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Tzitzit: The Divine Garment of the Hebrews

 

Tzitzit: The Divine Garment of the Hebrews

 

 

 

Blue and White are My Colors

 

Tzitzit

 

 

 

Introduction

The Torah wants us to arrive at the conclusion that discipline and self-control are the key to human happiness. It gives us the tools with which to prevent our eyes and our hearts from enticing us into thinking that life is the pursuit of pleasure – the pursuit of beauty, and physical things.

 

Our Sages teach us that, “He who carefully observes the commandment of Tzitzit will be able to behold the ‘Face’ of the All-Present God” (Tal.Bav;Menachot, 43b), because G-d does not want us to “explore after our heart and after our eyes, after which we go astray”.

 

Tzitzit, which means to “appear in visible for” (Rabbi S.R.Hirsch 1808-1888), remind us that the animal in us seeks gratification only from physical things which can be seen and felt, while our truest, greatest and most meaningful attainments and relationships are with and from G-d who is unseen and invisible.

 

The Tzitzit and the Tallit are reminders of the fact that clothes are the first visible characteristic, which distinguish man from the animal – clothes remind us of the need to conceal the animal in ourselves and be constantly aware of the invisible G-d and His commands.

 

 

 

 

 

Why Tzitzit?

We may know what is right, but there are so many things that make us forget. It is so very hard to remember. G-d realized this, so He gave us a commandment to serve as a constant reminder. The Torah clearly spells this out when it says, “They shall be your Tzitzit, and you shall see them and remember all of God’s commandments and obey them, and not stray after your heart and eyes, which lead you to immorality” (Numbers 15:39).

 

If we allow the Tzitzit to be a constant reminder, keeping us from being misled by worldly temptations, we will form the habit of remembering G-d’s commandments. This in turn will ultimately lead us to become holy; that is, immersed in the G-dly, rather than in our worldly desires.

 

The commandment ends with a mention of the Exodus from Egypt: “I am G-d your Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your –G-d – I am God your Lord” (ibid).

One thing the Torah is telling us here is why the commandment of Tzitzit was given to the Jews in particular, and not to all people. There is a special bond between God and the Jew which was forged at the Exodus.

 

The Exodus made every Jew uniquely aware of G-d and showed Him to be profoundly involved in the affairs of man. The Exodus and events surrounding it made Judaism unique among religions.

 

Exodus: Splitting and crossing the Red Sea

 

It is because of the unique bond forged at the Exodus that the Jew in particular must keep the commandments of the Torah. Through the commandments, this bond is strengthened and renewed, preserving the Jew and maintaining him on a high spiritual level. G-d therefore tells us, “I am G-d your Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and you shall observe all of My rules and laws and keep them – I am G-d” (Leviticus, 19:36-37).

 

The Exodus thus places a very special responsibility on the Jew. God rescued us from slavery, and in a very special sense, became our Master. In the Torah He says, “The Children of Israel are My servants, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt – I am G-d your Lord” (Leviticus, 25:25).

 

Therefore, in a sense, the Tzitzit are an insignia that we wear, proclaiming that we are G-d’s subjects. The Torah alludes to this in telling us to wear Tzitzit to be “holy to your G-d.” The word “holy” means two things: First that we are close to G-d; and second, that we are separated from things that are ungodly. We wear Tzitzit as a sign of our special relationship with G-d, as the ones who accepted His Torah.

 

G-d needed a special group of people who would undertake to lead the rest of humanity and show them the way. Although the Jew constantly fulfills this mission, the main time of its fruition will be in the Messianic Age. When all Jews are brought back to G-d by the Messiah, they in turn will influence all mankind in this direction.

 

Who will be the ones deemed capable of spreading G-d’s word to the rest of the world?

Our Sages teach us that it will be those individuals who are careful to observe the commandment of Tzitzit.

 

 

Traditional Tallit                                                             Modern rainbow Tallit

 

Four-Cornered Fringed Garments (Tzitzit)

 

‘That they make fringes in the corners of their garments throughout their generations’ (Numbers, 15:38)

 

1. Any four-cornered garment that a man wears during the day is required to have fringes. The garment must be sufficiently large to cover most of the body of a child old enough to walk alone in the street.

 

2. When the Torah alluded to a garment, it normally implies one made of wool or flax. Some of the Rabbis, however, decreed that garments made of any cloth are included in the Mitzvah of Tzitzit. According to others, all garments of woven material need ‘Tzitziyyot’ (fringes). There is a distinction between wool or flax and other material. ‘Tzitziyyot’ made from wool can be used for any material; other than these only the same material as the garment may be used as Tzitzit.

