The Wearing of Tzitzit (Tassels)
Yahuwah's Reminder For Us to Remember to Do the Commandments
By David M Rogers
Table of Contents
Both the Old Testament and the New Testament (Tanak and Brit Chadashah) testify that whoever loves Elohim ("God") will obey his commandments. Devarim (Deuteronomy) repeats again and again that the greatest commandment is to love Elohim and that whoever loves Elohim will keep his commandments. Yahusha (more widely know as "Jesus") and his disciples affirmed the same. For he said,
Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him" (4th Gospel 14:21).
Yochanan also affirms our need to obey his commands:
This is how we know that we love the children of Elohim: by loving Elohim and carrying out his commands. This is love for Elohim: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome (1 Yochanan 5:2-3).
The pertinent question we must ask ourselves, of course, is: "which of the commandments do we who believe in Yahusha the Messiah need to obey?" The answer is clearly implied in the teachings of the Master. Yahusha said in Matthew 5:17-19:
Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Yahusha's reference to "one of the least of these commandments" suggests that his disciples were expected to keep and obey all the commandments, including the very "least" of them. Thus, it would not be unfair to suggest to all who love Yahusha that they obey each and every one of the commandments of Elohim.
One such commandment, which could be described as "one of the least of...", is that which is found in Bemidbar (Numbers) chapter 15. Here we find what has been described by well meaning Christian ministers as a frivolous, or even, ridiculous commandment.
YHWH also spoke to Mosheh, saying, "Speak to the sons of Yisrael, 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. It shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of YHWH, so as to do them and not follow after your own heart and your own eyes, after which you played the harlot, so that you may remember to do all My commandments and be holy to your Elohim. I am YHWH your Elohim who brought you out from the land of Mitzraim to be your Elohim; I am YHWH your Elohim." (Bemidbar [Numbers] 15:37-41)
This commandment has been traditionally interpreted by the popular Christian church as one which pertains only to ancient Israel. Such commandments as this, it has been suggested and adopted, were "nailed to Jesus' cross" and no longer are to be obeyed by believers in Christ!
Our response to this popular Christian doctrine is found in that teaching of Yahusha as quoted above from Matthew 5. The Messiah stated very clearly that he did not come to abolish (i.e. "do away with") the Law (or "Torah") but to fulfill (or "keep") them. Contrary to popular Christian belief,. Yahusha the Messiah did not do away with the law! In fact, he taught his followers to obey all the commandments given by Elohim to Moshehh, including the very "least" of them.
But someone will argue that when Yahusha said to obey all his commandments (in Matthew 5) he was referring to his "new" teaching which is recorded in the New Testament gospels. One needs only to consider the context of this saying of the Master to refute this shabby attempt to justify one's desire to ignore the Torah as given by Elohim through Moses. The whole of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 through 7) is the teaching of Yahusha to his disciples. And every example of proper behavior Yahusha instructs to is taken from the Torah (5 books of Moses). Yahusha not only did not "do away with" the Torah, but, in fact, he intensified its application to his disciples. For example, His spiritual explanation of the commandment, "Do not murder," is that you should not even hate your brother. And the deeper meaning of "Do not commit adultery" is to not even look at a woman with illicit thoughts!
Thus, Yahusha's teaching is that the Torah is very relevant to his "New Testament" followers down to the very least of all the commandments which He gave to our forefathers whom He brought out of Egypt. So much so, that those teachers and preachers who denigrate others who wish to be obedient to all the commandments, and who teach those pernicious doctrines which stress that Christians don't have to obey all the commandments are going to be called "the Least" in Messiah's judgment.
Therefore, for those who want to please the Messiah and obey him in all things, the following study of the tassels which Yahuwah commands all believers to wear on the four corners of their garments, is offered.
Our heavenly Father has given a commandment which is rarely, if ever, obeyed by those who claim to be the followers and disciples of the Messiah.
