A Four-Cornered “Bulletproof Vest”

One of the areas of Judaism that has sparked much interest among the nations of the world is the special dress code unique to the Jewish people. From the tallit—a magnificent eight-fringed white cloak often adorned with black stripes that a Jewish man wraps himself in every morning (not to be confused with the tallit katan worn underneath the clothing), to the head coverings of both men and married women, to the black leather boxes containing portions of Torah scriptures worn on the head and arm on a daily basis. This is the “uniform” the Jew must wear from the day he becomes a man to the day he dies.

His haircut is not typical either. He makes sure to never cut his sideburns off completely and he does not use a razor or any other blade to shave off or trim the hair of his beard. But why? Don’t these actions and precautions seem senseless?

As we’ve mentioned before, we are specifically dealing with the significance and effects the Torah’s instructions have on a person here in this world, not to mention the significance they have on him in the World to Come.

A Four-Cornered “Bulletproof Vest”

It says in the Torah, “You shall make for yourselves twisted threads on the four corners of your garment with which you cover yourself.”[1] It also says:

Hashem said to Moshe saying, “Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them that they shall make themselves tzitzit on the corners of their garments”…it shall constitute tzitzit for you that you may see and remember all the commandments of Hashem and perform them.[2]

The simple aspect of the verse is teaching us that because of the many temptations of the physical world and the daily troubles we endure, a Jewish person might forget about his innate spiritual greatness. He must therefore use a four-cornered “royal cloak” with fringes dangling from its sides, as a special reminder that he’s a part of a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. This is exactly the same reason people in high positions wear official uniforms—to consistently remind them of their esteemed status and the behavior that’s expected of them accordingly.

However, just as every mitzvah offers a physical benefit for man in this world, so too does this mitzvah. According to Kabbalah, the number 8 represents the supernatural.[3] This is manifested through certain mitzvot associated with this number, such as the nature-defying brit milah (circumcision) performed on the eighth day;[4] the eight days of Chanukah, as the weak but spiritual Maccabees defeated the physically strong Greek army and the oil that was meant to last only one day burnt for eight, which was also supernatural; and other similar examples. The mitzvah of tzitzit also contains a profound secret that was revealed to us by the Creator of the world regarding the way in which man can be protected from danger.

By wearing this four-cornered garment (preferably made of wool) with eight twined woolen fringes attached to each corner as dictated by Jewish law, the person receives the highest level of protection, as he is guarded by a supernatural, protective mechanism—a spiritual bulletproof vest.

This kind of safeguarding is manifested through a spiritual protection that allows him to overcome challenges pertaining to various sins and negative urges,[5] as well as physical dangers such as contraction of diseases, injuries from accidents, and so on.[6]

In addition, when the attribute of harsh judgment dominates and rage is aroused against the people as a result of their sins, then a person who is not wearing tzitzit is placing himself in great danger and may be harmed as a result of his refusal to perform this mitzvah. But if he chooses to wear this four-cornered, eight-fringed garment, he is performing a positive commandment that surrounds him with protection and saves him from dangers that others may be exposed to.

This is what the Talmud says:

An angel encountered Rabbi Katina wrapped in a round cloth, as was customary at that time. He said to him, “Katina, Katina, you wear a round cloth in the summer and a full cloth in the winter (as it does not have four corners). If that’s the case, when will you begin to observe the mitzvah of tzitzit?” Replied Katina, “Does the heavenly court punish people for a lack of compliance in their performance of the positive mitzvot?” So the angel replied: When harsh judgment is prevalent, the heavenly court does indeed punish.[7]

In the Tractate of Shabbat it says that the protective power of tzitzit can even safeguard a person’s children![8] This is because they are a part of one’s body and soul. It also adds, “Reish Lakish said that anyone who is meticulous about the mitzvah of tzitzit will be awarded 2,800 servants during the time of the Messiah.” As it says, “Thus said Hashem, Master of Legions, ‘In those days it will happen that ten men, of all the different [languages] of the nations, will take hold, they will take hold of the corner of the garment of a Jewish man saying, ‘Let us go with you for we have heard that G-d is with you!’”[9]

(Ten of each of the seventy nations totals 700, multiplied by four corners, equals 2,800. All of these people will come one after the next and will offer their service to him because they will understand that he has performed this mitzvah, and if they adhere to him he can act as a channel of abundance for them at the time of the distribution of the reward.)