 

3. The Torah also speaks about a ‘blue thread’, which was included in these fringes. This thread was dyed blue with the blood of a molluse called ‘Chilazon’. This creature has not been seen or known for centuries; hence, the fringes today are all white. About one hundred years ago, the Rabbi of Radzin in Poland, Rabbi Gershon Henoch Leiner (claimed that he had found this ‘Chilazon’ and proceeded to dye his fringes with its blood. To this very day, his disciples put a blue thread into their Tzitzit.

 

Famous Halachic work about ‘Techelet’       Chilazon’ snail, from which we win ‘Techelet

 

4. The Mitzvah of Tzitzit is in effect only during the day, because the Torah employs the words ‘You shall see it’ (ibid). Some interpret this verse as referring to the type of garment, not the time of the day. That is to say that only a garment normally worn by day needs ‘Tzitziyyot’, not bed-covering for use at night, such as a blanket. On the strength of this law, women are exempt from this Mitzvah, because there is a time element involved. Women are exempt from the fulfilment of most precepts the performance of which depends upon a fixed time.

 

5. The Mitzvah of Tzitzit is considered one of the most important of all Mitzvot. The Rabbis equate this one Mitzvah with the rest of the 613. First, the Torah itself hints at its importance when it says ‘When you shall see it, you shall remember all the Mitzvot’ (ibid). Then the Rabbis, playing on the numerical value of letters, arrive at the conclusion that the five letters of the Hebrew word Tzitzit, amount to 600, which with the eight threads and the five knots, make a total of 613. One who avoids putting ‘Tzitziyyot’ on a garment that requires fringes acts in violation of a positive commandment. The Rabbis taught that G-d punishes those who avoid wearing garments that require fringes to escape the obligation. It is therefore customary to wear a garment with ‘Tzitziyyot’ continually.

 

 

COMMENTATORS

 

Ibn Ezra (1089-1167), Nachmanides (1194-1270), Keli Yakar (1550-1619): They base their interpretations on the Talmudic analogy of the blue thread on this garment to the blue of the sea. The blue of the sea, in turn, reminds us of the blue sky and the blue sky reminds us of the heavens and of G-d. The purpose of this garment, then, is to serve as a reminder of our Heavenly Father.

Keli Yakar is of the opinion that the blue threads remind one of the ocean and the moral lesson we can learn from it. The ocean must stay within certain, defined bounds. If it overruns these bounds, the result may be catastrophic. The Jew, too, must live within the defined scope of the Torah. To leave these limits would result in tragedy.
Ibn Ezra claims that it is less important for a man to wear this garment during prayer than to wear it at all other times. He needs this reminder all day and not so much when he is praying and it is unlikely to commit a sin.

Nachmanides: The Jew must remember that the word ‘Techelet’, which means ‘blue’, incorporates the world ‘kol’, which means ‘all’. The Jew is to be reminded that G-d is his guiding light in all aspects of his life.

Or Ha’Chaim (1696-1743): The purpose of this four-cornered garment is to remind the Jew that G-d is ruler over the four corners of the earth.

Chizzekuni: He reasons that when one looks at the fringes of this garment, which remind him of G-d’s Mitzvot, he will bear in mind that he is G-d’s servant and that his heart and eyes must to be led astray.

Alshekh (1498-1593): The fringes are compared to tying a string around one’s finger. When one mindlessly ties a string around one’s finger for no special reason, it is meaningless. If one does it to serve as a reminder, the string has significance. So it is with the fringes of one’s garment. One must begin with the thought that they are worn for a special purpose: that is, to remind the Jew of the Mitzvot. Only then can they fulfil their intended purpose.

Abrabanel (1437-1508): Man requires a constant reminder that he is expected to observe the Mitzvot. Through the ever-present fringes of this garment, it is hoped that the time will come when he will be thinking of the Mitzvot all the time. The purpose of the reminder is to help the wearer to lead a holy life and this conduct should eventually become natural to him.
 

