundred gold coins and was granted a day for his appointment.
When he came in she went up to the top bed and lay down upon it naked. He too went up after her in his desire to sit naked with her, and as he was undressing his four tzitzis fringes struck him across the face; whereupon he slipped off the bed and sat upon the ground.
She also slipped off and sat upon the ground and swore “By the Roman Capitol, I will not leave you alone until you tell me what blemish you saw in me”.
“By the Temple Service” he replied “I have never seen a woman as beautiful as you are, but we have a unique Mitzvah called Tzitzis, and when I was undressing the four fringes appeared to me as four witnesses to testify against me”.
She said “I will not leave you until you tell me your name, the name of your town, the name of your Rabbi, the name of your Yeshiva in which you study the Torah”.
He wrote all this down and handed the script to her. Thereupon she arose and divided her estate into three parts, one third she gave to the government, one third was to be distributed among the poor, and one third she took with her. The bed clothes, however, she retained for herself.
She then came to the Beis Hamedrash of Reb Chiya, to convert. She eventually ended up marrying that man.
Rabbi Nosson taught: those very bed-clothes which she had spread for him for an illicit purpose she now spread out for him lawfully.