Look and Remember T he LORD spoke to Moses, saying, "Speak to the sons of Israel, and tell them that they shall make for themselves tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and that they shall put on the tassel of each corner a cord of blue. And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the LORD, so as to do them and not follow after your own heart and your own eyes, after which you played the harlot, in order that you may remember to do all My commandments and be holy to your God." Numbers 15:37-40
Numbers 15 describes a four-cornered garment with fringes on its corners, which is today called a tallit, or a prayer shawl. A small version, sometimes worn under the clothing, is called the tallit katan, "small tallit."Tallit
Originally, the word tallit meant "gown" or "cloak." It possibly resembled the abbayah (blanket) still worn by Bedouins as protection against the weather. The tallit of Numbers 15 is a four-cornered garment with fringes attached to each corner, each fringe having a chord of blue. This garment -- given to His children by God Himself -- became a central part of one's daily wardrobe. This article will teach on the symbolism of the tallit, and also on how this four-cornered garment is a special gift from the Holy One to help us daily remember who we now are through faith in Yeshua the Messiah.
God gave a body of instructions for living, known as the Torah, at Mount Sinai after He brought us out of Egypt. It is important to note this when interpreting any particular commandment, because from this, we know that it was given to those who were redeemed. Thus, all of the instructions, judgments, ordinances and commandments given by God to the redeemed community are not simply laws to obey, but rather gifts for remembering who we are.
The calling of Israel as a light to the nations was to live out the covenant in such a way that would draw God's chosen ones from outside of Israel to the God of Israel (Deuteronomy 4:5-8). In this process of drawing many to the God of Israel, God would grant them, as a gift of grace a new birth and the faith to believe in Him, the one true God, the God of Israel. According to the Brit Hadasha, all who believe are also grafted into Israel and into God's covenant with Israel. Hence, all who make up the remnant of faith are partakers of and participants together in the Covenants.
Consequently, the instructions of Torah for daily life are also intended for that remnant of faith (all those born from above) which God calls forth as His own. Wearing this garment has had and continues to have -- "throughout the generations to come" -- an important God-given role in helping us remember to live a life consistent with who we are as called-out ones from among the nations, to live according to God's covenant.The Color Blue
Having established the validity of wearing the fringes on a four-cornered garment, the next question is: Why is there a blue cord in each of the four fringes? The key to answering this question correctly is to remember that this garment is a God-given reminder for the redeemed communityconcerning their identity in Messiah. How does the color blue serve as such a reminder?
We may note that the shade of blue used on the fringes is called in Hebrew techelet . Techelet is also the color of the heavens! Hence, the techelet serves to remind us that we are born from above and are called to reflect the nature of that Heavenly Kingdom while we live here on earth. This is especially true concerning God's righteousness. When we wear the fringes with the blue, we are reminded of one of the most glorious realities of our new birth from God, which is our being born from above and being "constituted the righteousness of God" (Romans 5:19). We can live consistently with that new reality wherever we live, even to the four corners of the earth throughout our generations.Torah Pictures
The techelet and the tallit are Torah pictures. A Torah picture is a physical thing which God has created to "mirror" a spiritual reality. One place where we read about this concept is Romans 1:18-20. Verse 20 reads, "For since the creation of the world, God's invisible qualities -- His eternal power and divine nature -- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." This passage teaches us that God designed all of His creation to help reveal Himself to man. Another way we learn about the concept of Torah pictures is from Yeshua. During His teaching ministry, Yeshua taught spiritual truths using common physical things around Him to help His talmidim(students) understand the Torah.
Furthermore, when the Scriptures were written. God saw to it that many stories, many realities in the physical realm, and the Hebrew language were all woven together to "paint" pictures which communicate the spiritual realities which He has designed for us to know. Usually these pictures are introduced at some point and then through progressive revelation are built upon throughout the rest of the Scriptures. Uncovering these teaching pictures is an essential part in being able to "correctly handle the Word of truth" (II Timothy 2:15).
At First Fruits of Zion, we often use these Torah pictures to help us to correctly interpret the commands and instructions of God. In this way, we can begin to formulate an accurate biblical halacha. We are committed to the belief that halacha must faithfully uphold the Torah pictures as they are found in the scriptures. Being faithful to these Torah pictures in developing halacha will help ensure that our lives will also be accurate representations of the Word of God in our daily walk.
As we examine more closely the Torah picture in the tallit with its fringes, we will go step by step, or to use the appropriate imagery -- one brush stroke at a time. There are several pictures painted by the tallit, therefore, we will progress by discussing one picture at a time.Like A Knot on Our Finger
It is one thing to know who we are in Messiah and quite another to walk it out. Believe it or not, one of the biggest problems in walking out our new creation identity is simply a matter of remembering.