References:

B. Menachot 39a, 39b, 41b, 42a, 43a, 43b, 44a; Kidduhin 33b; B. Sukkah 9a; B. Chullin 136a; B. Yevamot 4b; B. Shabbat 23b, 32b, 118b; B. Nedarim 25a; B. Sotah 17a; J. Berachot, Chap. 1, Halachah 5; Midrash Rabbah, Shelach, Chap. 17, Sec. 7; Midrash Tanchuma, Shelach, Chap. 15; Sifre Shelach; Midrash Tehillim Chap. 90; Yad. Hilchot Tzitzit; Sefer ha-Mitzvot (Aseh) 14; Sefer Mitzvot Gadol (Aseh) 26; Sefer Mitzvot Katan 31; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, Chap. 8; Sefer ha-Chinnuch, Mitzvah 386

 

Different models of a ‘Tallit Katan

 

The Tallit Katan

In ancient times, many garments were four-cornered. Since everyone wore four-cornered clothing, they fulfilled the commandment of Tzitzit merely by placing them on their regular garb.

 

Because we no longer regularly wear four-cornered clothing, we wear a special garment in order to fulfill this most important commandment. Even though a time would come when four-cornered garments would not normally be worn (after death), we must continue to wear a special garment in order to fulfill the commandment of Tzitzit.

 

This special garment is the Tallit Katan – the ‘small Tallit.’ It is also sometimes called an ‘Arba Kanfot’ – literally ‘four corners’ – or simply ‘Tzitzit.’ In Yiddish it was often referred to as a ‘Lahbsideckel’, or ‘body cover.’

 

One should wear the Tallit Katan all day long. It is worn under your shirt, preferable over an undershirt, and it put on the first thing in the morning.

 

If you do not wear a Tallit in synagogue, you should say the following blessing before putting on the Tallit Katan.

 

The blessing over Tzitzit

 

If you put on the Tallit Katan before washing your hands, you can defer the blessing until later, taking hold of the Tzitzit when you recite it.

 

If you normally wear a Tallit, according to most authorities, it is best not to say the blessing over the Tallit Katan at all. Instead, you should have in mind to include it when you say the blessing over the Tallit. The Tallith Katan should be worn all day long. Some people also wear it to sleep.

 

It is also a custom for some people to keep their Tzitzit exposed, in order that they constantly fulfill the injunction, “and you shall see them” (ibid). This, however, is not a strict requirement, and the Tzitzit may be worn completely under one’s clothing.

 

It is the first commandment we observe in the morning, and continues throughout the day. As such, it is a constant reminder of our obligation as Jews, and of our allegiance to God.

 

 

The Tallit or Tallit Gadol

The second and more familiar manner in which we fulfill the commandment of Tzitzit is through the Tallit, which is worn primarily during the morning prayer services.

 

The fact that we pray in a Tallit is alluded to in the verse, “The prayer of a poor man, when he enwraps himself [in a Tallit] and pours out his words before God” (Psalms, 102:1). When we stand before G-d like beggars, in prayer and supplication, we are to wrap ourselves in a Tallit.

 

 

 

Above: Tallit factoriy in Israel

 

A Tallit should be large enough so that one can drape it over his shoulders, with two corners in front and the other two in back. A good Tallit should therefore measure at least four feet by six feet (1.2 meter by 1.8 meter) and be large enough to cover the individual down to his waist.


It is preferable to have a Tallit made of pure white wool.

 

On weekdays, when Tefillin are worn, the Tallit is put on first. There is a general rule that the Mitzvah performed most often takes precedence. Therefore, since the Tallit is also worn on the Sabbath and holidays, while the Tefillin are not, the Tallit takes precedence.

Another explanation is that in matters of ‘Kedusha’ (holiness) we strive to elevate ourselves and since the Tefillin are holier than the Tallit and therefore we put Tefillin after putting on the Tallit.

 

Before putting on the Tallit, you should check the Tzitzit and make sure that they have not become torn. If they are tangle, you should separate them, so that they hang down like “loose hairs”.

 

Just before you put on the Tallit, you should say, “I am now about to fulfill God’s commandments to wear Tzitzit on my garment, in order that I remember and observe all His commandments.”

 

The ‘Tallit Gadol is put on while standing. You should hold the Tallit over your head and say the blessing:

 

Blessing over the ‘Tallit Gadol

 

While enwrapped in the Tallit, it is customary to say Psalm 36:8,11.

 

 

Clothing

The human practice of wearing clothing seems to be universal, even where there is no need for protection from the elements.

 

What anthropologists discovered was that even among primitive tribe in the warmest climates people covered their sexual organs in virtually every human society. How does this agree with the Torah view?

 

One of the most intriguing stories in the Torah is that of Adam’s sin. We all know the story: How the serpent tempted Eve to eat of the Tree of Knowledge, and, as a result, both Adam and Eve were cursed and driven out of the Garden of Eden.

