When someone begins to search out the roots of Biblical faith, it becomes evident that the Torah is the foundation for faith in Yehovah, the Elohim (GOD) of Israel. Torah is a word meaning “teaching/instruction/law” which most use in reference to the Almighty’s words spoken to Mosheh and Israel at Mt Sinai, or the books Genesis-Deuteronomy in general. When studying Yehovah’s words it is not long before the commandment to wear tzitzyot (“fringes”, singular: tzitzit) is discovered. Discussion surrounding this instruction is commonplace, probably because it is one of the relatively few commandments that can be applied today without any hindrance of location, classification, or genetics. For example, sacrificial offerings are only made in the Temple in Yerushalayim where Yehovah placed His name forever. Temple services are only performed by priests and Levites. And certain commandments pertain specifically to men or to women. The commandment to wear tzitzyot, however, is bound by none of these prerequisites. It was meant for all in the family of Elohim. In the second year after coming out of slavery in Mitzrayim, Yehovah spoke to Mosheh saying,
“Speak to the children of Israel, and you shall say to them to make tzitziyot on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a blue cord in the tzitzit of the corners.” –Num 15:38
That’s the plane and simple command given by the Most High as instruction for His children. Knowing that the instruction came from His mouth is enough for us because we trust our Heavenly Father to be our Good Shepherd. But it is our joy to search the context of His words to find His wonders which aid our understanding, and they are surely to be found!
The text regarding the tzitzyot is found in the Torah portion titled, “Shelach lecha” (Numbers ch 13-15). The narrative begins with the sending of the 12 spies, one man from each of the tribes of Israel, to spy out the land of Kena’an which Yehovah had promised His people. The Hebrew word used to describe what these men did is “yaturu” from the root verb “tur”, which does mean: spy, peer through. This verb will be important to remember when we come back to our key text regarding the tzitzyot.
Upon their return after 40 days, the 12 spies brought back a mixed report. Ten of the spies reported that yes, the land was good. And yes, the produce was marvelous. But no, conquering the land did not appear easy. The people of Kena’an were big and strong. These ten spies spoke in such a way as to dissuade the congregation from entering the Promised Land. But Yehoshua and Kalev, the other two spies, pleaded with the people to trust in Yehovah’s promise and not to fear the Kena’ani but their pleas fell on deaf ears and hardened hearts. The response of the people was to replace Mosheh and Aharon as leaders and stone Yehoshua and Kalev so the people could make their way back to Mitzrayim where they had been slaves! But at that moment, the glory of Yehovah suddenly appeared before the congregation and spoke with Mosheh. The great disrespect of the congregation stirred Yehovah to suggest striking the people with pestilence and continuing His promise through Mosheh instead. However, as a type and foreshadow of our Messiah Yeshua, Mosheh interceded between Elohim and man. Yehovah relented from destroying the people but declared that due to their faithlessness, the congregation would wander for 40 years, one year for each day the spies searched out the land. And all those older than 20 years would die in the wilderness including the 10 spies who were struck down at that moment. Some subsequently tried to redeem their faithlessness by staging a preemptive attack against the Kena’ani. But acting presumptuously without Yehovah’s direction and ignoring Mosheh’s warning, they were summarily defeated.
At this point we enter Numbers chapter 15 in which Yehovah begins to give His Word regarding instruction for offerings. Whether the offering is for a regular burnt offering, for making a vow, for celebrating a peace offering, or for giving the first produce of the land, the instruction is the same whether for a native born or a sojourner. There is one law for all who wish to draw near to their Creator. He then teaches us about the sin offering, the instruction given for one who errs by breaking a commandment of Yehovah. There is provision made for such a situation. He instilled this gift of grace in the Torah itself. But what if one doesn’t break the Word of Yehovah by error? What if one disobeys out of defiance? Is there provision made for such a situation? The answer is: No. Matters of a hardened heart require more invasive heart treatment. The instruction for the community is that this person is to be cut off from the people for reviling Yehovah and despising His commandment, with the hope that such a tough love approach would rapidly produce true repentance and this one would soon be restored to the covenant family.