Yahuwah also spoke to Mosheh, saying, "Speak to the sons of Yisrael, and tell them that they shall make for themselves tassels (Hebrew tzitzit) on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and that they shall put on the tassel of each corner a cord of blue. It shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of Yahuwah, so as to do them and not follow after your own heart and your own eyes, after which you played the harlot, so that you may remember to do all My commandments and be holy to your Elohim. I am Yahuwah your Elohim who brought you out from the land of Mitzrayim to be your Elohim; I am Yahuwah your Elohim." (Bamidbar [Numbers] 15:37-41)
First, note that this instruction is directed to "the sons of Yisrael (Hebrew bnei Yisrael)." It is, no doubt, applicable to all the male population of the family of faith. The traditional Orthodox Jewish interpretation says that women are excluded from this command. But others have argued that the phrase "sons of Yisrael" is often a "generic" designation for all who belong to Elohim. But it should be clear that, in the least, the men of faith should be "doing" this commandment. (I personally am convinced that women should wear the tassels, too.)
The commandment is simple to understand. The commandment instructs us to wear tassels on the corners of our garments. The word tciyci (tassel) needs some explanation. The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament defines this Hebrew term as follows:
I #yci, Bauer-L. Heb. 504m; Sam. sÌiÒsÌÝt, pl. sÌiÒsÌiyyot; MHeb., JArm. lock of hair, ringlet, thread or tassel displayed at the edge of a garment; Akk. sÌiÒsÌiÒtu a movable part of the loom (AHw. 1105b; CAD SÌ: 214); Syr. sÌuÖsÌiÒtaÒ tassel, strand, ringlet; Mnd. sÌusÌiata pl. (Drower-M. Dictionary 391a) plaiting; Arb. sÌiÒsÌat, sÌiÒsÌiÒyat a tool used in weaving to make the warp and woof even (Lane Lex. 1755b: refers to the spur of a cock, the horn of a bull or cow, and also a peg for picking out dates, as well as the weavers’ tool); cockspur.
—1. varo tciyci mop of hair Ezk 83.
—2. tuft, tassel to be sewn on to the edges of an outer garment by the Israelites Nu 1538-39
Tzitzit is used in the Tanach with basically two meanings. As it is in our verse in review, it could mean a thread or tassel hanging from the edge of a garment. And this word in other places refers to a lock of hair. (Our word could take on further nuances in non-Scriptural literature.)
The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament also describes our word:
It is debated whether tzitzit indicates the fringe around the edges of a garment or a tassel at each corner; Snaith suggests the threads were twisted in groups to form "a fringe of tassels." A cord of blue was to be placed on each tassel. Traditionally they were woven out of eight threads tied into five knots. These tassels served to remind the people to keep Yahweh's commandments and not to follow their own desires (Num 15:38ff; cf, Deut 22:12; Mt 9:20; Mt 14:36; Mt 23:5). For a faith based on a saving history and a law, memory is crucial to preserving its integrity. It also means "a lock"; in a vision the Spirit transported Ezekiel by a lock of hair to Jerusalem (Ezek 8:3).
So, the Hebrew lexical studies are in agreement that in Bamidbar (Numbers) 15, tzitzit refers to the strings hanging down from the garment. It seems that there was to be a weaving or twisting and tying off of the loose threads of the garment at the corners. This, of course, makes perfectly good sense. But these tie-offs in other clothing could be done in a more concealed manner, as with most modern clothing. The garment to be worn by those who call upon His name must have tassels at the corners which extend away from the rest of the body of the garment.
Furthermore, on the tassel on each corner, a chord of blue should be attached. The significance of the color blue may be that it calls to mind certain elements of the tabernacle which were also to be blue, including the floor of the temple which Shlomo (Solomon) built. It is thought by some that blue represents the righteousness and set-apartness of Elohim. Thus, the blue in the tassel is a reminder to the one wearing this garment that he is set-apart to Elohim's purposes. This also is described by the explanation that follows:
It shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of Yahuwah, so as to do them and not follow after your own heart and your own eyes, after which you played the harlot, so that you may remember to do all My commandments and be set-apart to your Elohim (Bamidbar 15:39,40).
So then the meaning of the tassels on the corners is what makes the wearing of such tassels significant. It is not merely the wearing of some randomly contrived element of the garment that Elohim is after. The many stranded tassel hanging from the garment which includes the color blue is to be a reminder of the many faceted instructions which Yahuwah has given to his people to live by. These instructions are righteous (Romans 7:12), which the blue strand calls to mind. Yahuwah's instructions include multiple statutes which make up the whole Torah (covenant, or set of instructions). Thus, the tzitzit package of woven threads serves as a reminder of the righteous Torah his people are to obey.