 

The existence of a walking, talking serpent might seem difficult to understand, but our sages teach us that it was the very incarnation of evil. In order for man to have free will, at least the possibility of evil had to exist. Before Adam sinned, evil was not part of man, but something external. It was therefore represented by the serpent, an entity external to man. It was only after man sinned that evil became an integral part of this being. From then on, man’s battle with evil became as much a battle with himself as one against an external force.

 

Before Adam sinned the Torah says “And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and they were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25). Our sages comment that they were not ashamed because they had no sexual desire. Sex was as natural a body function as eating and drinking. It was something completely under man’s control. Sex, like the serpent, was something external to man. Man could enjoy it when he wanted to, but he was not driven by it.

 

A Tallit used as a canopy

 

Our sages teach us that the main temptation the serpent used to lure Eve was that of sex. As soon as man sinned, he began to have an Evil Urge or Yetzer HaRa. Evil was no longer something outside of himself, but an integral part of his being. It was now a force that man could overcome only with the greatest difficulty. Very often, it is sexual temptation that leads a person away from religion and godliness in other areas. It is often the strongest barrier standing in the way of an individual’s spiritual perfection.

 

On the other hand, the individual who can completely control his sexual desires is counted as one who can control all his emotions. Here again, our sages teach us that a person is only called a Tzaddik’ (pious) when he can control his sexual passions.

 

As soon as man sinned, his sexuality was aroused. Immediately after Adam and Eve ate from the Fruit of Knowledge, the Torah tells us, “The eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked. They sewed fig leaves and made themselves loincloths” (Genesis 3:7). The major commentators explain that now that their sexual desires were aroused, they were ashamed to stand naked. They had begun to view others as sex objects, and were themselves ashamed to be seen in that light.

 

The Hebrew word for “garment” is levush. This comes from the root ‘bosh’, which means “to be ashamed.” The very structure of the Hebrew language indicates that clothing is worn because of shame.

Another Hebrew word for garment is beged. This has the same root as the word bagad’, meaning ‘to rebel’ or ‘to betray’, meaning that the garment betrays us, not allowing to see our real self. This indicates that man wears clothing because he originally rebelled against God. Before man sinned and rebelled, he was perfectly content and unashamed of being nude. The main function of human clothing is to act as barrier against sexual desires.

 

Tallit used in an inauguration ceremony of a new ‘Sefer Torah’

 

The word Tzitzit has the same root as the word tzutz’ or ‘tzitz’, meaning “to look.” Tzitzit are therefore something that relate specifically to the sense of sight, something to look at.

 

The Torah says of the Tzitzit, “You shall see them, and not stray after your heart and after your eyes, which had led you to immorality (ibid).” The Talmud explains that the injunction not to stray “after your eyes” refers to visual sexual stimulation.

 

This is not meant to imply that sex is something dirty or evil. Judaism looks upon sex as something beautiful and pleasurable.

 

The type of sex that the Torah proscribes is that which is irresponsible, exploitative and destructive. The commandment of Tzitzit was given as a safeguard against such activity.

 

The passage of Tzitzit tells us to “look at them and remember all of G-d’s commandments, and not stray after your heart and eyes (ibid). Sexual desire is the one thing that is most often responsible for leading a person away from religious observance. Sex is most readily available among those who are indifferent or antagonistic toward religion. In seeking to court the favor of those who will provide him with sexual outlets, one may be sorely tempted to give up such things as the Sabbath, Kashruth, and other important elements of Judaism.

 

The Talmud tells us that when the Torah says, “You shall not stray after your heart,” the reference is to atheism. This is also borne out by experience. There is nothing that will draw a person away from God more than sexual promiscuity.

 

The Tzitit may seem like simple strings, but they can affect an individual’s entire lifestyle.

 

Tallit used as a garment for somebody who is called up for the reading of the Torah.

 

G-d’s Tallit

Rabbi Yochanan said: If it were not written [in the Bible] it would be impossible to say. But we are taught that God wrapped Himself [in a Tallit] like a prayer leader and showed Moses the order of prayer. He said, “Whenever Israel sins, let then proceed in this manner, and I will forgive them.” – Talmud Rosh HaShanah 17b

 

God is in no way physical, and nothing physical can apply to Him at all. To suggest anything physical such as a body or Tallit with relation to God would go against the very foundations of our belief.

