In the Torah portion of Shelach
we learn about the mitzvah of wearing Tzitzit (Numbers 17:37-41)
. The section of Tzitit is preceded by the story of the man who gathered sticks on Shabbat and was put to death as a punishment for his sin. (The man who gathered sticks is referred to as the mekoshesh, the one who gathered.) The commentaries offer several reasons for the juxtaposition of these two sections:
Rashi (on verse 41
) quotes Rabbi Moshe HaDarshan that both the Mitzvah of observing Shabbat and the Mitzvah of wearing tzitzit are each compared to the entire Torah. The reason for this is that Shabbat is a testimony that we believe that we were created by Hashem and that we were chosen to serve Him. And Tzitzit reminds us of all of the mitzvot. (See Rashi that the gematriyah of Tzitzit plus the number of knots and strings equals 613.)
The Midrash (Yalkut quoted in the Ohr HaChaim
) says that, after the sin of the Mekoshesh, Moshe asked G-d how He expected the Jewish people to remember the Mitzvot on Shabbat? After all, during the week we have the Mitzvah of Tefillin, which remind us of G-d and His Mitzvot. (The Mitzvah of Tefillin was given to the Jews before they left Egypt, see Exodus 13:9 and 16.
) But on Shabbat when we don’t wear tefillin, what will remind us of G-d and His Mitzvot? G-d responded by giving us the commandment of Tzitzit which we wear on Shabbat as well. (The Midrash Lekach Tov
gives a similar explanation.) The Ramban
too writes that the Mitzvah of Tzitzit is placed here so that one should remember all of the Mitzvot and especially the important ones like keeping Shabbat.
Rabbi Baruch Shimon Shneersohn
(Rosh Yeshivah of Tchebin, 1913 – 2001) finds the above Midrash difficult to understand. The Mekoshesh transgressed the Shabbat willfully as, had it not been willful, he would not have been put to death. So how would Tzitzit have prevented him from sinning? And if the Midrash means that the mitzvah of Tzitzit will assist us to overcome our urges to sin, what is in the Tzitzit that gives it this power? Why can’t the Mitzvah of observing Shabbat, for example, give us power to overcome the urge to sin?
He explains that sometimes it is difficult to discern what is a Mitzvah and what is a sin. For example, according to the Talmud, the intention of the Mekoshesh was good as he wanted to show people how Shabbat was a very serious matter (see Targum Yonatan ben Uziel on verse 32). Despite this intention his actions were deemed sinful, and he was deserving of punishment.
As such, a person needs wisdom to discern and figure out what is a sin and what is a mitzvah. Since the Tefillin embody Torah wisdom, wearing it is a protection from sin as it assists in achieving the intellectual clarity to make the right decision. The tzitzit, which cover the body but not the head, represent a commitment to serve G-d even when one does not have intellectual clarity. As such, it represents bitul, the abnegation of self and having a supra-rational devotion to G-d. When one has this bitul, one is “reminded of all the Mitzvot,” i.e., he will merit to have the clarity to figure out what is the ultimate will of G-d in every situation.
- Not Wearing Tzitzit on Shabbat is Like Desecrating the Shabbat
quotes a Midrash that says that one who does not wear tzitzit on Shabbat is like one who collects sticks on Shabbat. The commentaries find it difficult to explain this Midrash one who does not wear tzitzit does not seem to desecrate the Shabbat at all. (See Torah Sheimah who quotes a slightly different version of the Midrash which is easier to understand.)
Rabbi Eliyahu Katz, the Av Beit Din of Satmar in Benei Berak explains (Sefer Rosh Eliyahu pg. 53), that since, as quoted above, G-d gave us the Mitzvah of Tzitzit in order to remember the Mitzvot and not desecrate the Shabbat, if one doesn’t wear tzitzit on Shabbat, he is not protecting himself from sin and may thus end up desecrating the Shabbat.
- Don’t Listen to the False Prophets
Rabbi Yitzchok Meir Alter of Gur (Sefer HaZechut, parshat Shelach) explains the connection between the Mitzvah of Tzitzit and the story of the spies earlier in the Parsha. The ten spies were leaders of the Jewish people. Leaders can be compared to the “eyes” and “heart” of the community. (See Taanit 24a
and Rambam, Hilchot Melachim 3:6
). But sometimes, if those leaders are giving false “prophecy” or direction, we must not pay attention to them. This was true in the time of the spies and, according to Rabbi Alter, will also be true in the time right before Moshiach. The tzitzit remind us that we must not follow the (negative) dictates of our eyes and heart, as the verse says (verse 39), “And you shall not wander after your hearts and after your eyes after which you are going astray.” This means that even if a person’s spiritual powers of vision and feelings (eyes and heart) have been contaminated, one still has the power to overcome temptation. This is because we all have the pintele Yid, the essence of our souls which is always pure, and which, with G-d’s help, can zassist us to overcome the greatest temptations.