However, as we’ve previously stated, the simple intention of this precious mitzvah is to constantly remind the Jew that he belongs to the royal family when he dons the tallit with the dangling fringes—as commonly seen on royal attire. This is the unique imperial garment of the Jew. 

The Son of a King

This royal garment blends well with the rest of the unique features that characterize a Jew through which he declares his loyalty to G-d. This is the way in which the nation of Israel becomes beloved and desirable to the Blessed Creator. Our sages say, “Beloved are the Jewish people, as they are unique and recognized by all the mitzvot of the Torah. How? By strapping tefillin on their heads and hands, a mezuzah on their doorposts, and four sets of fringes on their garments.”[10]

Concerning these says King David, “Seven times a day I have praised You for Your righteous ordinances.”[11]

This is like a king who tells his wife to dress properly and adorn herself with royal attire when standing before him. When she asks him why, he tells her, “So that you will always be desirable to me for your own benefit.”

Here, G-d is saying the same thing to the Children of Israel, “My children, be proper and well adorned before Me with your mitzvot.” “Why?” they ask. “So that you will be desirable to Me,” says G-d. “You are beautiful, My love, when your deeds are pleasing.[12] You are beautiful, My wife, when you are desirable to Me with your mitzvot.”

This constant reminder is critical when it comes to overcoming challenges, especially those that are not considered problematic among the other nations. As a member of the royal family, a Jew has certain obligations that pertain solely to the kingdom, which the rest of the country’s citizens are not required to fulfill. He is rewarded for his commitment to conduct himself in a regal manner. But since he lives in a physical world, he might come to forget his status and behave like the rest of the nations. However, when he wears tzitzit he is reminded of his exalted heritage. He dons the official uniform of the royal kingdom before leaving for the streets of the city. Therefore, by the end of this commandment, the Torah instructs the following:

Hashem said to Moshe saying, “Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them that they shall make themselves tzitzit on the corners of their garments, throughout their generations…so you may see it and remember all the commandments of Hashem and perform them; and do not explore after your heart and after your eyes after which you stray…so you will be holy to your G-d.”[13]

The heart and the eyes naturally stray after earthly desires. Without having a consistent perspective that reminds the Jew of his spiritual greatness, he may stumble upon harsh challenges. A story is told in the Talmud about a man who was meticulous in his observance of the mitzvah of tzitzit. One day, this man almost stumbled upon a severe sin.[14] As he was about to remove his clothing (before committing the forbidden act), the four fringes hit his face. This immediately awakened him to reflect upon the severity of the crime and caused him to fall to the ground and be saved from sinning. Refer to the Talmud to see the reward that he was granted.


Notes and Sources

[1] Devarim 22:12.

[2] Bamidbar 15:37–40.

[3] For further reading on this topic refer to HaTzofen, letter chet.

[4] It is interesting to note that certain blood-clotting factors reach their peak level specifically on the eighth day of a child’s life. For further reading on this topic, see The Coming Revolution, in the chapter on blood coagulation.

[5] See Bamidbar 15:39, “It shall constitute tzitzit for you, that you may see it and remember all the commandments of Hashem and perform them; and not explore after your heart and after your eyes…” According to the simple level of the verse, seeing the tzitzit provides a constant reminder of G-d’s mitzvot. However, on a deeper level, the tallit, which also contains fringes, has the quality of an encompassing and embracing light that engulfs a person and helps protect him from the negative influences of the evil inclination.

[6] In the holy Zohar (Parshat Vayechi 238b), the tzitzit is included among the following: “She fears not snow for her household” (Mishlei 31:21). What is the reason? “For all her household is clothed in scarlet wool.” Refer to the definition of “snow” in the source. Also, refer to the Ben Ish Chai’s introduction of Parshat Noach, “…therefore, the tallit that protects man, as it says, ‘Shelter me in the shadow of your wings’” (Tehillim 17:8), etc. Refer to the source for his full-length explanation according to the mystics.

[7] Menachot 41a.

[8] Shabbat 32b.

[9] Zechariah 8:23.

[10] Sofrim 1:21.

[11] Tehillim 119:164.

[12] Shir HaShirim 6:4.

[13] Bamidbar 15:37–40.

[14] Menachot 44a.



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