 

Still, in the Torah an in many other places, we see that God is spoken of as if He had a human body. All such references are called anthropomorphisms – expressions where we borrow terms from human experience when speaking of God.

 

When our sages teach us that God wears a Tallit, they are providing us with a profound lesson concerning God’s relationship to us. In speaking of Tzitzit, the Torah says that the reason for his commandment is so that “you should remember all of God’s commandments.”

 

The problem of Evil

G-d’s purpose in creation was to do good. In order to express His love and goodness, G-d had to create a world. The ultimate good is G-d Himself. G-d thus created a world to which He could give of Himself. The more we resemble Him, the more we partake of the ultimate good that is G-d.

 

It is for this reason that G-d gave man free will. If man did not have free will, he would be poles apart from G-d. He would be little more than a robot or puppet. G-d, on the other hand, is absolutely free to do as He wills, since there is nothing that can hold Him back. In giving man free will, God gave him the ability to imitate God and thus ultimately partake of Him.

 

Therefore, just as God chose good as a matter of free will, so can man. But in order for this choice to be real, God had to create the opposite of good. He therefore created the possibility of evil, so that man would be free to choose between good and it’s opposite.

 

Public blessing of the Kohanim in front of the Kotel, at the ‘Chol Ha’Mo’ed’ –festival

 

Although evil does not fulfill G-d’s primary purpose in creation, it does fulfill His purpose in a secondary way. It was does not serve G-d’s primary purpose bestowing good, but it does not fulfill the secondary purpose of making it possible.

 

God’s ultimate purpose, however, is to do good, and to bring about a world “where all is good.” The destiny is to be transformed ultimately into good.

 

Providence

Although God gave individuals free will, He still influences the large scale course of history. Even though he does not determine the conduct of individuals, the collective wills of nations and societies are largely determined by G-d.

 

God also guides the destiny of each individual to fulfill His purpose. Man might have free will, but God interacts with him to bring about His goal. He thus might place an individual in a certain predicament, cause him to meet a propitious friend, or otherwise give him opportunities to act in a way that helps lead the world toward God’s ultimate goal.

 

Divine Providence, or Hashgacha, is what we mean when we say that God is “King of the universe.” His providence is constantly at work, guiding the world toward His goal. Although God is constantly guiding the world toward good, He still allows evil to exist as long as it serves His purpose.

 

The second element of providence is that which protects from evil. Wherever man comes in contact with evil, God must at least give him the power to be able to overcome it.

 

In order for evil to exist, God must interact with it in two basic ways: First, He must allow it to continue to exist; and second, He must not allow it to overcome the good.

 

G-d’s “Garment”

The main function of human clothing is to serve as a barrier against passion. Much evil would result if man’s sexual passions were left unchecked, and in this respect, man’s clothing provides protection from evil.

 

Taking this in its most abstract sense, we can say that God’s “garment” is also the force that protects from evil.

 

A Hassidic boy taken to the school (‘Cheder’) wrapped in a Tallit on his first day

 

The second function of clothes is the protection from the elements. Clothing protects from a hostile environment. The environment hostile to Godliness is, again, evil. In this sense also, we can abstract it to say that God’s “garment” is the element of His providence that protects against evil.

 

After Adam had sinned and was punished, the Torah says, “God made leather garments for Adam and his wife, and He clothed them. And God said, ‘Behold, man has become like one of us…” (Genesis 3:21,22)

 

Now that man had sinned and was subject to evil thoughts, he needed a protection against evil. In this respect, he had become like God, who also wears a “garment” serving a similar purpose. Here again, however, this resemblance was not a positive one. What God actually wanted was that man resemble God in overcoming evil, and not that he should succumb to it and need to be protected against it.

 

The Tallit

The commandments serve as a safeguard against the forces of evil. They restrict man’s relationship with his neighbor so that one individual does not harm another. They are the element in God’s scheme that serve as a barrier against evil. G-d’s Tallit is the sum total of all the commandments in the Torah. This is what our sages mean when they say, “He who keeps the commandments grabs the Divine Presence. This is the meaning of Tzitzit…”

 

This is also what the Torah means when it speaks of the Tzitzit and says, “You shall see them and not stray after your heart and after your eyes (ibid). The commandment of Tzitzit alludes to G-d’s Tallit, which in turn, represents the entire structure of the commandments, standing as a barrier against evil.

 

There is a tradition that after Adam sinned, they made Tzitzit. They realized that they would need the entire structure of commandments, alluded to in the Mitzvah of Tzitzit.