Directly on the heels of this instruction on intentional sin, one such example is given. A man was found gathering wood on the Shabbat, the day in which Yehovah repetitively exhorted His people to rest and to sanctify it as a testimony to their covenant relationship with Him. Since this narrative is so abruptly adjoined to the preceding passage regarding intentional sin, it is only logical to determine that this man indeed broke the Shabbat with a “high hand”, fully aware of his actions. Yehovah commanded that he be executed for this offense and the sentence was carried out.
The very next words from the mouth of Yehovah are these,
“Speak to the children of Israel, and you shall say to them to make tzitziyot on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a blue cord in the tzitzit of the corners. And it shall be to you for a tzitzit, and you shall see it, and shall remember all the commands of יהוה and shall do them, and not spy after your own heart and your own eyes after which you went whoring, so that you remember, and shall do all My commands, and be set-apart unto your Elohim. I am יהוה your Elohim, who brought you out of the land of Mitsrayim, to be your Elohim. I am יהוה your Elohim.” -Num 15:38-41.
Did you hear the word, “spy”? This is the same verb used regarding what the 12 men went to do in Kena’an not long before. Didn’t the outcome of the spying result in faithlessness? Did Yehovah have the faithlessness of the spies in mind when he used this word? Did the congregation recognize what He was saying to them? Was He calling their minds to recognize that He alone is to be feared, that His Word is Truth, that His instructions are to be followed, and that failing to do so leads to death? This is the context in which Yehovah spoke the command for His children to wear tzitzyot.
The voice of Yehovah spoke and addressed the entire congregation of the children of Israel, men and women alike. He said that the corners of our clothing are to each have a tzitzit containing a cord of blue. Each of His children, no matter what generation, are to wear tzitzyot on their clothing; a timeless command. We are to see these tzitzyot and remember all of Yehovah’s commandments, not just to think about them, but to do them. It is not for the children of the Most High to spy out the land of our own hearts in order to find what best suits our passions, for by doing so we often prostitute ourselves in pursuit of these idols, committing adultery against our True Love. Rather, we are to take captive every thought and desire of our hearts, remembering and choosing instead to walk in the commandments of Yehovah, and in so doing become the holy people He so desires. We must remember who is Elohim here. He is the shepherd and we are the sheep of His pasture. He is the Redeemer of slaves and we are the slaves redeemed. He purposely drew us to Himself to be Elohim to us and we must understand our place in this relationship. He is Yehovah, our Elohim!
The tzitzyot are mentioned by name four other times in the Scriptures, once more in the Torah and three instances found in the Gospels. In Deuteronomy, Mosheh is retelling the words of Yehovah in the 40th year of Israel’s wandering in the wilderness. In Deu 22:12 he says,
“Make tassels on the four corners of the garment with which you cover yourself.”
What is interesting about Mosheh’s statement is that he uses a different word than tzitzyot. The word he uses is “gedilim”. We will come back to this word when we study the meaning behind the words used to describe the fringes. Mosheh tells the people that they are to make these fringes. Each child of Elohim is personally responsible to obey the commands of Yehovah so it goes to reason that each one of us is to make the fringes and with our own hands, invest time and effort and uniqueness into this step of faith. Again, the instruction is that the fringes are to be found at the corners of the clothing with which we cover ourselves but in this text, the number is specified: four. This statement also helps us understand which garment the author had in mind. It is likely that the people of this time and place wore robes as their regular garments, clothing which do not have corners. The garment which covered them was likely a rectangular, external covering used for warmth and/or shade from the desert sun. The instruction to wear fringes is likely made with this garment in mind. The tzitzyot on the four corners of an external garment would be visible to the wearer in every direction of interaction with the world: in front, behind, to the left and to the right. They would also be visible to all those around as well.
We know from the Gospel accounts that Yeshua wore tzitzyot on his external garment in obedience to the words of Torah and they were visible to others.
Matt 9:20-21, “And see, a woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years came from behind and touched the tzitzit of His garment. For she said to herself, “If I only touch His garment, I shall be healed.”
Matt 14:35-36, “And when the men of that place recognized Him, they sent out into all that surrounding country, and brought to Him all who were sick, and begged Him to let them only touch the tzitzit of His garment. And as many as touched it were completely healed.”