Our ability to walk in who we are as new creations in Messiah will depend upon what we are remembering in any one moment. Dailyremembering the truths of the Good News is more crucial than we may have realized. God Himself knows how often we need to remember these realities and has provided a way to help us to do so. Wearing the four- cornered garment is one such reminder. We need only embrace this gift of grace for what it is. In other words, when we put the fringes on every day, as God instructed us, it is like the time-honored custom of tying a string around a finger to remind us of something. Wearing the fringes is the "string around our finger" to remind us of our identity as new creations. Remembering the redemptive truths in our lives, helps make it easier to walk in them.A Mirror
There is a second Torah picture which emerges at this point. It is similar to the first one, yet with a slightly different twist. The tallit is also the picture of a mirror.
James (1:22-25) compares the Torah to a mirror. We are told that when a person merely listens to the Word of God, but does not do what is written, he becomes like a person who looks into a mirror, walks away, and immediately forgets what he looks like. The Word of God, then, is our mirror. When we look into it, we are really looking at who we are as one born from above.
Numbers 15:39 teaches that one purpose of the fringes is "for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the LORD, so as to do them." The tallit (or tallit katan), is given to us to remind us that the Word of God is our mirror, into which we look to see what our righteousness looks like and how it behaves. We are those who are called to "do the Word." As we daily look upon the fringes, we are reminded to live according to God's Word. Moreover, the Brit Hadasha reminds us that we are to live by all of God's Word when we read in II Timothy 3:16, "All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." This includes the Torah.
As a reminding tool, the blue of the fringe carries an important message. As we mentioned earlier, the blue is the same blue as the heavens and represents the righteousness of heaven that we now are by virtue of our new birth. Therefore, when we look at the blue "mirror" we are once again reminded of the miracle of the new birth wrought by God and preformed in all of us who have trusted in the Messiah. This is the new birth which has radically changed us from within, from being a sinner to being a saint constituted righteous.The Garment of the Soul
There is yet a third Torah picture we can glean from the tallit and the fringes. In traditional Judaism, the rabbis describe the Torah as "the garment of the soul." Our soul is visible only by "what we put on." It is in this light that Rav Shaul writes his famous "put off and put on" statements. Let us look at what he says:
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old man, and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor... In your anger do not sin... Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen....
These are only a few of the "put-offs and put-ons" listed in Ephesians 4. There are others in Colossians, such as: "Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its creator" (3:9). Let us allow Rav Shaul, in the same passage, to summarize what we are saying: "Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience..." (3:12 ).
Why are we instructed to "clothe ourselves" in this manner? Because these qualities are exactly who we now are. The key is to know who and what we are in Messiah. Thus, we do not do the Word because we "have to," as if it were some sort of a law code. Rather it is simply that we are doing the Word because it is who we truly are through faith in Messiah! For example, we are instructed to put off the un-righteousness that we were before we were crucified in Messiah. Why? Because that un- righteousness is no longer who we are, by virtue of our death, burial, and resurrection in Yeshua (Romans 6)! Behaving in our old ways was the old garment of the unregenerate soul that we once were (Ephesians 2:1-10). But we, who were once dead in our trespasses and sins, are now made alive in Messiah through faith alone! We are constituted the righteousness of God in Him and the garment of our new-creation soul is now the Torah -- the righteousness of God revealed.
Thus, we are to choose to "put on" the Torah and take back the image of God in us! We are to refuse to believe Satan's lies about our old man being active any longer! Take God at His Word! Remember, "The just shall live by faith." Moreover, "Do not merely listen to the Word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says... The man who looks intently into the perfect Torah that gives freedom [freedom to be who you now are], not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it -- he will be blessed in what he does" (James 1:22-25).
Living consistently with who we are ("doing the Word") makes our invisible soul, visible. We are seated in the heavenlies with Messiah and are called to live the righteousness of heaven here upon the earth. Let us together, as one new man created in Messiah Yeshua, "put on" who we are -- the Living Words which hit the mark of true righteousness, the Torah itself.
Accordingly, when we wear the tallit it reminds us of putting on the garment of the soul. By virtue of our new birth, we are now born of a new Father who gives us a completely new spiritual "constitution." One way we can refer to this new reality is as having a new "spiritual DNA." Before Yeshua came into our lives and atoned for our sins, we were "constituted" sinners. But now we are "constituted" righteous. This, according to God's Word, is our new reality. The tallit and fringes remind us of our new "soul."