Yahuwah's people need such a physical reminder. Many times throughout the Torah and the rest of the Scriptures, exhortations are given to remember Elohim and to do his commandments, and conversely, not to forget Elohim or forget to do his commandments. We need to be constantly reminded to do the right thing. The tzitzit serves us in this way. We carry on our clothing a perpetual reminder to please Elohim in everything we do.
A parallel passage of Scripture adds some detail to the commandment to wear the tassels.
You shall make yourself tassels on the four corners of your garment with which you cover yourself. (Devarim [Deuteronomy] 22:12)
This text adds two details worth noting. First, this passage gives the numeric four. Bamidbar 15 tells us to wear these tassels on the corners of our garment, but Devarim 22:12 states specifically that the tassel is to be on the four corners of the garment. While not earth-shaking, we can eliminate the temptation of wearing countless number of tassels, or endlessly debating how many corners are on a garment!
Secondly, the wearing of the tzitzit is to be on "the garment with which you cover yourself." The Hebrew word for garment is a generic one and does not indicate a particular article of clothing. But the verse does specify that the tzitzit are to be on the clothing "you cover yourself with." Thus, tzitzit do not have to be on every piece of clothing we wear, such as on the socks, underclothing, pants, sweaters or any other additional article we might wear. It is to be on the garment (not "garments") which covers us. So, it may be on an undershirt, a shirt, or a coat. These are usually considered to be the garments that cover us.
In Bamidbar 15:38, Yahuwah was commanding Mosheh regarding the sons of Yisrael
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.
The word translated corner is the Hebrew @n"K' ("canaph"). This word is translated in other passages and contexts as "wing, winged, border, corner, shirt." It is the same word used of the wing of a bird, the wing or extension of a building (such as the temple), the wings of cherubs, figuratively of the speed of the wind (the wings of the wind), and in other figurative ways as well.
This same word is used in Malachi 4:2:
But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall.
This verse speaks to those who obey Yahuwah's commandments. And those who do so recognize the importance of obeying the commandment of Bamidbar 15, which requires the wearing of the tassel in the wings (corners) of the garment that covers you.
Malachi 4 is clearly set in a context of the Messianic reign of Elohim on earth. So, the phrase sun of righteousness was (and is) believed to be a metaphorical reference to the promised Messiah. The purpose of the metaphor is to graphically illustrate the appearing of the Messiah by the word picture of the sun rising. Thus, the verse is telling us that when the Messiah appears, that he would bring healing in his "wings." And these "wings" of the Messiah are, of course, the tzitzit hanging from his garment!
Though for several centuries after the Messiah this phrase sun of righteousness was used to justify the adoption, merging and syncretizing of many traditions, customs and practices of pagan sun-god worship into the Christian Church, this verse was never intended to link anything having to do with the sun-god with the Messiah of Scriptures. It is a shame that so many have abandoned true worship of Elohim which is done according to the Scriptures (on the Sabbath) and have in its place accepted "Sun"day worship. (But I digress....)
With the understanding of Malachi 4 as a prophesy that Messiah would appear with healing in his wings, we step into the record of what happened when Messiah did appear. Those who were familiar with the common interpretation of Malachi 4:2 as a reference to the healing in the Messiah's tassels, put their faith in him into practice. Mattityahu records several incidents of healing when people who believed Yahusha is the promised Messiah reached out and touched those wings hanging down from His garment.
The first such healing occurs when Yahusha and his disciples were on the way to a rulers house to raise his daughter who had died:
But a woman who had been suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. For she kept saying to herself, "If only I touch his cloak, I will be healed." But when Yahusha turned and saw her he said, "Have courage, daughter! Your faith has made you well." And the woman was healed from that hour (Mattityahu 9:20-22, my translation)
This woman, by reaching out and touching the tassels of Yahusha, was expressing by this action that she believed Yahusha to be the Messiah.
