There is a biblical command to attach fringes to the corners of four-cornered garments. The garments which sport these fringes, known as tallit and Tzitzit serves as constant reminders of our obligations to G-d and our fellows. The following articles will give you the basics of this unique mitzvah.
Bamidbar / Numbers 15:38 "Speak to the people of Israel, instructing them to make, through all their generations, tzitziyot on the corners of their garments, and to put with the Tzitzit on each corner a blue thread. 39 It is to be a Tzitzit for you to look at and thereby remember all of HaShem’s mitzvot and obey them, so that you won’t go around wherever your own heart and eyes lead you to prostitute yourselves; 40 but it will help you remember and obey all my mitzvot and be holy for your God. CJB
First off in verse 38 we are presented with the word fringes, ציצת Tzitzit, a literal translation of the word is ‘fringe.’ Our second point, also in verse 38, “in the borders of their garments”. Borders / Kanaf, literally means ‘corners’. The verse is actually referring to a ‘four cornered garment’. So there is to be four Tzitzit and four corners upon which to tie them.
Tzitzit are tassels that hang down from the four corners of a rectangular garment, as the Torah says: "You shall put fringes on your four-cornered garment." Why do we wear Tzitzit? The Torah explains that by doing so, "you will see it and remember all the mitzvot (the commandments of the Holy Scriptures)."
How do the Tzitzit remind us of the mitzvot? On the simple level, Tzitzit serve as the colloquial string-around-the-finger reminder. As we go about our daily chores, whether at work or at a super market, the subway, Tzitzit give us an anchor to the world of spirituality (keep us tied up with him). Our challenge is to make spirituality a part of daily reality. In seeing the Tzitzit, we have a tangible reminder of an incorporeal God. Seeing God in our lives is a progression — from recognizing his presence in mundane things like a garment, all the way to the spiritual realms ("heavenly throne"). In this way, Tzitzit has a meta-physical "fringe" benefit (pun intended), in helping to safeguard one from temptation. The Torah tells us: "And you will see them, and remember not to follow after your heart and eyes, that you stray after them." Tzitzit remind us that God is watching, and our actions should reflect that realization.
Most of you will agree that tzitziyot are meant to be worn out. Yes, dangling, seen, exposed, and not restricted…for the most part. They are a sign of the mitzvot and of the G-d you serve. You are a child of Israel. Now, don’t you forget it!
Question: We are commanded to wear Tzitzit on the four corners of our garments. Today our garments mostly have no corners? I realize that we can find something to wear with four corners such as the tallit katan but the commandment seems to say that the Tzitzit should be on what we would normally wear. In the days of Moshe garments had four corners so one didn’t have to artificially derive a garment with four corners. Wouldn’t the mitzvot be satisfied by putting Tzitzit on something like the belt loops of our pants?
Answer: The reason that it is not a mitzvah to put Tzitzit on belt loops or anything besides a 4-cornered garment is because the mitzvot are not merely symbolic. When the Torah says to give 10% of your income to tzedaka, it does not mean that you may give less than that as a symbolic gesture. When we are to eat matzah (un-leaven bread) on Passover and shun leavening, a person who eats non-kosher matzah has not fulfilled the mitzvah (commandment).
Hence, if we do not put Tzitzit on true 4-cornered garments, then Tzitzit were not used. That is why there is a universal minhag (custom) among Torah-observant Jewish men to wear a talit katan, in order that this mitzvah – i.e., this aspect of Torah – should be fulfilled.
The historic interpretation of this verse is the katan, a type of tunic or long shirt having four corners.
Belt loops – a BIG NO NO.
The basic rule applies; if a garment like belt loops does not have four corners then it does not have to have Tzitzit tied upon it, and probably should not.
The strings which are used to make the Tzitzit must be made especially for the mitzva of Tzitzit. The strings must have rabbinical certification, because there are certain guidelines.
According to the Rambam, Maimonides, the mitzva of tzitzit is on par with the mitzva of circumcision— which surely gives us an idea how important a mitzva it is! For those Jews who don’t yet have tzitzit – be sure to get yours today!
The Blue Thread
The Torah says that of the four threads at each corner, one should be of "techelet." Techelet is a blue dye made from the blood of the chilazon, a sea creature found on the coast of northern Israel.
This particular blue dye was very precious and because of its value, the Romans (who conquered Israel in 63 BCE) decreed that only "blue-blooded" royalty could wear the color techelet. This caused the Jewish dyers to go underground. By 639 CE, at the time of the Arab conquest, the secret of techelet was lost all together. It is interesting that the series of stripes (usually black or blue) on just about every Tallit Gadol may have their origin as a reminder of the "strand of techelet" once worn as part of the Tzitzit.
In the late 19th century, a massive international search was made to rediscover the original chilazon, the snail used to make techelet. Since then, several species of snails have been suggested by researchers, but much controversy remains about the matter. Today, while some scholars advocate the wearing of "techelet strings" from these snails, most scholars remain unconvinced. Do the Blue!
"In those days …ten men out of all the languages of the nations, shall take hold of the (skirt –Tzitzit)of him that is a Jew, saying: We will go with you, for we have heard that G_d is with you."
Tags: anchor, beltloop, blue thread, borders, cjb, daily chores, fellows, four corners, fringes, garment, garments, holy scriptures, literal translation, mitzvah, mitzvot, reminders, tallit, tangi, tassels, Torah, Tzitzit
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