The Mitzvah of Tzitzith is mentioned twice in the Torah:

"...they are to make for themselves, throughout their generations, Tzitzith upon the corners of their garments, and to put with the Tzitzith of each corner a thread o f blue. And it shall be unto you for Tzitzith, and you shall look upon it and remember all the commandments o f the L-rd, and do them, and you will not follow your heart and your eyes, after which you go astray; so that you will remember and do all My commandments and be holy unto your G‑d..."

Numbers XV: 38ff.

"You shall make for yourself twisted cords upon the four corners of your covering, wherewith you cover yourself."

Deuteronomy XXII: 12

The Torah itself thus explains the purpose of this Mitzvah. In the first passage quoted we find both immediate and long-term aims. The immediate aims consist of one positive and one negative principle:

a) The sight of the Tzitzith is to remind us of all the commandments so that we observe them, and

b) To prevent us from following the inclinations of our heart and eyes which tend to lead us to faithlessness.

The long-term aim is again two-fold:

a) To remember and observe the commands of G‑d; and

b) To elevate ourselves to a level of sanctity, to be holy unto G‑d.

Just how these simple fringes are attached to our garments to effect so great and all-encompassing a goal? How can the sight of the Tzitzith help us to realize our spiritual selves and to attain our object of human perfection? To understand this we need to probe somewhat deeper into the symbolic aspects of this precept. Our probing will reveal that few commandments are so rich in symbolism; few commandments contain so many allusions and reminders as this Mitzvah. And once we learn to recognize and appreciate these symbols and allusions, we will understand the efficacy of Tzitzith and why it has been said that this single precept is equivalent to all the Mitzvoth of the Torah. (Menachoth 43b)

"Your Heart and Your Eyes"

The Torah passage dealing with the precept of Tzitzith contrasts the remembrance and observance of the "commandments of G‑d" against the going "after your own heart and your own eyes, after which you go astray." This counterpoise suggests more than the apparent literal sense. For the Torah does not specify a going after sinful inclinations, but pronounces a general, all-inclusive warning not to follow "your own heart and your own eyes" - regardless of what the intentions may be. When dwelling upon this contrast, its latent meaning becomes obvious:

The heart is the seat of man's emotions, man's personal feelings. The eyes, in Torah terminology, are an epithet for wisdom, intellect1. The Torah, in the context of the Mitzvah of Tzitzith, thus warns us not to go about "after your own heart (our emotions, feelings) and your own eyes (our intellect), after which you go astray." It is not our opinion (our personal ideas and ideals), regardless of how lofty and noble it may seem, that we are to follow, but the commandments of G‑d qua "commandments of G‑d." Even when our heart and mind acquiesce in matters of Torah because of intellectual appeal or sentimental attraction, we are to observe the precepts and instructions of the Torah as commandments of G‑d. It is only the supra-rational and supra-sentimental nature of the commandments as Divine decrees that lends them their character of absolute truth and absolute, everlasting relevance. Rationalism and sentimentality as sole and independent criteria are essentially dangerous and generally misleading ways "after which you go astray2."

In this sense, probably more than in any other, the heart and the eyes are the "touts for sin," and therefore G‑d says: "When you give Me your heart and your eyes, then I know that you are Mine." (Yerushalmi, Berachoth I:5 )


Our sages refer to the precept of Tzitzith as a simple and easy Mitzvah. It is indeed one of the most easily observed commandments. But as simple and easy as it is, so rich is this Mitzvah in symbolism, and so potent in effectiveness, that it is equivalent to all the other precepts of the Torah. For surely a consistent observance of this Mitzvah of Tzitzith must lead to a proper and complete observance of all the commandments.

When thrown into the tumultuous waters of the temptations of every-day life, the Tzitzith are our life-line, the rope to which we can cling to prevent us from drowning3, and as our Sages so graphically relate (Menachoth 44a) how the sight of the Tzitzith stopped a man on the verge of committing a grave sin and helped him to regain control over his body and to restore his spiritual equilibrium.

The Tzitzith are everyman's tzitz, upon which is engraved "Holy unto G‑d!" They are the Jew's insignia as a member of G‑d's "kingdom of priests and holy nation." They not only confer "additional sanctity upon Israel" (Sifre Shlach) but help one realize the ultimate aim of "ye shall be holy, for I the L-rd your G‑d am holy!" (Levit. 19:2), as the Torah affirms in relation to the Mitzvah of Tzitzith: "that you may remember and do all My commandments and be holy unto your G‑d."

With the Tzitzith, as with the brass snake4- "every one that is bitten, when he sees it he shall live." (Zohar, III: 175a)