The simplest answer is that the verse states, “You shall make yourself twisted threads, on the four corners of your garment with which you cover yourself.”1

But why four?

Tallit and the Exodus

Immediately following the commandment of the tallit, the Torah states, “I am the L‑rd, your G‑d, who took you out of the land of Egypt to be your G‑d . . . ,”2 thereby linking this mitzvah to the Exodus.

Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (Rashi) quotes a teaching3 that the corners of the tallit are alluded to in a verse describing the Exodus: “I carried you on the wings (כַּנְפֵי) of eagles.”4 The word kanaf, “wing,” can also mean “corner.” As for why there are specifically four corners, Rashi goes on to explain that they correspond to the four expressions of redemption associated with the Exodus: “I will take you out . . . I will save you . . . I will redeem you . . . I will take you . . .”5

But what does the tallit have to do with the Exodus?

Tallit Equal to All the Mitzvahs

The Torah tells us that the purpose of the tallit is to remind us of all the mitzvahs.6 The Midrash shares a fascinating insight into why this is so. Each letter in the Hebrew alphabet has a corresponding numerical value. The numerical values of the five letters that comprise the Hebrew word tzitzit (the tassels on the corners of the tallit) add up to 600:

‮09 = צ‭‭
‮01 = י‭‭
‮09 = צ‭‭
‮01 = י‭‭
‮004 = ת‭‭

Add the eight strings and five knots of each tassel, and the total is 613, the exact number of mitzvahs there are in the Torah.7

Additionally, our sages tell us that affixing and wearing tzitzit on the tallit is equal, in a certain sense, to all of the mitzvahs of the Torah (similar to what is said regarding idolatry and Shabbat).8

G‑d introduced the Ten Commandments (and by extension, all of the commandments) with the words "I am the L‑rd, your G‑d, who took you out of the land of Egypt.”9 G‑d is not some distant creator of the universe who is giving us commands. Rather, He gives us the mitzvahs as our personal and caring G‑d, the G‑d who took us out of Egyptian bondage and claimed us as His nation.10 Furthermore, G‑d is telling us that our bond is a supra-natural bond, forged by the miracles He performed for us in Egypt.11

It is for this reason that a tallit must have four corners, corresponding to the four promises of Exodus. As a representative of the 613 mitzvahs, the tallit is inherently connected to the Exodus that gave birth to all the mitzvahs.

Tallit and the Supernal Chariot

On a more mystical plane, Tikkunei Zohar explains at length that the four tassels of the tallit correspond to the four “beasts” that carry the supernal chariot described by the prophet Ezekiel.12 By fulfilling this mitzvah, we are building a throne for G‑d, as it were.13

Tallit and the Final Redemption

The four corners of the tallit don’t connect us just to our past redemption, but to our future redemption as well. In the messianic era G‑d will gather us from the “four corners (kanfot) of the world,”14 corresponding to the four corners of the tallit.15

May this be speedily in our days!