The fact that we may never have been taught about our new identity in Messiah does not negate its reality. When we place our faith in Yeshua as our full atonement, our "old man" is crucified in Him and we are born again as a completely new creation of God; We are now actually "constituted" the righteousness of God in the Messiah (Galatians 2:20-21; IICorinthians 5:17; Romans 5:19). This is what the writer of Romans 10:6 is saying when he uses the phrase, "the righteousness that is by faith." The righteousness that is by faith is that which a person receives when he is born from above through faith in the One who has made him new! "For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness which is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: 'The righteous will live by faith'" (Romans 1:17). This righteousness from above is represented by the blue cord in the tzitzit.Gazing at the Clouds
As we continue to develop this Torah picture, another ingredient is added -- the sky above and the waters below. The blue of the sky is the color of techelet, the color of the cord in the tzitzit. God designed that this brilliant blue of the heavens is also reflected in the waters below. The picture is glorious. It illustrates for us how Yeshua, the Righteousness from heaven who Himself is our righteousness, is reflected in the earth by the streams of living water which flow from our innermost being right here upon the earth. We are the ones through whom the righteousness of heaven is reflected in the earth. It is this very reality which is pictured for us by the fringes with a chord of blue which "flow" from the corners of our four- cornered garment. This garment, then, becomes not only our daily reminder of who we are in the earth, but it also provides for us a little glimpse into the wonders of the very throne room of the heavens themselves.
Let us go one step farther in this Torah picture. Take a moment to gaze at the picture, at the beginning of this article, of a pure blue sky. There are no clouds. This is the pure techelet of the heavens. Now gaze at the other picture, with a dark and stormy cloud cover. This cloud cover blocks from sight the pure blue behind it. The cloud cover does not remove the presence and reality of the pure blue, but merely blocks it from sight. If the cloud cover is moved away by the ruach(wind) then the pure blue of the heavens is once again brought into sight.
Can you see how aptly this picture describes what we know to be true from the Scriptures about who we are as new creations in Messiah and the role of the flesh in its ability to cover over who we now are? Colossians 2 tells us that in the work of Messiah, our flesh is "circumcised" from our new creation self. That means that our flesh, though it exists and is very real, does not even touch our real and true new creation self.
The clouds in the sky can serve as a vivid example of this. Anyone who has flown in an aircraft has noticed that clouds exist only between the heavens and the earth. Above the cloud cover there is only the pure blue of the heavens. Accordingly, we can picture our flesh nature as a cloud cover designed to block our new and true selves -- who are seated in the heavens with Messiah -- from being visible upon the earth. The cloud cover is not who we are! The cloud cover only blocks who we are from view.
Just as there are many kinds of clouds, there are also many different sins. Now, compare the dark and stormy sky with the sky filled with large puffy white clouds. What do these pictures have in common? The pure blue behind them is covered over equally by both kinds of cloud cover. What can we understand by this observation of God's creation? The dark and ominousclouds are appropriate pictures of the forms of human flesh that are so easily recognizable. Perhaps the bright, white and puffy clouds picture the version of the flesh that can be called "religious" flesh. There are religious spirits in our world who can operate through our flesh and who behave with a "religious righteousness." This religious righteousness has nothing to do with the true righteousness of God. "Religious" flesh is equally sufficient to cover over the pure blue of the heavens. It may appear as righteousness, but it is man-made and is not the life of Yeshua in us. Only the Word of God can identify how His righteous life in us looks and behaves. What we seek is His life in us and not to "put on" any form of "cloud cover" (flesh) that will block from view Yeshua's life in us.
The "pure blue" of the heavens is revealed in and reflected upon the earth through His new creation humanity. In the Torah picture, the Word of God (both written and made flesh and dwelling in us) is the "Water." As we walk in Messiah, streams of this "Living Water" flow from our innermost being. It is this flowing of His righteousness in the earth which is the reflection of the techelet of the heavens and is that which is pictured for us in the tallit.Four Corners
The command in Numbers is not just to wear fringes. Rather, it is to put the fringes on the corners of our garments. We have related some of the pictures that wearing the fringes paints for us. But what about the garment itself?
We cannot be dogmatic on this point, but we think that we have at least part of the answer. What else in Scripture is described as having "four corners"? The altar was built that way. But both the altar and the fringes garment are reminders of a similar truth: that God often speaks of the earth as having "four corners." However, we know that the earth is not a cube! Such a description -- the four corners of the earth -- means all of the directions of the earth. For example, when we are told that God will bring His people back to the Land from the four corners of the earth, He means that there will be no part of earth which will be ignored -- they will come from north, east, south, and west.
The four-cornered garment, then, is our reminder from God Himself that His intention from the very beginning was that this Good News would go out to all the peoples of the earth -- to every tribe and with man wherever he goes, even to the "four corners of the earth."Just Put Them On!
Once we have studied the Scriptures and understand these powerful truths, we can then wear the tallit and it will help us to remember all the truths we need in order to set us free in our walk of faith -- the doing of the Word. Moreover, with this understanding, the use of the tallit cannot be in the realm of legalism. This is not a law to obey, but rather a gift of God to His children for remembering who we are.
