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Speak to the children of Israel and say to them to make for themselves tzizis on the corners of their garments, throughout their generations; and they will place with the tzizis of each corner a thread of blue (Bamidbar 15:38).
In this week’s parsha we learn about the mitzvah of tzizis. The mitzvah of tzizis involves tying cords of threads to each of the four corners of a garment. The Torah says that the purpose of this mitzvah is to remind us to perform the commandments of Hashem. We would assume that each of the four tzizis have no more sanctity or purpose than the others. However, the commentators inform us that this is not so. The two sets of tzizis in the front of the garment serve a different function than the two sets of tzizis in the back of the garment.
The Chasam Sofer explains that this is derived from a Midrash. When the Jewish people were about to cross the sea of reeds the angel Gavriel called out to the sea and demanded that it split in front of the Jewish people in merit of the two sets of tzizis that the Jewish people will wear in the front of their garments. After the Jewish people crossed the sea of reeds the angel Gavriel demanded that the sea return to its normal state and drown the Egyptians behind the Jewish people in merit of the two sets of tzizis that the Jewish people will wear on the back of their garments.
In Jewish law we also find a difference between the tzizis in the front of the garment and the back of the garment. It is customary to place on top of a talis an atarah. One reason given is so that we always wear the garment with the same two tzizis in front and the same two tzizis in the back. If not for the atarah we might accidentally wear the talis upside down, resulting in the reversal of the two sets of tzizis. Another example that highlights the difference between the front and back tzizis is the law that it is preferable to insert the front two tzizis into the garment before the back two tzizis.
The Chasam Sofer explains that the tzizis in the front of the garment are a reminder for us. They remind us to perform the mitzvos of Hashem. The tzizis in the back of the garment serve as a reminder for others that they also perform the mitzvos of Hashem.
When we put on a talis and make a brachah, it is customary to completely wrap ourselves with the talis and briefly cast behind us all four tzizis. What is the reason for this custom?
There is a famous story from the Sanzer Rav zt”l about a person who wanted to change the moral climate of the entire world. After campaigning for some time, he came to the realization that he would not succeed in bringing change to the entire world. However, he reasoned that he could at least change his country. Shortly thereafter he realized that he could not do that either. He then focused his efforts on his own city. After failing again he tried his neighborhood, his friends and then his family. When everything failed he said, let me at least change myself. Soon he became aware that he could not do even that. At that point he realized that if he could succeed in changing himself he could change the entire world.
When we put on a talis we attempt to influence ourselves and others. We tend to think that our influence on others is not related to our own conduct. To reject such a notion we take the two tzizis in the front of the garment that are intended to influence us and cast them behind together with the other two tzizis that are intended to influence others. This act conveys that our influence on others will only be as good as how much we can influence ourselves.
© Efraim Levine 5760/2000 - 5764/2004