The mitzvah of tzitzit can be fulfilled by wearing a small tallit (Tallit Katan) or a large one (Tallit Gadol). The former is (preferably) worn throughout the day while the latter is worn during davening shacharit.
The rest of this article will focus on how a Tallit Gadol is important for Jewish weddings.
A Tallit for a Chuppah
Many Sefardim have the custom that the chuppah (for a Chattan and Kallah) be made of a Tallit. This is alluded to in Deut. 22:12-13, where the verse about tzitzit is placed just before a verse about getting married (Minhagei Rabbi Avraham Childik).
The Kolbo (Siman 75 D.H Vekatav HaRam) adds that the fact that the Tallit is white alludes to the verse (Kohelet 9:8
), “At all times your garments (actions) should be white (pure).” The Tallit thus alludes to the purity of the Chattan and Kallah while the Tzitzit on the tallit is to encourage the couple to observe all of the mitzvot.
Some hold that the Chattan puts on his (new) Tallit and drapes it on his Kallah as well (Maharil, Hilchot Nesu’in). This, too, can be considered a “Chuppah.” I have heard that this is the custom of Persian Jews.
The Talmud alludes to this custom when it says (Kiddushin 18B
) that a chattan spreads a Tallit on his kallah (Yesodot HaHalacha by Rabbi Eliezer Levy, page 17).
A Tallit as a Gift for the Chattan
It is customary for the father of the Kallah to buy a Tallit (and a Kittel) for the Chattan. This is considered a financial obligation (Sdei Chemed, entry Chattan VeKallah in the name of Responsa Sheilat Shalom). The reason for this is that in many (Ashkenazi) communities, young men do not wear a Tallit until they are married (see Magen Avraham 8:3 and below). Therefore, since the kallah is the “cause” of the Chattan wearing a Tallit, it is customary that she (or her parents) buy one for him (Otzar Minhagei Yeshurun).
The Kittel is worn by the Chattan under the Chupah.
Tallit after Marriage
The Ashkenaz custom that young men not wear a Tallit until after getting married is alluded to in Kohelet (9:8 and 9) where the verse (quoted above) says, “At all times your garments should be white.” According to the Talmud (Shabbat 153a
) this is referring to the Tallit. The very next verse says, “See life with the woman that you love.” This alludes to the connection between marriage and wearing a Tallit.
From the perspective of Chassidut, the Tallit Gadol (large Tallit) is a manifestation of an all- encompassing revelation of G-d that is completely beyond this world. This revelation is manifest at a wedding, and from this exalted revelation the couple is blessed with children who will, in turn, bring about future generations (Torat Menachem 5716 vol. 1, page 110).
Shehechiyanu on the Tallit
In some Sefaridic communities the Chattan puts on the new Tallit for the first time while under the Chupah and says Shehechiyanu while doing so. (According to Chabad custom Shehechiyanu is only recited on exceptionally expensive garments.)
Some recommend that when the Chattan says Shehichaynu upon wearing his new Tallit for the first time, he should have in mind to “cover” all of the new garments that were purchased for the wedding. In addition he should have in mind that he is thanking G-d for his new wife and the new life that he is now starting (Kaf HaChaim 223:25)
Folding the Tallit
It is customary to fold one’s Tallit immediately after Shabbat since on Shabbat one may not fold it in the ordinary way (see O.C. 302). The Magen Avraham (300:1
) writes (in the name of the Maharil) that the reason for this custom is so that one begins the week with a Mitzvah. In addition, this is considered to be a segulah that one’s wife should live long. The reason for this is that by taking care of the Tallit that was given to him by his wife, he is showing (symbolically) that he is happy with his wife and is not looking for another one (Ta’amei HaMinhagim 943).
Washing the Dishes
Reb Yaakov Leiser of Pshevorsk (and Amsterdam 1908 – 1998) said, “People say that folding the Tallit on Motzei Shabbat is a segulah for Shalom Bayit (peace in the home). And I say that a tried and true segulah for Shalom Bayit is to roll up one’s sleeves and wash the dishes.” (Kesher Shel Kayama by Rabbi Avraham Meizlish, page 408).
May we Merit to Appreciate all of the Divine Revelations Inherent in the Mitzvah of Tzitzit!
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach and a Chodesh Tov!