At the very end of this week’s Torah portion – Shelach Lekhah—we read:
“Adonai said to Moses as follows: Speak to the Israelite people and instruct them to make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments throughout the ages; let them attach a cord of blue to the fringe at each corner. That shall be your fringe; look at it and recall all the commandments of Adonai … and observe them, so that you do not follow your heart and your eyes in your lustful urge. Thus you shall be reminded to observe all My commandments and to be holy to your G-d. I, Adonai, am your G-d who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your G-d: I, Adonai, your G-d.” (Numbers 15:37-41)
From these verses, comes the tradition and practice of wearing a tallit – either a tallit katan worn under ones clothing all day — or the larger tallit which is worn as a prayer shawl. I can’t help but think about the early days of the Reform movement when the wearing of a tallit was rejected as a vestige of an old world with no meaning for modernity. Contrast this with the passionate battle of the Women of the Wall to be permitted to wear a prayer shawl at the kotel.
What about us? What might the power of the tallit be for us?
Our Torah verses say it’s about looking at the tzitzit and remembering the commandments. The power of the tzitzit, thus, is to keep us on a moral and ethical path.
I share with you a poem (which can be found in Mishkan T’filah) by the Israeli poet Yehudah Amichai, who expresses other powers of the tallit.
Whoever wrapped in a tallit in one’s youth will never forget:
taking it out of the soft sack, opening the folded tallit,
spreading it, kissing the border along its length (sometimes embroidered
and sometimes embossed). Afterwards, a great sweep over the head
like the heavens, like a huppah, like a parachute. Afterwards, folding it
around one’s head as if playing hide and seek, and then wrapping
the body in it, tight tight, letting it fold you like a cocoon
and then opening it like wings for flying.
And why are there stripes and not black-white squares
like a chess board? Because squares are finite without hope
and stripes come from infinity and go on to infinity
like the runways at the airport
so that angels may land and take off.
When you wrap yourself in a tallit you cannot forget
coming out of a swimming pool or the sea
and being wrapped in a great towel and casting it
over one’s head and wrapping in it, tight tight
and shivering a little and laughing and – blessing.
If you’ve never wrapped yourself in a tallit and would like to do so – please contact me.
Kol Tuv ~ Rabbi Teri