The Anatomy of a Mitzvah

For the week ending 16 June 2018 / 3 Tammuz 5778

The Mitzvah of Tzitzit

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
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“Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them that they shall make for themselves tzitzit (fringe strings) on the corners of their garments throughout their generations. And that they shall affix a thread of turquoise wool on the fringe of each corner. This shall be tzitzit for you, and when you see it you will remember all the commandments of G-d and perform them; and you will not wander after your own heart and after your own eyes after which you go astray.” (Bamidbar 15:38-9)

There is no Torah obligation for a person to purchase a four-cornered garment in order to become obligated in the mitzvah of tzitzit. Technically, it is only if a person wears a four-cornered garment that he becomes obligated to attach tzitzit to it. However, it is proper to be scrupulous in the performance of this great mitzvah, making sure to wear a tallit katan (a small four-cornered garment with tzitzit attached, worn underneath one’s outer garments) throughout the day, since the main purpose of the mitzvah of tzitzit is to remind a person about all of the mitzvot, a topic which requires a constant reminder. (Tur 24:1)

Additionally, the Iggrot Moshe explains that it is also the accepted minhag (custom) to wear tzitzit, and that one should not break from this minhag, as it is no less important than any other minhag that one must keep, besides, of course, that one also fulfills a positive commandment when keeping this minhag.

In fact, the Talmud is replete with statements from our Sages regarding the importance of the mitzvah of tzitzit. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai said, “Whoever observes the mitzvah of tzitzit meticulously will be found worthy of beholding the Divine Presence.” Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov said, “He who has tefillin on his head and arm, tzitzit on his garment and a mezuzah on his doorway, is positioned to not sin.” It is also said that the mitzvah of tzitzit is the equivalent of all the mitzvot combined (Menachot).

It is desirable to look at the tzitzit when wrapping oneself in the tallit (prayer shawl), as one recites the blessing over them. (It would seem that this should also apply when donning the tallit katan, for those who do not wear a tallit gadol until marriage.) (Shulchan Aruch 24:2). This is in accordance with the verse, “And you shall see it and you shall remember (the mitzvot).” Seeing the tzitzit leads to remembering, and remembering leads to observance. (Menachot 43b, cited by Kaf HaChaim)

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