The term Tzitzith recalls the tzitz, the golden plate, worn by the high priest, upon which were engraved the words "Holy unto G‑d" (Exodus 28:36). Just as tzitz is derived from צוץ (to gaze; cf. Song 2:9), because it was worn on the forehead, a place visible to all (Rashbam), - Tzitzith, too, is derived from the same root.1 Tzitzith also refers to the hairs, or "fringes" on the forehead (cf. Ezek. 8:3). This word thus denotes that the fringes are to be seen, to be looked upon, and its best translation is, therefore, "show-fringes" (i.e. the fringes attached to the garment in order to be seen). Our further discussion will show that the tzitz-Tzitzith relationship is more than etymological, and that the everyman's Tzitzith is in fact a model of the high priest's tzitz.2

The Tzitzith, by their name and manner of attachment, allude to the 613 precepts of the Torah: the numerical equivalent of the word Tzitzith is 600; add to this 8, for the number of threads, and 5, for the number of knots, and you have 6133. The 5 knots also indicate that we are to bind ourselves to the five Books of Moses, while the 8 threads suggest the eight bodily organs which entice man to sin (viz. the ears, eyes, mouth, nose, hands, feet, genitals, and the heart) which must be subdued and hallowed4.

The sight of the Tzitzith thus serves the purpose of reminding man of his Divine obligations (the 613 precepts of the Torah) and of guarding him against falling prey to the sinful acts which are related to the organs mentioned. The mindful sight of the Tzitzith serves as a reminder, and this reminder leads to a consistent observance of the Torah ("that you may look upon it and remember ... and do")5.

T'cheleth

Moreover, the show-fringes aim at arousing in man a direct awareness of the Divine Presence. This is the special function of the blue thread (t'cheleth); for "why is blue singled out from among all the varieties of colors? Because blue resembles the color of the sea, and the sea resembles the color of the heaven, and the heaven resembles the 'color' of G‑d's Throne of Glory!6"

The sight of the Tzitzith thus induces a mental vision, an awareness of the Shechinah (Divine Presence)7. In whichever of the four directions of east, west, south and north we turn (alluded to by the specification of a four cornered garment), the Tzitzith make us conscious of the omnipresent Creator and L-rd of the Universe8.

Today we no longer have a blue thread because the chilozon9, from which the blue dye is extracted, is presently concealed and unknown. But its significance is still retained when we read the precept of t'cheleth and contemplate on this Mitzvah, and even more so when we consider the etymological meaning of t'cheleth: "What is the meaning of t'cheleth (תכלת)? It means tachlith (תכלית) the absolute and ultimate end and object of everything (viz. the Shechinah)10.