Thus, the Torah says, "And it will be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the 'techelet' (the commandments of the Lord, the righteousness of the Lord) so as to do them...." Therefore, what is left for us to do, but simply put them on? (Pull-outs or appendixes)Questions
If I am not Jewish, can I wear tzitzit?
The teaching about the tzitzit was given to the children of Israel. According to Ephesians 2:19 believers in Yeshua who are not born Jewish "are no longer strangers and aliens, but are fellow citizens with the saints and are of God's household." This would mean, among other things, that the privilege of wearing the fringes is also granted to those who are grafted in to Israel and are therefore, fellow citizens of Israel. Moreover, when we understand the symbolism of the tzitzit, it becomes clear that it is appropriate for any believer to wear them. Since they are intended only to serve as reminders, is there any among us who are not in need of this God-given reminder of who it is that we are as a new creation in Messiah?
Are women permitted to wear Tzitzit?
In the past, both the men and the women of Israel wore the fringes as prescribed in Numbers 15. Over time the women were excused from the wearing of tzitzit because of their household duties. And thus, the idea of women wearing tzitzit became unheard of. There were some important exceptions in history such as in the Talmud (Menachot 43a) where we find that Rabbi Judah the Prince personally attached tzitzit to his wife's apron. From a Messianic viewpoint, our response to this question is simply, Why not? The symbolism is just as meaningful for women as it is for men and the necessity for wearing such reminders of the Covenant is also just as appropriate for women as it is for men.
Is the blue thread necessary?
Once we understand the ways in which the blue cord was designed by God to serve us as a helping tool, the answer to this question will be self-evident. The idea is that we would be reminded daily of our reality in Messiah being a new creation constituted the righteousness of God. The blue techelet is the same color as the blue of the heavens, symbolizing the righteousness which comes from God. The blue, therefore, is the whole point and it is to be the blue of the heavens. To make your fringes, you will need white thread and a blue thread that is as close to the deep blue of the sky as you can find. The traditional threads used today can be purchased.
How are the fringes to be worn?
We glean from the text our instructions: worn on a four cornered garment to be looked upon. These are the only two biblical injunctions given in the commandment. Two more can be added. In each generation and in different cultures, what is considered to be men's clothing will vary. The biblical teaching is that a woman should not wear men's clothing. In modern Judaism, the tallit is considered to be a piece of men's clothing. Therefore, women can be creative in designing a woman's four- cornered garment upon which to attach the fringes. One suggestion could be to use a decorative scarf that lays over the shoulders. It has four corners and it does not draw attention to itself. The fringes can be very short and obvious only to the wearer. From Matthew 23:5, we understand that the fringes should not be lengthened to be made more noticeable to others around us.Tradition
Tzitzit (Techelet)The main characteristic of the biblical command that is most noticeably missing today is the cord of techelet (blue). In ancient times the dye for this cord came from a sea- creature called a chilazon or sea snail. At some point in time, the creature was lost, as was the exact color. Because of this, many today simply use eight strands of white. However, it is quite possible that the proper snail has been found. And so a number of rabbinic circles are now authorizing the return of the blue thread to the tzitzit. Nowhere in Scripture are we told exactly how the tzitzit are to be tied, so for this many depend on rabbinic tradition to point the way. The tallit kattan is usually worn throughout the day. There are many who wear the tzitzit outside the clothing and many who wear them inside. Each person's practice in this is a matter of personal preference.
Tallit Gadol (Prayer Shawl)Specifically reminds one of being in the presence of the LORD. As it is donned in the morning before prayer, one first wraps it about the head and upper body, shutting out the rest of the world momentarily while proclaiming the sovereignty of God, "Blessed are you Lord God King of the Universe who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to wrap ourselves in the fringed garment." Definitions
What is a Tallit?Tallit Katan
Originally, the tzitzit were worn on the corners of the robes that were the style of the day. Today we must do something different. The tallit katan or small tallit is one way that everyone can observe the mitzvah today. The tallit katan is a simple rectangular garment made of cotton, linen or wool with the tzitzit tied on the four corners. There is a hole in the center of the garment so it will fit over the upper half of the body, and is normally worn over an undershirt but underneath an outer shirt.Tallit Gadol (Prayer Shawl)
The tallit gadol or prayer shawl is a much larger garment, looking more like a blanket than an article of clothing. It also has tzitzit tied on the four corners. Men primarily wear it in the morning when they pray. Originally, the word tallit meant "gown" or "cloak." It possibly resembled the abbayah (blanket) still worn by Bedouins as protection against the weather. Archaeologists have found some examples from the second Temple period and they were almost identical the ones we wear today.