 

The Midrash tells us that the first time that G-d is said to have appeared wearing a Tallit was when He gave Moses the first commandment, the one involving the Jewish calendar (Exodus,12:1-2). God was beginning to teach Moses the way of the commandments (613), and when He started, he showed Moses the Tallit that alludes to them all.

 

Famous Cantors (‘Chazzanim’) wearing a Tallit

 

Four Corners

Without the Tzitzit, the Tallit is nothing more than a square piece of cloth. The same is true of G-d’s Tallit. Unless fulfilled by man, the commandments do not serve their purpose. In this sense, the Tzitzit, being loose threads, are like the unwoven portion of the Tallit. As such, they represent the incompleteness in God’s garment. This unwoven part is left for man to complete.

 

Since the Tzitzith represent the bond between God and man, they hang down below the Tzitzith. God’s Tallith is high above our reach, but His Tzitzith hang down like a lifeline that we can grasp hold of. They reach down to us so that we may complete G-d’s Tallith, while at the same time perfecting ourselves.

 

The Eight Strings

The number eight has a particular significance, for example the fact that the ritual of circumcision (‘Brit’) is always performed on the eight day if health of the baby allows it.

 

We can then see that the number seven represents the perfection of the physical world. In resting on the seventh day, God completed and perfected His creation, binding it all together with a central purpose. This is one reason why the number seven appears in so many places in Jewish lore.

 

                                                             

Circumcision ceremony of a new-born Jewish on his eight day.

 

The number eight is used when we wish to transcend the mere laws of nature. For example, the miracle of Chanukah, which is a eight-day-festival. The same is true of the splitting of the Red Sea, the greatest miracle ever. This also took place on the eight day of the drama that was the Exodus.

 

Circumcision represents God’s covenant with Abraham. Through this, God was establishing the fact that Abraham and his children would be living on a plane that would transcend the mere physical. From that time forward, the Jew would have a direct link to the spiritual realm.

 

The fact that circumcision was to be performed on the sexual organ is also of particular significance. In the act of reproduction, man comes in contact with the transcendental in a most unique way. Through the sexual act, one can begin the process of birth, thus drawing down a soul from the highest spiritual realm. The fact that the circumcision of the sexual organ is associated with the number eight is indicative of its link to the transcendental.

 

On a more mundane level, circumcision also serves as an indelible bodily sign, and a constant reminder that one must remain master of his sexual passion.

This is the significance of the eight strings of the Tzitzit. They indicate that the Jew has a link with the transcendental.

 

G-d’s Attributes

Another important number is the number 13, the thirteen Attributes. The main purpose of these thirteen rules is to bring the general laws elucidated in the Torah down to the level of practical application.

 

The second reference here is to the Thirteen Attributes of G-d’s mercy. These are the Attributes proclaimed by God when He forgave the Jews for the sin of the Golden Calf. The Thirteen Attributes are: “God (1), merciful (2) and gracious (3), slow (4) to anger (5) and abundant in love (6) and truth (7). Keeping mercy (8) to the thousandth generation (9), forgiving sin (10), rebellion (11), and error (12), and cleansing (13)” (Exodus 3:46)

 

Pidyon Haben’ ceremony (redeeming of the first-born male) a Tallit is worn by the main participants

 

The number thirteen, however, is also very important with respect to Tzitzit. Tzitzit contain five knots and eight strings, which together yield a total of thirteen. (Note: not all traditions have these 5 knots)

 

The Tzitzit represent G-d’s link with man, and man’s responsibility to complete God’s Tallit.

 

The five knots and eight strings of the Tzitzit also represent these Thirteen Attributes of Mercy. Both represent the thread that links man to God’s protection against evil. Through the Tzitzit of G-d’s Tallit, an individual can pull himself out of the mire of sin and return to God.

 

Numbers

Our sages teach us that the numerical value of the word Tzitzith is 600. Taken together with the five knots and eight strings, this gives us 613, the total number of commandments.

 

The word Tzitzith:

Tzadi              =               90

Yod              =               10

Tzadi              =               90

Yod              =               10

Tav              =              400

                            ____

                            600

 

The word Tzitzit alludes to the general commandments. These are the ones that serve as a link to G-d in an overall manner. The five knots and eight strings allude to the thirteen commandments that particularly serve to bind us to God. This gives us the total of 613.

 

 

A Thread of Blue

Our sages teach us that adding the blue thread is preferable, but its absence does not invalidate the Tzitzit. Tzitzit made only with white threads are perfectly valid.