We also know that the religious leaders of Yeshua’s day wore tzitzyot in accordance with the Torah. But while the wearing of tzitzyot is indeed a commandment of the Most High, the heart motivation behind following Elohim’s instruction is always what He is after. Anyone can get caught in the trap of “going through the motions” when it comes to the walk of faith. We can become prideful because of our experience and knowledge of the things of Elohim. It seems clear from various Scriptures that this was happening in 1st century Israel among the religious leadership. For their legalistic and solely external observance rooted in pride rather than humility and love, Yeshua rebukes them, saying,
“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on the seat of Mosheh. Therefore, whatever they say to you to guard, guard and do. But do not do according to their works, for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders, but with their finger they do not wish to move them. And they do all their works to be seen by men, and they make their t’fillen wide and lengthen the tzitziyot of their garments, and they love the best place at feasts, and the best seats in the congregations, and the greetings in the market-places, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’ But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi,’ for One is your Teacher, the Messiah, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth your father, for One is your Father, He who is in the heavens. Neither be called leaders, for One is your Leader, the Messiah. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” –Matt 23:2-12
We have studied Yehovah’s command to wear tzitzyot. We have read the Word which proceeded from His mouth for the first time regarding the tzitzyot. We have learned the context in which these words were spoken, and we see that our savior, Yeshua Himself, wore the fringes. But our study is incomplete without looking into (pun intended) the meaning behind three key words used by the Most High regarding these fringes. We will begin with the word: tzitzit.
The word tzitzit is a noun. But as is the case with most Hebrew nouns, there is a verbal root from which this noun arose, and that is the verb: tzutz. According to HALOT Hebrew Lexicon, this verb means to bud, to blossom, to gaze, to shine (of the eyes). Zorell lexicon references Song of Songs 2:9 to describe the intent of this word as “to peer with merry shining eyes”:
“My beloved is like a gazelle or like a young stag. See, he is standing behind our wall, Looking through the windows, peering (metzitz) through the lattice.”
This verb is also used to describe those who flourish:
“Let there be plenty of grain in the earth, on the top of the mountains, let its fruit wave like Leḇanon, and those of the city flourish (yatzitzu) like grass of the earth.” –Psa 72:16
It is used to describe what happened to Aharon’s staff:
“And it came to be on the next day that Mosheh went into the Tent of the Witness and saw that the rod of Aharon, of the house of Levi, had budded, and brought forth buds, and blossomed (yatzetz) and bore ripe almonds.” –Num 17:8
The verb also gives rise to the noun, tzitz, which can mean flower:
“Grass shall wither, the flower (tzitz) shall fade, when the Spirit of יהוה has blown on it! Truly the people is grass!” –Isa 40:7
It can also mean medallion as it is the word used to describe the gold piece which was attached to the front of the high priest’s turban:
“And you shall make a plate (tzitz) of clean gold and engrave on it, like the engraving of a signet: SET-APARTNESS TO יהוה.” –Ex 28:36
Finally, the noun, tzitzit, is used to describe the lock of hair by which Ezekiel was lifted in vision into the heavens:
“And He stretched out the form of a hand, and took me by a lock (tzitzit) of my hair. And the Spirit lifted me up between the earth and the heavens, and brought me in visions of Elohim to Yerushalayim, to the door of the north gate of the inner court, where the seat of the image of jealousy was, which causes jealousy.” –Eze 8:3
The use of the word, tzitzit, to describe strands of hair may shed light as to how the ancient fringes appeared. Further insight may be gleaned from the word Mosheh used to describe the fringes in Deuteronomy 22. This second key word is “gedilim”, which means “chains, wreaths of chainwork”. This word is used to describe the artistry around the capitals of the pillars used for the temple built by Solomon:
“a lattice network, with wreaths (gedilim) of chainwork, for the capitals which were on top of the columns, seven chains for one capital and seven for the other capital. -1Kings 7:17
Why was tzitzit the word Yehovah employed for the clothing that would set His children apart? What do peering, shining, blossoming, medallions and flowers have to do with tzitzyot? Think about it. Should we not peer intently into the perfect Torah of Yehovah and seek its freedom from sin? Should we not delight in the Torah of Yehovah, and so flourish like a tree planted by streams of water? Shouldn’t our faithfulness to His Word shine brightly to those around that they would give glory to our Heavenly Father? Should we not bear the beautiful name of the Most High and his mark on our countenance, bold and apparent for all to see? Like a fragrant flower, shouldn’t we be the aroma of Messiah to the world as we walk in the Torah, exemplifying what love for Elohim and love for man looks like? Maybe all of this is what our Creator had in mind when he chose the word, tzitzit. Do we have these things in mind when we wear them?
