“Tzitzit” – The “Mitzvah” (Divine Command) of attaching “Tzitzit” (a group of threads, attached in a special way, as defined by “Halachah L’Moshe MiSinai;” that is, according to Jewish Tradition, taught to Moshe by G-d on Mount Sinai during his forty days and nights atop the mountain, but not included explicitly in the Written Torah) to a garment with which one covers oneself, as it says in Parashat Shelach (BaMidbar 15:38), “And they should make Tzitzit…”
This verse appears in the “Kriat Shema,” which is a very basic prayer in Judaism. “Kriat Shema” is the Jew’s Declaration of his Faith in HaShem, consisting of three paragraphs. The first is the “Acceptance of the Kingship of HaShem,” the second is the Acceptance of the “Yoke of the Commands.” And the third basically deals with the “Mitzvah” of “Tzitzit,” which is a visible sign in one’s garments that reminds one of the Commandments, and also reminds one to avoid falling into the trap of sin.
This obligation applies when one is wearing a wool or cotton garment with four corners. Theoretically, then, it is possible to escape the duty by not wearing such a garment. However, since one cannot imagine a better reminder of one’s duty to his King than by having the seal of the King attached to the garment that he wears at all times, it has become the practice of the Jewish people from time immemorial to specifically wear such a four-cornered garment, called a “Tallit Kattan,” a “small Prayer Shawl,” in order to incur the obligation. “Tzitzit” are also a crucial part of the “Tallit Gadol,” the Large Prayer Shawl, worn in the synagogue.
Our Sages (“Midrash Tanchuma”) have pointed out that the “gematria” (the sum of the numerical letter-equivalents of a word; for example, the “gematria” of the word “beged,” meaning garment, is [2 (for the “Beit” + 3 (for the “Gimmel”) + 4 (for the “Dalet”) = 9] of the word “Tzitzit” is [90 (for the first “Tzadi”) + 10 (for the first “Yud”) + 90 (for the second “Tzadi”) + 10 (for the second “Yud”) + 400 (for the “Tuff”) = 600]. If we then add 8 for the number of threads on each corner of the garment + 5 for the number of knots on each thread, one has the sum of 613, “Taryag,” which is the number of Divine Commands in the Torah.
The preferable color of the threads of “Tzitzit” is “techeilet,” obtained from a dye extracted from an aquatic creature called the “chilazon,” the identity of which has long been a subject of controversy, but it is said that it can be found in the “Yam HaMelach,” the Sea of Salt.
There is another tradition that says that the “chilazon” is found along the Mediterranean coastline of the territorial portion of the Tribe of Zevulun, in northern Eretz Yisrael.
The color of the dye is an aquamarine (blue-green) color about which the Gemara in Menachot 43b says, “What is the difference between ‘techeilet’ and all other colors? The special quality of ‘techeilet’ is that it resembles the sea, and the sea resembles the sky, and the sky resembles the Throne of Glory…” Some individuals have begun to use “techeilet,” derived from their version of what the “chilazon” is, but white is also acceptable as a color of “Tzitzit.”
The “Tzitzit” are a Divinely-ordained “behavior modification” device, as we read in the third paragraph of “Kriat Shema,” (Bamidbar 15:37-41), “And HaShem said to Moshe, ‘Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them that they should make “Tzitzit” on the corners of their garments throughout all of their generations. And they should place on each corner a thread of ‘techeilet;’ and that shall be for them as ‘Tzitzit.’ And you shall see them, and remember all the Commandments of HaShem, and you shall do them. And you shall not stray after the imagination of your heart, and what you see with your eyes, towards which you have a tendency to wander. In order that you remember and that you do all of My Commandments; and you shall be holy to your G-d . I am HaShem your G-d, Who took you out of the land of Egypt, to be your G-d. I am HaShem your G-d.” It is true!