This article may contain special characters or charts. To view it correctly, you can select the PDF version of this document by clicking here. (You can also download the PDF version of this document by right-clicking on this link and selecting "save link as…").If you do not have Adobe Acrobat Reader and cannot view PDF files, please go here and follow the instruction to install this free software.
One of the 613 commandments is to tie a tzitzit on each of the corners of a four-cornered garment.
The commandment of tzitzit appears in the Pentateuch in the following verses:1
God said to Moshe: "Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them [that] they shall make tzitzit (צִיצִת ) on the corners of their garments, throughout their generations; and in the tzitzit (צִיצִת ) on the corner, they shall place a blue fiber. They will be your tzitzit (לְצִיצִת ); you will look at it and you will remember all of God's commandments and you will do them; and, you shall not follow your hearts and eyes, after which you prostitute. So that you may remember and perform all my commandments; and you will be consecrated to your God. I am Havayah, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God. I am Havayah, your God."
Note that in this paragraph, the Torah mentions the word tzitzit explicitly three times, whereas using a pronoun to refer to it would have been just as suitable (indeed, pronouns are used in some cases in this paragraph). It would be appropriate therefore to see how the three explicit instances of tzitzit in the parshah correspond to some Kabbalistic models.
Space, Time, and Soul
The simplest and most straightforward model to which these three instances of tzitzitcorrespond is from the Book of Formation, and is known as the space-time-soul model.
In this case, the correspondence is easy to see:
The 1st instance, "…make tzitzit on the corners of their garments, throughout their generations…" corresponds to time (generations).
The 2nd instance, "…in the tzitzit on the corner, they shall place a blue fiber" correspond to space (to place a blue fiber on the corner). The sages explain that the blue fiber, known as the techelet triggers a cascade of images related to both physical and spiritual space, "the techelet is similar to the sea, the sea is similar to the firmament, and the firmament is similar to the Supernal Throne." The Supernal Throne in Kabbalah is a connotation for the World of Creation. In Hebrew, the word "world" (עוֹלָם ) stems from the word meaning "concealed" (נֶעֶלָם ), alluding to the fact that the Creator is concealed (impalpable) in the Worlds. Of the four worlds usually discussed (Emanation, Creation, Formation, and Action), the description of World is explicitly related to the World of Creation, the first level of consciousness where the ego shrouds God's presence.
And the 3rd instance, "…they will be your tzitzit; you will look at it and you will remember all of God's commandments" corresponds to soul (to look and to remember).
From Action to Emanation
The three explicit mentions of the tzitzit in these verses also suggest a progression through the Worlds, beginning with Action and ending in Emanation. This can be seen by focusing on the verbs accompanying each of the instances.
- In the 1st instance (וְעָשׂוּ לָהֶם צִיצִת ), the verb is to make (וְעָשׂוּ ), which in Hebrew is the same verb as that from which stems "Action" (עַשִׂיָה ).
- In the 2nd instance (וְנָתְנוּ עַל צִיצִת הַכָּנָף ), the verb is to place (וְנָתְנוּ ), which alludes to the World of Formation, the level of consciousness in which there is an ongoing struggle between the two inclinations, the good and the evil (or, to use the conceptual scheme of the Tanya, between the Divine soul and the animal soul). The verb translated here as "they shall place" literally reads "they shall give." This same verb, to give, is the verb in the verse "Behold I have given before you today life and good and death and evil… choose life!"2 Furthermore, these words, "And in the tzitzit on the corner, they shall place a blue fiber" instruct us to place a blue fiber together with the white fibers of the tzitzit. The white of the tzitzit alludes to the good inclination while the blue alludes to the power that God gives us to overcome our evil inclination. The value of this verb "and they shall place" (וְנָתְנוּ ) is 512, or 29, also alluding to the inherent duality characterizing the human psyche.
- In the 3rd instance (וְהָיָה לָכֶם לְצִיצִת ), the verb used is "to be" (וְהָיָה ), which alludes to the World of Creation, the world were reality comes into being (ex nihilo). The word "and it shall be" (וְהָיָה ), whose letters permute to spell God's essential Name,Havayah (י־הוה ), represents the reflection of the Almighty's manifestation in the World of Creation (a manifestation that originates from the World of Emanation). The two verbs in the previous phrases were in the plural form, referring to those being commanded. This verb is in the singular form and refers to the tzitzit itself, to its Divine potential. The World of Creation is the world of potential, as explained in Kabbalah. Note also that in the third instance the word "tzitzit" is prefaced with a relational lamed (לְצִיצִת ), meaning "for a tzitzit." Based on its form (it is the only Hebrew letter ascending above the roof of the others), the lamed is described as "a tower soaring in the air," and alludes to the mother figure in Kabbalah embodied in the World of Creation.3
Immediately following the third instance of "tzitzit," we read the phrase, "And you shall see it" where the "it," literally refers to the tzitzit. However, this pronoun "it" (אֹתוֹ ) in Hebrew also means "him," thus alluding to "Him," i.e., to the Almighty as He is revealed in the World of Emanation where our sense of self does not obscure His Presence. Moreover, of the five senses, sight corresponds to the World of Emanation. The grammatical proximity between the 3rd instance of tzitzit and this phrase ("And you shall see it [Him]") illustrates how the supernal father and mother figures (which correspond to the Worlds of Emanation and Creation) are always connected and never part.
