Touching the Fringe of His Garment

Sephardic tied tsitzit- Oct 13 14Often time’s people read a passage in the New Testament and “miss” what it meant in its context; for example, Jesus taking the cup of wine and matzoh during the Passover meal, immersion and something as simple as what it meant to “touch the fringe of His garment”.

The woman in the Gospels with the issue of blood touched “the fringe of Jesus’ garment” (Matthew 9:20, Mark 5:25, Luke 8:43, Luke 8:44). This word in sometimes mistranslated “hem”, but the more correct word is “fringe” (Strong’s word #2899). This woman touched the tzitzit i.e. the braids or tassels worn on the four corners of a Jewish man’s garments. The command to wear these fringes came from God and is outlined in Numbers 15:

“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Speak to the Israelites and say to them: Throughout the generations to come, you are to make tassels on the corners of one’s garments, with a blue cord on each tassel. You will have these tassels to look at and so will remember all the commands of the Lord, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by going after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes. Then you will remember to obey all My commands, and will be consecrated to your God. I am the Lord your God.'”(Numbers 15:37-41)

These tassels were there to remind each Jew of his responsibility to fulfill God’s commandments.

Before explaining how this works and the winding and knotting on a tzitzit, it is important to know that in Hebrew, numbers and letters use the same symbols so the number 1 is “א” (aleph), the number 2 is “ב” (bet) and so on.

So how do the fringes of the tallit remind one of God and His commandments?

The numerical value of the word tzitzit (fringes) is 600. Each of the fringes contains 8 threads and 5 knots, making a total of 613. This number corresponds to the 613 commandments contained in the Torah.  Yes, there are more than Ten Commandments.  The Ten Commandments summarize the essense of the others that follow in the book of Exodus.  Yes, read on past the Ten Commandments, you will find many, many more commandments.

In making the fringes according to Sephardi (Middle Eastern) tradition, one winds a long blue thread around the other white threads and in between are special knots.  The first segment below where it is tied on the garment (or prayer shall, called a tallit) has 10 winds (the number 10 = the letter “yod”) then a knot, then 5 winds (the number 5 = letter “hay”) then a knot, then 6 winds (the number 6 = the letter “vav”) and then a knot and then 5 winds again (another letter “hay:), then a final knot. The 4 letters YHVH is known in English as the “tetragrammaton” (from the Greek τετραγράμματον, meaning “consisting of four letters”) and are the 4 letters in the Torah, Writings and Prophets (Old Testament) that are the Name of God. Since there are no vowels, we don’t know how exactly to pronounce this name but most Jewish and Christian scholars favour “Yahweh” as the closest likely pronunciation. Observant Jews do not attempt even attempt to pronounce the name of God because it is considered so holy, so when reading Torah they use the word Adonai (“Lord”). In most Christian Bibles, the word appears as “LORD” (all capitalized).

In making the fringes according to Ashkenazi (Eastern European) tradition there are 7, 8, 11, and 13 winds between the knots. The first three numbers equal 26, which is the numerical value of the Tetragrammaton. The remaining number equals the numerical value of the word echad (“one”) from the watchword of the Jewish people, the Shema (Deut 6:4) “Hear O Israel, the LORD our G-d, the LORD is one” . The word “one” (echad / אֶחָד) here is actually a plural unity and is the same word that is used for an army (one army made up of many individuals) or a bunch of grapes (on bunch made up of many grapes).  God is “one”.

So whether knotted according to the Middle Eastern custom or from the customs of the Jews of the Diaspora, the fringes or tzitzit placed on the corners of one’s garments (or on a prayer shawl, called a tallit) not only remind the Jew of the 613 commandments but also the very name of God (YHVH).

So, the “fringe of the garment” that was touched by the woman with the issue of blood was the tsitziyot (plural of tzitzit) or tassels of Jesus’ garment.

In fact, people all around the area knew that if they could even touch Jesus’ tzitzit, they would be healed…in fact if they did so, they were healed.

“When Jesus was in Gennesaret, the men of that place brought to Him all those in the surrounding area that were sick and they implored Him that they might just touch the fringe of His cloak; and as many as touched it were cured” (Matthew 14:35-36)

“Wherever He would go, into villages, towns or the country, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and begged Him that they might touch just the tassel of His robe. And everyone who touched it was made well.” (Mark 6:56)

His tzitzit represented His very Name and all His commands and touching them (and not even Jesus Himself) had the power to heal.

When we reverence His Name in prayer and in our lives and when we seek to obey His commands in all we do or say, we likewise “touch” His tzitzit.

tallit    Messianic Jews - who we are and aren't