 

Regarding the commandment of the blue thread the Torah does not say “for generations.” When the blue is available, it should be used; but if it is not available, this does not prevent us from fulfilling the commandment of Tzitzit.

 

Introducing a new Chief Rabbi in the United Kingdom.

 

The particular blue is known in the Torah as Techeleth, and according to tradition, can only be obtained from an animal known as the Chilazon. There is no continuous tradition regarding the identity of the Chilazon, but according to most sources, it was a snail that lived in the Mediterranean between Tyre and Haifa.

 

Even in ancient times, not everybody wore the blue thread in his Tzitzit. The Chilazon was a very rare animal, and even a single thread of this blue wool was very expensive. For this reason, there was a time when almost no one at all wore it in Jerusalem.

 

There are three major opinions regarding the number of blue threads that were worn in Tzitzit:

 

1.      The Rambam (Maimonides, 1135-1204) maintained that only half a string was dyed, so that just one of the eight strings was blue. This opinion was also accepted by the Kabbalists.

2.      The Raavad (Rabbi Avraham ben David of Posquieres, 1123-1198) held that an entire string was dyed, so that when doubled, two of the eight strings were blue.

3.      Rashi maintains that the blue and white were equal, two threads of each, so when doubled, four threads were blue, and four white.

 

Blue and White Are My Colors

 

Ideally, as the verse in Numbers states, the fringes should consist of white threads tied together with one blue thread, the ‘Techelet’. The purpose of the blue thread, like all threads in facts, is to remind us of higher spiritual goals and realities. The Talmud asks:

 

Why is ‘tcheilet’ the color chosen for the thread? Because ‘tcheilet’ is similar to the color of the sea, the sea is similar to the color of the sky, and the sky is similar to the color of the Throne of Glory. (Menachot 43b)

 

Famous Rabbis wearing a Tallit all day long.

Left: ‘Gaon of Vilna’ (1720-1797)
Right: ‘Chazon Ish’ (1878-1953)

 

Apparently, it was obvious to the Sages that there must be a colored thread in the Tzitzit; their only question was why specifically this color. One of the commentaries explains that the white of Tzitzit symbolizes purity of action, activity free of any wrongdoing The Sages understood, however, that simply refraining from doing evil is insufficient if one wants to attain spiritual and moral perfection. One must also actively engage in performing good deeds. These positive actions are symbolized by color, which improves a garment and elevates its status, just as the positive commandments elevate and improve human character.
The question the Talmud asks, then, is ‘Why ‘tcheilet’?’ As quoted above, the Talmud answers that,tcheilet’ is similar to the sea.’ In another section of the Talmud, the Sages explain that the sea is a metaphor for total immersion in the Torah. The blue-sea color of the ‘Techelet’ string in the Tzitzit teaches that the first step toward actualizing of the Torah’s teachings in one’s life is commitment. Even if one’s intentions are less than pure, ‘from impure intentions will eventually come fulfilment of the Torah and Mitzvot for altruistic reasons.’ This will only come about, however, if the starting point is commitment, swimming like a fish in the sea of Torah. The Talmud continues, ‘the sea is similar to the sky’ – the heavens symbolize the performance of Mitzvot for the sake of Heaven, i.e., altruistically. From this ideal level of Mitzvot fulfilment a person can eventually reach the highest possible level of connection to G-d, symbolized metaphorically by His Throne of Glory.

 

Strings Attached

 

Virtually all societies mandate some type of clothing, no matter how minimal or crude. Often, the purpose is obviously not utilitarian, and sometimes it is completely impractical, like a man’s tie. What then is the explanation for this universal human practice? The key can be found in a statement of the Talmud, in which stage, Rav Yochanan, referred to his clothing as ‘that which give me honor.’’

 

An old man holding a Torah scroll, wearing a Tallit by Marc Chagall (1887-1985)

 

Clothing expresses the human desire to be distinguished from the animals. A human being’s innate feeling of dignity is an expression of the soul, the image of G-d within the person, which says, ‘I am more than an animal!’ Dignity and self-respect taken to negative extremes can become selfishness and egocentricity. Used in a positive way, however, they act as barriers against immorality. Sin and immorality are seen as ‘beneath’ us, simply inappropriate for a being with soul, created in ‘the image of G-d.’