The third key word is: t’chelet which is translated as “blue” in most English Bible translations. Blue fabric was used in conjunction with purple, scarlet, and linen material in the construction of the Mishkan (tabernacle) as well as for the priestly garments. But Yehovah doesn’t indicate that we are to include blue as well as these other colors to the tzitzyot we wear. He just says: t’chelet, blue. Why might that be? Where else in Scripture does t’chelet appear alone?
The first time t’chelet appears alone is in Ex 28:28 regarding the high priests breastplate:
“and they bind the breastplate by means of its rings to the rings of the shoulder garment, using a blue (t’chelet) cord, so that it is above the embroidered band of the shoulder garment, so that the breastplate does not come loose from the shoulder garment.”
Next, we are told that the high priest’s robe is only blue:
“And you shall make the robe of the ephod all of blue (t’chelet).” –Ex 28:31
Also, the golden plate (tzitz) which we learned about previously is attached to the high priest’s turban by a blue cord:
“And you shall put it on a blue (t’chelet) cord, and it shall be on the turban – it is to be on the front of the turban.” –Ex 28:37
The curtains which cover the ceiling and inside walls of the Mishkan were woven of blue, purple and scarlet and linen material but at the veil between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place these curtains were joined together by fifty blue loops:
“And he made loops of blue (t’chelet) on the edge of the end curtain of one set, the same he did on the edge of the end curtain of the other set. Fifty loops he made on one curtain, and fifty loops he made on the edge of the end curtain of the second set; the loops held one curtain to another. And he made fifty hooks of gold, and joined the curtains to each other with the hooks, and the Dwelling Place became one.” –Ex 36:11-13
And finally, when the Presence of Yehovah set out and the Mishkan had to be disassembled, Yehovah specifically dictates that blue cloth be what covers the ark of the covenant when the camp moved:
“At the breaking of camp, Aharon and his sons shall come, and they shall take down the covering veil and cover the ark of the Witness with it, and shall put on it a covering of fine leather, and spread over that an all-blue (t’chelet) wrapper, and shall insert its poles.” –Num 4:5-6
Why was blue the sole color Yehovah determined His children should apply to their tzitzyot? Blue loops connected the inside curtains of the Mishkan together making them one. A blue cord is what held the breastplate of the high priest close to his ephod. Blue is the color of the robe connecting the high priest’s ephod to his tunic of fine linen. It is the cord which fastened to the high priest’s turban the golden medallion with the inscription, “Qodesh Layhovah” (Holy to Yehovah). And it is the color of the cloth which covered the most holy ark during transport. Blue is a color of connection and it is a color of holiness. Blue holds one thing to another, adhering two separate pieces into a united whole. Just as the blue sky mediates between the abode of Elohim and that of man, so does blue remind us of our connection with heaven. The holy ark was housed in the heart of a tabernacle made of frames and skins, and inside the ark were placed the Word and the wonders of Yehovah. As the ark was moved, it was covered with blue to mark its holiness. In the same way, the Most High desires that blue identify us, these bony frames covered in skins which house the Word of Elohim and his wonders in the most holy place of our hearts. Why shouldn’t we carry the mark of His holiness on our vessels each day as we walk with Him, following His Presence just as Israel followed the cloud in the wilderness?
Yehovah loves His children. Knowing our fallibility, He graciously provides physical reminders for our eyes to see. The tzitzyot are four inanimate accountability partners surrounding us throughout our day, warning us against intentional sin which cuts off intimacy with the Most High. Through the tzitzyot, the Ruach (Spirit) exhorts us, “Do not spy after your own heart and your own eyes.” He reminds us not to faithlessly disobey His commandments as His people have so often done. But rather we are to peer intently into the instruction of His Torah, longing for the truth of His wisdom, blossoming with life as we learn to walk in His ways, and boldly shining the bright light of His love as a beacon for this lost world to see. In this way, the tzitzyot are a sign to our eyes of our accountability to keep the Torah of Yehovah. They are a sign of our eternal connection to our Creator. And wearing them sets us apart as a sign for us to be who we are supposed to be: set apart unto Yehovah our Elohim.