The wearing of tzitzit is a commandment from the Torah: Numbers (15:37-41)
15:37 And spake unto Moses, saying, 38. Speak to the Israelite people and bid them that they make them fringes in the borders of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the fringe of the borders a ribband of blue: 39. And it shall be unto you for a fringe, that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of , and do them; and that ye seek not after your own heart and your own eyes, after which ye use to go a whoring: 40. That ye may remember, and do all my commandments, and be holy unto your Elohim. 41. I am your Elohim , which brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your Elohim: I am your Elohim.
It has tremendous significance and a lesson for our lives today. In order to make sense of this regulation, we need to see the cultural picture behind putting tzitzit( pronounced ZEET-zeet) on the corners of the garment. In ancient times, garments were woven and decorated to show the person's identity and status in society. The hem and tassels of the outer robe were particularly important, with the hem being symbolic of the owner's identity and authority. In the story of Saul, the cutting of the hem is a prophetic picture of Yahweh's removing him from his reign (1 Sam 15:27, 1 Sam 24:4). In legal contracts written in clay, instead of a signature, the corner of the hem would be pressed into the clay to leave an impression.
On the hem were attached the tzitzit (plural, tzitziot), which were a visual reminder of one of the most important promises that Yahweh made at Mt. Sinai:
'Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' (Ex. 19:6)
The tzitzit communicated that idea using several cultural pictures:
- Tassels in general were a sign of nobility - in ancient times kings and princes decorated their hems with tassels. Merely by wearing tassels, the Israelites were wearing a "royal robe", marked as Yahweh's chosen people. In ancient times this would have been quite a statement to the nations around them who saw the regal nature of their clothing.
- The presence of a blue thread in the tassel was a reminder of the blue robes of the priests, being dyed with the same expensive dye (tekhelet) only made from one rare type of snail. It was as if each Israelite wore a little piece of the high priest's blue robe at all times to remind them that like the priests, they were set apart for serving Yahweh. The blue dye eventually became so expensive that it was no longer required.
- The tassels were wound and knotted in a specific pattern to remind the wearer of the commandments of Yahweh. And to remind a person to be continually obedient to Yahweh.
By wearing tzitzit, every Hebrew was reminded of his unique relationship with Yahweh and obligation to serve him.
"All of Israel is enjoined to become a nation of priests. In antiquity, the tzitzit (and the hem) was the insignia of authority, high breeding and nobility. By adding the blue woolen cord to the tzitzit, the Torah combined nobility with priesthood: Israel is not to rule man but to serve Yahweh. Furthermore, tzitzit is not restricted to Israel's leaders, be they kings, rabbis or scholars. It is the uniform of all Israel."
The Importance of the Uniform
Yahweh was giving his people a uniform to wear to show their special status as a nation of priests. Yahweh was also forcing them to be obvious about their commitment to him, because everyone around them could see their tassels too. Yahweh chose to make this one people his representatives on earth - a kingdom of priests to the rest of the world. He wanted them to be continually reminded that he had put them on display as a light to the nations, witnesses to him to serve others. In a world where other nations prostituted themselves to idols and sacrificed their children to demons, they were to show how the true Yahweh wanted them to live. They could not blend in to the world around them, and whatever they did, good or evil, was a witness to the God they served. If they were true to their calling by being obedient to Yahweh, they would be a holy nation that the whole world would recognize.
Yahshua, like other Hebrews of the day, wore the uniform of the tzitzit. The gospels report that more than once people grasped them to be healed (Mt. 14:6, Luke 8:44). This may have come from the idea that the messiah would come with "healing in his wings" (Mal. 4:2), with "wings" (kanafim) also meaning "corners", where the tzitzit were placed. When Yahshua criticized the religious leaders for making their tassels large (Mt 23:5), he wasn't protesting against their wearing them. Because social status was shown through the hem and tassels, by enlarging them they were claiming honor and prestige from their piety. While they were supposed to be clear in their commitment by wearing their tassels, they weren't supposed to use them to their own social gain.
The Challenge to Us
The Israelites were specifically told to wear this uniform and we do share the same call as they received on Mt. Sinai. Peter says,
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for Yahweh's own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9)
Peter is adapting Yahweh's promise from his first covenant with the Hebrews and applying to it to all believers who have come into Yahweh's new covenant, that we too are part of his holy nation and royal priesthood. By accepting this covenant, we also become Yahweh's representatives, witnesses to the world by our actions. Like the priests of Israel, we need to be mindful of being obedient so that we reflect Yahweh's holiness, while serving others and bringing them closer to The Most High God.
The lesson of the tzitzit is that Yahweh's goal for us as a kingdom of priests is to become more obvious about living our faith, enough so that others see our "tassels". This can easily bring on accusations of being judgmental and hypocritical, so we need to rise to the challenge to go even more out of our way to be humble and kind as we live in front of others. We need to wear a little piece of the robe of our high priest, Yahshua Ha’Mashiach. Yahweh's goal for us is not just to "get us into heaven", but to transform us into his representatives who reflect the love of The Most High God, and cause others to love him too.