This week's Torah portion, Parashat Sh'lah L'kha meanders. It begins with the 12 spies being sent into the Promised Land (I will dwell more about this on Shabbat morning) and ends with the instructions for wearing tzitzit. God instructs Moses to tell the nation to make tzitzit on the four corners of all garments to serve as an eternal reminder of all the Commandments.
One aspect of tzitzit I appreciate most is that they are on four corners of our tallit, thus representing the four corners of the earth. When we gather our tzitzit together, we are attempting to bring the world together for peace. 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 realm ("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 in Numbers 15:39, "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.You have no doubt seen men and boys at the mall with tzitzit hanging from their waist, that is part of what is known as the tallit katan (small), as opposed to the tallit gadol (large) worn at CSI over the upper body by both men and women. The Talmud, (Menachot 44a) tells of a man who was intensely addicted to a dangerous vice and was willing to spend any amount of money to satisfy that desire. He traveled across the world, and at the moment before the forbidden liason, his tzitzit "slapped him in the face." The commentators explain that the tzitzit struck him not literally, but psychologically-with the four corners of the world appearing as witnesses against him, and he refrained from the sin.
- The tzitzit knots are wound with 7, then 8, then 11, and then 13 windings. Take a look at yours, every one is identical. The question has been asked as to why are they wound with 7, 8, 11, and 13 windings? Seven represents the perfection of the physical world, which was created in seven days.
- Eight is the number of transcendence that goes beyond nature.
- Eleven is the numerical value of vav-hey, the last two letters of God's Name.
- Thirteen is the numerical value of echad - one.
- The five knots themselves remind us of the five senses and the five books of the Torah.
What this means is that our tzitzit are a constant reminder for us about where we were created from, the importance of coming together as a global community, and a constant reminder of our one God. If we can focus on our tzitzit and their meanings on a regular basis, we can become better human beings.
Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham