Tzitzis: On the Fringe
Tzitzis are to be attached to the fringes of a four-cornered garment. Each
fringe consists of eight white strings (originally the eighth was called
the techeiles that was a specially dyed blue string). (Numbers 15:37-41)
The law requiring tzitzis to be attached to the fringes is specific to the
wearing of a four-corner garment. But an object of clothing with two or
three corners does not fall under this obligation.
What is it about the “four” fringes which makes it subject to the mitzvah
Our world, which is composed of multiple creatures, is characterised by
the number “four”. Four refers to the “four directions” – north, east,
south and west – on a compass wherein the physical world unfolds and
operates. It is within this forum of multiplicity that man’s stalwart
worship of G-d is to be expressed. Herein all of his diverse energies are
to be channelled and harmonized so that he elevates the physical world
of “four” so that it is permeated with spirituality.
But “four” is also the symbol of exile – representing journeying into the
four directions away from one central and unified point. (The Egyptian
exile was for 400 years. The desert-wandering was for 40 years. Both are
greater expressions of “four”). Redemption is the return to the original
centralized state. It also represents the return to the One Master of the
Universe (See Maharal, Gevuros Hashem Ch.23 & Ch.26). As we say in the
Amidah, we anxiously await the final redemption in the Messianic era
whereupon “the dispersed will be collected from the four corners of the
Tzitzis covers the person’s physical body which resides in the world
associated with “four”. The garment is itself “four-cornered”. But from
the fringes emerges the strings of the tzitzis.
Tzitzis is a powerful visual tool to live yet to break out of the “four”
to attach himself to the Oneness of G-d. Consider the blue dye of the
techeiles extracted from the chilazan creature which resembled the color
of the seas. The seas, in turn, resemble the heavens that are similar to
sapphire and comparable to the Heavenly Throne of Glory (Chullin 89a).
Techeiles is relates to the Hebrew word tachlis, “purpose”. Thus, this
thread on the fringe – consistent with the message of the tzitzis –is the
reminder for man not to lose sight of the overriding “purpose” of life and
of creation (Ramban, Numbers 15:32) as he journeys and ascends to the
heavens and beyond.
The protruding threads urge man to unify the decentralised “four” by
directing his whole being outwards towards the “One” G-d. Thus, he is
dissuaded from over-involvement in this world of “four” that constitutes
exile, deviation from his national mission, and detachment from G-d.
Instead, the Jew is to see beyond the physical to the symbolism contained
within the number “one”. This finds expression in the tzitzis’ sequence of
twirls arranged between the five knots: 7, 8, 11 and 13 which, when taken
together, equal the numeric sum of the phrase Hashem echad, "G-d is One”
(See Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 11:14 & Mishnah Berurah 70). This unity
is also seen in the fact that tzitzis is the chosen means to unify all the
commandments – to “see it and to remember all the commandments of G-d and
perform them”. This is alluded to in the value of tzitzis: (600) which,
when added to the 8 threads and 5 knots on each fringe totals 613 – the
full number of Torah commandments (Rashi, Numbers 15:39).
Whatever our worldly activities in the world of “four”, the realm of
multiplicity, the Jewish man’s objective in life is constant. He has to
live a spiritual existence within this physical world so that he
successfully merits developing an eternal relationship and “oneness” with
Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Osher Chaim Levene and Torah.org.