The Tallit—A Symbol of Loyal Love
The Tallit, sometimes known today as a prayer shawl, is a garment historically worn by Jewish men. This covering apparel has its roots in a command recorded in the book of Numbers that required all men of God to wear a Tzit-Tzit, or tassels translated in English Bibles, on the corners of their garments.
The actual word "Tallit" is not found in the Bible. The covering known as a Tallit was designed in medieval times to accommodate that period's fashion trends. Men no longer wore long-robed garments that would facilitate the tassels commanded to be worn in Numbers chapter fifteen; therefore, an article of separate clothing was designed to keep the observance.
This change does not distract from the lesson and concept that derives from this ancient, and God prescribed, adornment of Tzit-Tzit on a garment. The idea of covering, which will be discussed later, remains consistent with this ancient garment or modern Tallit upon which the Tzit-Tzit hangs and it's biblical purpose and lesson.
You shall make tassels on the four corners of the clothing with which you cover yourself.
— Deuteronomy 22:12
The word Tallit comes from the Hebrew word for young lamb.
He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs (tali) with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.
— Isaiah 40:11
It is also rooted in a word for covering by patching. The Gibeonites, who came seeking a covenant with Joshua, pretending to come from a faraway place, wore patched shoes on their feet.
. . . they worked craftily, and went and pretended to be ambassadors. And they took old sacks on their donkeys, old wineskins torn and mended, old and patched (tela) shoes upon their feet.
— Joshua 9:4-5
In terms of "covering," in association with a young lamb, it is interesting that many Tallits are made from wool.
Today, many people use them as a prayer covering after discovering the special meaning and symbolism of intimacy with God connected with this garment. These themes echo those of the Passover lamb who takes away the sin of the world who atoned (covered) our sin with His blood.
The Scriptural description is in the book of Numbers, chapter fifteen. It emphasizes the tassels that could be wrapped around the fingers, like a string around the finger, as a remembrance to loyally and faithfully love and obey God.
Again the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel: Tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a blue thread in the tassels of the corners. And you shall have the tassel, that you may look upon it and remember all the commandments of the LORD and do them, and that you may not follow the harlotry to which your own heart and your own eyes are inclined, and that you may remember and do all My commandments, and be holy for your God. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: I am the LORD your God.”
— Numbers 15:37-41
This particular Hebrew word for a garment is many times, but not exclusively, used to describe apparel for a specific purpose. Its first occurrence refers to Rebekah's precious gifts after accepting the offer to be Isaac's bride and is consistent with the symbol of marital fidelity and the covering that comes with that.
And the servant brought forth jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment, and gave them to Rebekah:.
— Genesis 24:53
They were also garments of firstborn sons
And Rebekah took goodly raiment of her eldest son Esau, which were with her in the house, and put them upon Jacob her younger son
— Genesis 27:15
as well as the priestly garments.
And thou shalt make holy garments for Aaron thy brother for glory and for beauty.
— Exodus 28:2
All of these are facets of a loving, loyal relationship with the Lord.
God's Faithfulness Deserves Reciprocation
Before we look at the benefits of this study's garment, it would be relevant to establish that God calls us to a loyal and reciprocal relationship with Him. His loyalty and love are without question. The question becomes, do we loyally love Him.
According to the Numbers fifteen account, God confronts our wayward inclinations when He says that our hearts are inclined to harlotry or looking to other things besides Him to fulfill our wants and needs. As mentioned above, it is reasonable that God would ask us to remember who It is that saves and delivers us from bondage, slavery, and eternal death, and it is to Him that we owe our love and faithfulness.
Although obeying the requirements of the law will never make us righteous. May we love Him with our obedience as a response to His indescribable divine gift.
Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!
— II Corinthians 9:15
The Tallit is an invitation to intimacy that depends on this mutual bond of faithful love.
In Jewish tradition, the Tallit was commonly given by young brides to their bridegroom and symbolized respect and fidelity. It was as if for the bride to say, "I give my heart to you." Therefore, a Tallit can be a reminder of love and loyalty to the one whom we belong, in concert with remembering the love and loyalty of the one who belongs to us.
I am my beloved’s, And my beloved is mine.
— Song of Solomon 6:3
The Blue Thread in the Tzit-Tzit
There was a blue thread in the Tzit-Tzit, described in Numbers 15:38. Blue is closely connected to both heaven as symbolized by the sky we see above daily and the sapphire stone, which emits the color blue.
Sapphire was the preferred stone for an engagement ring in ancient times. It symbolized truth, faithfulness, and divine favor, all "heavenly" attributes. In Ezekiel's vision of God, he describes God's throne as sapphire.
. . . above the firmament over their heads was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like a sapphire stone.
— Ezekiel 1:26
The Jewish Midrash states that that the ten commandments were engraved on stones of sapphire. This suggestion is significant in that the giving of the commandments was likened to an engagement agreement. God was laying the terms of relationship and setting them in the stone of his faithfulness. He was inviting His people to a living, loving, intimate fellowship with Him, the loyal, faithful one.
Blue and sapphire point toward the themes of a committed, reciprocal, intimate relationship with the answer to all of our prayers, God Himself. The blue thread on the Tzit-Tzit offers us a tangible experience of this spiritual truth.
In terms of the entire garment, being in a covenant relationship with God is like a covering and symbolizes entering God's very presence and gives a representation of intimacy. Wearing this apparel has even been likened to being wrapped in the delicacy of the Father's love. If we remember in the beginning that Adam and Eve lost their covering. They were naked, exposed, and unprotected.