The Greek manuscripts describe the area of the garment she reached out and touched as "the edge of his cloak." The Greek word here, translated as "edge" is kra,spedon, which the lexicons translate as "fringe, edge; tassel." This is clearly a reference to the tzitzit which makes up the "fringe" of his cloak, which all Torah observant Jews of Yahusha's day wore in obedience to the command.
Thus, what we have in this account, is the real, not imagined, faith of a woman who believed both the Scriptures and that Yahusha is the Messiah. So, she trusted that by touching his "wings" she would be healed. And Yahusha commended her and rewarded her faith with the healing of her twelve year disease.
Later in the Mattityahu account, we see many others who believed the same about the Messiah's tzitzit:
After they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. When the people there recognized him, they sent word into all the surrounding area, and they brought all their sick to him. They begged him if they could only touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed (Mattityahu 14:34-36).
Mark records the same event and describes it as follows:
After they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and anchored there. As they got out of the boat, people immediately recognized Yahusha. They ran through that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever he was rumored to be. And wherever he would go--into villages, towns, or countryside--they would place the sick in the marketplaces, and would ask him if they could just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed (Mark 6:53-56).
Again, as with the account of the woman with the disease, many people believed the Scriptures about healing in the Messiah's "wings" and trusted in Yahusha as the Messiah. And their faith was rewarded.
In Messianic congregations everywhere you go, most men and some women wear the tzitzit on their garments. It has become a kind of badge of honor for those who display them. They are expressing their love for Torah as the instructions which bring life to the obedient ones. It is right that Messiah's followers should wear the tzitzit, as Yahuwah has commanded. They serve as reminders to us that we are to walk in all the commandments of Elohim.
But more and more I am also seeing something which is distressing and harmful to the body of Messiah. The tassels that people wear are becoming bigger and thicker and longer. I even see some tzitzit that look like ropes hanging down from the belt. The wearing of the tassels is becoming showy, even flamboyant. The thicker, longer, gaudy tassels seem to be a way for people to show off their "obedience" to the commandment. If one person has a longer tassel, next Sabbath someone else will come with either equal or surpassingly longer tassels.
This should not be so in the congregations of Messiah. It was this very same habit of "showing off" through the bigger, longer tzitzit, and thus, demonstrating ones impressive righteousness, that Yahusha rebuked and scolded the Pharisees. The Pharisees loved "showing off" their righteousness by saying long prayers on the street corners and wearing ostentatious tzitzit: He said,
Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues (Mattityahu 23:5-6).
The Messianic believers are becoming Pharisee-like in the way they "show off" their righteousness by wearing longer and bigger and thicker tzitzit.
The wearing of the tassels was not commanded so that we can show off our obedience as we walk down the street. They are given to us to be reminders TO US that we are to obey all the commandments and not to go whoring after other gods. In other words, the tassel is for me to see, not everyone else. When I see the tassel on my garment, I am reminded of Yahuwah's commandments - to obey all of them.
The commandment to wear tzitzit on the four corners of our garment is a blessed thing. It keeps us in remembrance of our Creator and of our walk before him. Let's not turn a righteous act before Elohim into an opportunity to sin by bragging and showing off our own righteousness before others. The tzitzit is for me and for me alone. Thus, I recommend that we set an example of humility before others by wearing modest tzitzit rather than displaying our own "great righteousness" through showy, grandiose tzitzit. It is time to "get over" our obsession with our own perceived self-righteousness and begin to walk in the manner of the example of our Master.
Yahusha told his disciples that He had not come to destroy the Torah or the Prophets. But all who would obey all of the commandments, even the very least of them, and teach others to do so, would be called "Great" in the kingdom of Elohim. So, it should not surprise us that He himself obeyed all, even the least, of the commandments. And so our Messiah wore tzitzit on the four corners of his garment with a blue cord in each tzitzit.
Those who believed on Yahusha as the promised Messiah and who also understood the prophesy of Malachi 4:2 that Messiah would heal people through his wings, reached out to touch his tzitzit with the expectation of being healed. And they were rewarded for their faith.
So, all who trust Yahusha as the Messiah today should also obey all, even the least, of his commandments. And that includes wearing the tassels on the four corners of the garment. Obedience is not optional for Messiah's disciples. It is required. Otherwise, Elohim would have called them the Ten Suggestions, rather than the Ten Words or "Ten Commandments."