You pick up your tallit, the Jewish prayer shawl, and feel the silk tassels on the four corners between your fingers. These fringes, called tzitzit in Hebrew, sway as you wrap the shawl around your shoulders. You’ve worn the tallit many times before, but now you wonder about the tassels. What is their meaning and purpose? Why are they an important part of this garment used in worship?
The tassels on the corners of the tallit have great significance in the Jewish faith. They serve as a physical reminder of God’s commandments and represent different aspects of devotion to God. Learning about the religious meaning behind the tassels can give you a deeper appreciation for the tallit and Jewish customs.
A Commandment from God
The Lord instructed the Israelites to wear tassels on the corners of their garments as a way to remember His laws and statutes. In Numbers 15:38-39 (NKJV), God told Moses to speak the following to the children of Israel:
“Speak to the children of Israel: Tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a blue thread in the tassels of the corners. And you shall have the tassel, that you may look upon it and remember all the commandments of the Lord and do them…”
This commandment applied to all Israelites, and was one of the eternal decrees God established with them. The tassels served as a tangible reminder to follow God’s laws and walk according to His ways.
When you put on your prayer shawl, the dangling tassels should prompt you to remember the Lord and His Word. The world encourages moral relativism today, but God’s commands remain fixed and steadfast. The tassels remind you there is absolute truth found in Scripture.
A Sign of Holiness
In ancient Jewish culture, affixing tassels or fringes on the corners of one’s garment was a sign of holiness and piety. Ordinary Israelite clothing did not have decorative tassels or ornamentation. The tassels with a blue cord stood out as unique, designating the wearer as a God-fearing follower of His decrees.
By placing tassels on your prayer shawl, you identify yourself as set apart for God’s purposes. Though the style and purpose of clothing has changed since biblical times, the symbolism remains. Donning the tallit surrounded by prayer tassels marks you as one devoted to serving the Lord. The tassels announce your commitment to holiness and righteous living without a word needing to be spoken.
The 613 Mitzvot
According to Jewish tradition, each of the tassels contains eight threads and five knots for a total of 613 threads and knots. This number corresponds to the 613 mitzvot or commandments given in the Torah. These include both “dos” and “don’ts” – affirmations to act in certain ways and prohibitions from acting in other ways.
The 613 mitzvot guide the daily lives and decisions of observant Jews. When you look at the tassels of your prayer shawl, visualize each thread and knot representing obedience in a specific way. You cannot follow all 613 Old Testament commandments now that you follow Christ. But picturing the tallit tassels can encourage you to lead an upright life before God.
A Connection to Royalty
The Bible specifies the prayer shawl tassels should contain a thread of tekhelet, or royal blue. This dye came from the marine snail known as the hillazon and was very rare and precious in the ancient world. The blue color reminded Israelites of the sky, God’s heavenly throne, and His glory. It also evoked the blue found in royal garments and tapestries.
By including this royal blue thread, it’s as if God weaved a fragment of His throne room into each Israelite tassel. The blue stands out from the ordinary white threads, showing God has declared His people a holy nation and royal priesthood. As you wrap yourself in the prayer shawl and glimpse the sacred blue cord, remember your royal identity as a child of the King.
A Net to Catch Blessing
In the mystical Jewish practice of Kabbalah, the knotted tassels on the four corners of the tallit represent a net for catching blessing and revelation from above. As you cover yourself in the prayer shawl, imagine the tassels forming a canopy over your head and shoulders.
Picture the knots and threads creating a web to filter down God’s divine light and abundant blessings. Open your heart to receive fresh manna and daily mercies from Heaven. Believe God will entrust you with revelation and insight to share with others as you spend time with Him under your prayer covering.
A Garment for Healing
Not only did Jesus wear tassels on His garments, He once used them to bring healing to a hurting woman. In Matthew 9:20-22, a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years touched the hem or tassel of Christ’s clothing and was instantly healed. The tassels normally reminded Israelites to obey God’s laws, but this woman saw them as a means to connect to Jesus’ miraculous power.
When you feel weak or weary in body, soul or spirit, remember you can reach out in faith to touch your prayer shawl tassels too. Christ remains the same compassionate and wonder-working Savior. By touching the tassels as a point of contact, express your faith in Him to heal, restore and renew. The tassels become an instrument not only for obedience but for receiving grace.
Key Takeaways on the Meaning of Prayer Shawl Tassels:
- God commanded Israelites to wear tassels to remember His laws and statutes
- The tassels set apart the Israelites as holy and devoted to God
- The 613 threads and knots correspond to the commandments in the Torah
- The royal blue dye connects to God’s throne room and glory
- In Kabbalah, the tassels form a net to catch blessing from above
- A woman was healed by touching Christ’s tassel in the New Testament
The centuries-old Jewish prayer shawl continues being used in worship today. Whether you are Jewish or Christian, understanding the meaning behind the tassels can help you treasure and cherish tallit rituals. The tassels contain rich symbolism that points to God’s truths, His interaction with mankind, and living wholeheartedly for Him.
Next time you pick up your prayer shawl, run your fingers over the knotted fringes with newfound wonder. Remember how each thread and knot represents your relationship to the Lord. As the tassels sway and brush against you during prayer, let them remind you of God’s commands but also His abundant blessings, which flow downhill from Heaven above. Be grateful He wanted this visual and tangible aid to keep your faith anchored in Him.