The sum of the numerical values, the gematriot, of the three explicit instances of tzitzit(צִיצִת צִיצִת לְצִיצִת ) is 1800. But, 1800 is also the value of just the 3rd instance with the phrase following it, which we have seen as corresponding to the two companion Worlds of Creation and Emanation (וְהָיָה לָכֶם לְצִיצִת וּרְאִיתֶם אֹתוֹ )! So the progression through the three lower levels (the World of Action, Formation, and Emanation) is included within the unification of the two highest levels, the Worlds of Creation and Emanation.
1800 is also the double-square of 30, or 1800 = 2 ∙ 302. 30 is the value of the letterlamed (ל ), as above. This illustrates two things. First, that the World of Creation, signified by the letter lamed, extends and is present, as the potential inner life-force, within all three lower worlds. Second, it illustrates the inter-inclusion between the Worlds of Emanation and Creation. Before we saw that God's essential Name, which originates in the World of Emanation is reflected in the World of Creation in the verb "it shall be" (וְהָיָה ). Now we see that the World of Creation, again, signified by the lamed, is found to unify Emanation and Creation.
The final letters of the three explicit instances of tzitzit equal 1200, meaning that all the previous (10) letters of the three words equal 600 (in the secret of "whole and half"), the value of the word tzitzit when written in full, as we shall see.
Moshe Rabbeinu and the Tzitzit
The filling4 of the three instances of tzitzit is צדי יוד צדי תו צדי יוד צדי תו למד צדי יוד צדי תו , and its numerical value is 1976, 76 ∙ 26, where 76 is the gematria of "servant" (עֶבֶד ) and 26 is of course the value of Havayah.5 How should we understand this finding?
Probably the best known gematria about the tzitzit is that it is related to the number 613. How so? The gematria of tzitzit (צִיצִית ) when written in its full form is 600 (see the next section for more on this). If we add to this the 5 double knots and the 8 strings found in each tassel, we get 613.6 This relationship provides a numerical depiction of how looking at the tzitzit reminds one of God's 613 commandments.
Indeed, 613 is the value of "Moshe Rabbeinu" (מֹשֶׁה רַבֵּינוּ ), providing an additional level of contemplation of how the tzitzit connects us with the Torah given by Moshe Rabbeinu. Indeed, Moshe Rabbeinu is described (consummately) as "God's servant"7 (עֶבֶד י־הוה ). And, as above, the filling of the three instances of tzitzit equals the product of God (Havayah) and servant! Thus, contemplating the tzitzit and kissing it each time we mention it in the morning Shema leads us to become one with Moshe Rabbeinu, the consummate servant of God, who is essentially one with the 613 commandments of the Torah.
More on the Tzitzit and 613
We noted above that the gematria of tzitzit (צִיצִית ) when written in its full form is 600. But, as we have seen, in all three instances the word tzitzit is spelled with only one yudnot two, like so: צִיצִת .
Still, there is a simple numerical equivalency here that needs to be highlighted. The gematria of the three instances of tzitzit as it is written in the Torah (צִיצִת צִיצִת לְצִיצִת ) is 1800, exactly the value of three times the full form (צִיצִית ), which is equal to 600, and 3 ∙ 600 = 1800! Thus, the teaching about tzitzit and 613 is based on the average value of the three instances.
In fact, this idea is apparent in the form of the three instances. We noted that in the third instance an additional relational lamed (ל ), meaning "for," is added to the word. If we divide 30, the value of this additional lamed, in three, we get 10, or three letters yud (י ) whose value is 10. When we add a yud to each of the three appearances of tzitzit, then each will now be the full form of the word.
Let us go another step deeper. The final form of the letter mem (ם ) is equal to 600. Thus, three full forms of tzitzit (צִיצִית ) equal three final mems. The sages refer to the final mem as the concealed mem (mem stumah), the letter of Mashiach. In addition, according to many great tzadikim, the Mashiach's special mitzvah—the one through which he shines the most and his concealed essence becomes revealed—is the mitzvah of tzitzit.
One explanation for this is that the two-letter root of tzitzit is simply two letters tzadik(צצ ), symbolizing the two levels of tzadik present in every Divine soul. These tow levels are called the higher tzadik, the giver, and the lower tzadik, the receiver, as explained in Chassidic writings.8 When both levels are revealed and unified, they release the Messianic potential of the soul.
The gematria of each letter tzadik (צ ) is 90, or one twentieth of 1800. 90 is also the value of three letters lamed (ללל ). In the three explicit instances of tzitzit there are 6tzadiks, which, when inter-included each in each, total 36, corresponding to the 36tzadikim of every generation, which represent the potential of the generation to merit the coming of Mashiach.
1. Numbers 15:37-39.
2. Deuteronomy 30:15.
3. See in depth in The Hebrew Letters, pp. 183, 189
4. There are two possible fillings for צ , either צדי or צדיק . Note that here, it is filled as צדי.
5. If we add to the three instances of tzitzit the filling of the pronoun "it" (אֹתֹו ), which we saw corresponds to yet a fourth level, אלף תו ואו , the total will come to 2506, or 7 timesMashiach (מָשִׁיחַ ).
6. See Rashi to Numbers 15:39.
7. Deuteronomy 34:5
8. In the Torah, the archetypal figures of the higher and lower tzadik are Joseph and Benjamin.