The actual Hebrew root meaning for the word sapphire means to inscribe and commune. How picturesque that communing with God would write Him on our hearts.
This same idea was seen at the affirming of the covenant, on the Mount of God, between God and His people, symbolizing God's faithfulness to them.
. . . they saw the God of Israel. And there was under His feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone.
— Deuteronomy 24:10
Psalm 91, in its entirety, gives us a vivid picture of this covering and the benefits of this exclusive relationship of having no other gods.
This idea connected with faithfulness and the Tzit-Tzit is interestingly displayed in Deuteronomy 22 when prescribed just before giving the laws of sexual purity.
"Cover Me" Bebo Norman
Safety in abiding in the Presence of God—Covering
He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust.” Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler And from the perilous pestilence. He shall cover you with His feathers, And under His wings (covenant garment) you shall take refuge; His truth shall be your shield and buckler. You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, Nor of the arrow that flies by day, Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness, Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday. A thousand may fall at your side, And ten thousand at your right hand But it shall not come near you. Only with your eyes shall you look And see the reward of the wicked. Because you have made the LORD, who is my refuge, Even the Most High, your dwelling place, No evil shall befall you, Nor shall any plague come near your dwelling; For He shall give His angels charge over you, To keep you in all your ways. In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone. You shall tread upon the lion and the cobra The young lion and the serpent you shall trample underfoot. “Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him on high, because he has known My name. He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him, And show him My salvation.”
— Psalm 91
The Tallit reminds us of dwelling in the secret place and being hidden, protected, and delivered from evil. The key is in verses 14 and 15 and agrees with Numbers 15:37-41 it is for those who have set their love upon Him, set Him on high, know His name, and call upon Him.
The Hebrew word for a wing is the same word used for the corners of this very garment.
A relationship with God is reciprocal. He, of course, makes excellent promise and provision for us, but He sincerely requires and desires our response, which is our faith and trust in Him and no other, as evidenced by our loyal love and obedience.
Again I stress that obeying the law doesn't buy us, love. Obeying is our expression of and response to the love we have already come to know. Obedience isn't about being perfect because we never will be this side of eternity, but it's about a heart towards Him. I like the example of King David being a man after God's own heart. We all know that David was not perfect by any means, but when he did sin, he ran to God and sought reconciliation in contrast to King Saul, who sought the approval of man and consulted with mediums.
The Tallit Is a Little Tent/Tabernacle
The Tallit is like a little tent, and when breaking down the Hebrew word Tallit, we see this exhibited in concert with the lamb and covering as discussed above. "Tav," the first part of the word means little chamber. The last letters "lamed" and "tet" spell the word rooted in meaning as hidden and wrapped as is used in the following verse.
And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle.
— I Kings 19:13
According to "The Way Truth and Life" website article titled "Tallit."
“In the wilderness Moses set up a tabernacle (tent) of meeting according to God's command and when the trumpets were blown people assembled there. Two and half million men could not fit into it. Therefore, what they had were their own private sanctuaries where they could meet with God. Each man had his own little tent - his tallit. They would pull it up over their head forming a tent where they would begin to pray, sing and call upon His name. It was an intimate private place set apart from everyone else. A time totally focused upon Him. It was essentially a prayer closet.”
The Tallit has fringes hanging on the four corners of the shawl that represent God's law. Interestingly, each corner of the garment has eight threads. Eight (threads) times four (corners) equals 32, the biblical number of love, which reminds us as New Testament believers that the keeping of God's law is dependent upon a comprehension of His love (covering) for us. Four also can represent universal or all-encompassing, which tells us that He wants His love to encompass and applies to every area of our lives.
"How precious is Your lovingkindness (covenant, loyal love), O God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Your wings"
— Psalm 36:7
The number four is most certainly associated with transformation.
Paul prayed similarly in Ephesians chapter three that:
"we may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that we may be filled with all the fullness of God."
Being inside the Tallit can remind us of being in Christ.
. . . if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
— II Corinthians 5:17
The Tallit reminds us, also, that Christ came in a body of flesh (tent) so that the covenant relationship with God and man would be made valid and secure.
In the Womb of the Tallit
We can also look at the prayer shawl like a womb.
You formed me in my inmost being
you knit me in my mother's womb.
— Psalm 139:13
We might be able to see that we are transformed by dwelling in that secret place and having an intimate relationship with the creator of the universe.
But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord (that intimate fellowship), are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
— II Corinthians 3:18
The Tallit can visually offer the concept of our body of flesh as a habitation (tent) for God.
"Christ in you, the hope of glory"
— Colossians 1:27
"do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?"
— I Corinthians 6:19
The prayer shawl is not magic, nor is it a lucky charm. It is not required to have or use one from a New Covenant Gentile point of view. I don't believe God intended to make it religious, ritual, or relic. It is a simple, beautiful reminder and symbol that gives us the image of a loving God that calls us to an exclusive relationship with Him. In that relationship, He surrounds, embraces, and covers us in His intimate ultimate love, protection, and deliverance.
One thing I have desired of the LORD,
That will I seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the LORD
All the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the LORD,
And to inquire in His temple.
For in the time of trouble
He shall hide me in His pavilion;
In the secret place of His tabernacle
He shall hide me;
He shall set me high upon a rock
— Psalm 27
There are many more fascinating facts surrounding this garment. The Tallit also reveals the name of God and the Word of God in its numeric construction and the colors of the garment, which will not be shared in this article as not to distract from the central theme of expressing the idea of intimacy communicated by this garment.
© 2012 Tamarajo