TZIZIT: “ENWRAPPED BY THE DIVINE PRESENCE”
By Rabbi David Weizman
Imagine a pastoral scene in the rolling hills of Rumania, sometime in the early 1930’s. It is late spring and little Yankle is taking the sheep out to pasture. He has one of the lambs tethered behind him for safe keeping. The birds are chirping, the sun is shining, and the smell of new grass and wildflowers fill the air. Suddenly he feels a tug. The lamb has just nibbled off one of the four fringes of his tallit katan. Yankle realizes his predicament and, with as much force as he can muster, yells Gevalt! Over and over again. You see, he learned in the Mishnah Berurah (8:1), that one is not permitted to walk more than four cubits (approximately six feet) without the arbah kanfos, the four fringes. Now he had only three. He was trapped in his own dalet amos up there on the hill.
Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg, known as Tzitz Eliezer after his book on Jewish law, rules that one must wear a tallit kattan even in extreme heat. I had a camper on a canoe trip in Algonquin Park one time, the only boy among eight girls, who paddled the canoe without a shirt, but left on the arbah kanfos to uphold this ruling by the Tzitz Eliezer.
The commandment for wearing the tzizit is derived from the Torah, Numbers 15:37-41, the passage we read as the third paragraph of the Shemah. It is specific to a four cornered garment, which in antiquity, was a common article of clothing. However, since we do not wear such clothing for many years, the prayer shawl became the instrument through which to fulfil the mitzvah of tzizit. The purpose of the fringes, as explained in the Torah passage, is to remind us of all of the commandments, and to live a life of holiness. Therefore, the custom of wearing a small tallit emerged so that one could wear the tzitit all day long. If you do so, and are planning to wear a tallit gadol for prayer, you need only to recite the blessing for the latter. As a meditation before donning the tallit we recite the opening verses from psalm 104: 1-2
My soul, bless Adonai, Adonai, my God, You are so greatly exalted.
With beauty and splendor You are clothed, Enwrapped in light like a garment, You spread out the heavens like a curtain
בָּֽרֲכִ֥י נַפְשִׁ֗י אֶת־יְה֫וָ֥ה יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱ֭לֹהַי גָּדַ֣לְתָּ מְּאֹ֑ד ה֖וֹד וְהָדָ֣ר לָבָֽשְׁתָּ: עֹ֣טֶה א֭וֹר כַּשַּׂלְמָ֑ה נוֹטֶ֣ה שָׁ֝מַ֗יִם כַּיְרִיעָֽה
Before putting on the tallit, the fringes are examined so that they are not tangled and that their length is at least one handbreath. The attarah, or the band that is placed either on your forehead or around the back of your neck is held facing you while the blessing is recited.
Blessed are You, Adonai, our God and Ruler of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to enwrap ourselves with tzitzit.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶר קִדְּשָֽׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו, וְצִוָּֽנוּ לְהִתְעַטֵּף בַּצִּיצִת
Then the following intention is recited:
May it be Your will Adonai, my God and God of my ancestors,
To consider my fulfillment of the commandment of tzitzit before You,
As though I had fulfilled it in every detail, accurately and with full intent,
And the 613 commandments that it represents as well.
The numerical value of the Hebrew word, tzitzit equals 600. Add the eight threads and the five knots and you have 613, the number of commandments in the Torah.
The tallit, weather large or small, is wrapped around the head for a moment to meditate on the symbolism of the tzitzit, and to feel enwrapped by the wings of the Divine Presence. Then the tallit is hung into place over the shoulders.
In our congregation, we do not consider the tallit to be begged ish (men’s clothing) and that the mitzvah is applicable to both men and women who are of the age of majority. Therefore we encourage all to embrace this mitzvah, to acquire techielet, the blue thread, and to tie your own tzitzit with them, to wear them during tefilah, and even if it is not your tradition, to wear a tallit upon taking an aliyah l’Torah.