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At the end of Parshat Shelach, the Jewish people are given the mitzvah of tzitzit, as it says, “It shall be tzitzit for you, and you shall see it and you shall remember all the commandments of the Lord and perform them. And you shall not stray after your hearts and after your eyes after which you stray” (Bamidbar 15:39). Why were the Jewish people given this particular mitzvah? What is the significance of connecting tzitzit, or fringes, to our clothing? To help answer this question, I would like to turn to the words of the Torah, which teach us that after Avraham Avinu helped the king of Sodom win a decisive war in order to rescue his nephew Lot, “The king of Sodom said to Avram, ‘Give me the captives and take the spoils for yourself.’ Avram said to the king of Sodom, ‘I lift my hand to the Lord, God, the Most High, Maker of the heaven and the earth, if so much as a thread to a shoe-strap; or if I shall take from anything of yours! So you shall not say, ‘It is I who made Avram rich!’” (Bereshit 14:21-3).
According to the Talmud, “Rava said, ‘As a reward for our father Avraham having said, ‘I will not take a thread of a shoe-strap,’ his descendants were worthy to receive two commandments: Techelet (the sky-blue thread on tzitzit), and the strap of the tefillin. Now, as for the strap of the tefillin, [the blessing bestowed upon its account] is clear, for it is written, ‘And all the peoples of the earth shall see that the Name of the Lord is called upon you; and they shall be in awe of you’ (Devarim 28:20). Rebbe Eliezer the Great says, ‘This refers to the tefillin worn upon the head, but what [is the blessing bestowed upon the account] of techelet?’ It has been taught, ‘Rebbe Meir says, ‘Why is blue singled out from all the varieties of colors?’ Because blue resembles the color of the sea, and the sea resembles the color of the sky, and the sky resembles the color of a sapphire, and a sapphire resembles the color of the Throne of Glory” (B. Talmud, Chullin 89a). Thus, by wearing the techelet in tzitzit, we are constantly reminded of God’s presence. But more than that, Tosfot in Menachot 43b, teach us, “The reason the Talmud compares a seal of clay (worn by servants) to tzitzit is because such seals are made for servants (in order to identify whose servant they are), and tzitzit testify that the Jewish people are the servants of God, and belong to Him.” By wearing tzitzit, we remind ourselves that not only should we remember the mitzvot and do them, not only should we always be aware of God’s presence, but what’s more, wearing tzitzit reminds us that we belong to God, and that when others see us wearing them, we serve as living, walking testaments to God’s existence.
This Shabbat, as we consider the value and the meaning of tzitzit, let us remember that we, as Jews, are all living, breathing demonstrations of God’s Hand in His world. May we always comport ourselves with the dignity, grace and nobility God expects of us as His servants, and may our holy example serve to inspire all those around us to realize that they too, belong to their Creator.