Tying Tzitzit onto our clothing emphasizes and reminds us that our dignity has string attached. ‘Noblesse oblige’ – nobility obligates, and indeed our nobility as humans obligates us to act morally. The fringes attached to our clothing, the symbol our nobility and honor, are there, ‘So that you may remember and perform all My commandments and be holy to your G-d.’

 

The Kabbalists suggest another meaning behind the Mitzvah of Tzitzit. They explain that clothes symbolize the body. Just as clothing surrounds, protects and helps the body to survive, so the body surrounds, protects and helps the spiritual soul to operate in the physical word. Thus, the clothing to which the fringes are attached symbolizes the physical body, and the fringes themselves represent the Mitzvot, the fine threads that bind us to a spiritual reality.

 

 

Selected Laws of Tzitzit and Tallit

 

1. Every Jewish male must have Tzitzit tied on any four-cornered garment that he wears.

 

2. Since it is unusual to wear a four-cornered garment nowadays, it is proper to wear a small four-cornered garment under one’s clothing with Tzitzit attached, in order to fulfil this commandment. This garment is known as a ‘Tallit Katan’, small Tallit. It can be purchased in stores specializing in Jewish books and religious articles. Some wear the Tzitzit so that the fringes are visible outside their clothing, although this is not obligatory, especially for those who work and travel among Gentiles.

 

3. The fringes should be made of white wool that was spun with the intent that the threads be made into Tzitzit.

 

Two of the Torah-giants of our generation.
Left: Rav Menachm Mann Shach (1899-2001), Rosh Yeshiva of Ponovezh Yeshiva.
Right: ‘Rishon LeZion’, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (1920-2013 ), greatest Halahic authority in our time.

 

4. A hole is made at each of the four corners of the garment and the Tzitzit are threaded through the hole and tied with a double knot.

 

5. The Tzitzit should consist of four strings of woollen thread, each one spun from four strands, with one string longer than the others. When threaded through the hole, there will then be a total of eight strings.

 

6. The Tallit and the garment to which the Tzitzit are attached should be white, so that they are the same color as the fringes. It is customary to have black or dark blue stripes on the garment as a reminder of the color blue that was once used in the fringes or the black color reminding us of the Torah scroll which is written with black ink on white parchment.

 

7. Boys usually begin wearing Tzitzit when they are about 3 years old. One should wear a large Tallit, known as ‘Tallit Gadol’, for the morning prayers, especially for the recitation of the Shema. In Sephardic and Askenasi-German communities, boys wear a large Tallit when they become ‘Bar Mitzvah’, while in most Ashkenasic communities a large Tallit is worn only by married men.

 

8. One should say this blessing when putting on the ‘Tallit Gadol’:

‘Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us in His commandments, and commanded us to wrap ourselves in Tzitzit’.
The blessing is recited while standing and holding the Tallit ready to put on, but before actually wrapping oneself in it. One should stand with one’s head wrapped in the Tallit for a few seconds after reciting the blessing.

 

9. When putting on the ‘Tallit Katan’ we say: ‘Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us in His commandments, regarding the commandment of Tzitzit’. If one will be using a ‘Tallit Gadol’ for prayer later that morning, the blessing for the ‘Tallit Gadol’ suffices for both.

 

10. The blessing is said only during the daylight hours. The earliest times to recite this blessing is when it is light enough to distinguish between the blue and white threads in Tzitzit, usually about 54 minutes before sunrise.

 

Colophon

 

20 Sivan 5774/ 18th of June 2014

 

Prof. Rabbi Ahron Daum, B.A., M.S., Emeritus Chief Rabbi of Frankfurt am Main

 

Summarizing the essay about Tzitzit of Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan from his work ‘Collective Writings’:

Matthijs van der Tang

 

Summarizing the essays about Tzitzit from the books ‘The Mitzvot’ and ‘Gateway to Judaism’:

Mattityahu Akiva Strijker, Antwerp

 

Photos and special effects:
Mattityahu Akiva Strijker, Antwerp


Website designer:

Yitzchak Berger, Antwerp/Melbourne, Australia

Son-in-law of Rabbi Ahron Daum

 

 

 

 

We thank the following authors for using their works for spreading out Torah legacy. Their works helped us essentially in realizing this essay. We express our gratitude also in name of the many readers of this essay:

The Aryeh Kaplan Anthology II, by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan
ISBN: 0-89906-868-5

The Mitzvot by Abraham Chill

ISBN: 0 7065 1463 7

Gateway to Judaism by Rabbi Mordechai Becher

ISBN: 1-4226-0030-0

 

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