Secrets of the Prayer Shawl

The tallit (ta-LEET, literally a “little covering”) is a rectangular prayer shawl with four fringes -tzitzit – one attached at each corner. Most tallits have a neckband, called an atarah, that often has a blessing one recites when donning the tallit, written across it. The tallit is worn to remind oneself to observe all of the commandments of the Lord. We find this stated in Vayikra or Numbers 15:37-41:

“Speak to the sons of Israel and tell them that they shall make for themselves tassels on
the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and that they shall put on
the tassel of each corner a cord of blue. “It shall be a tassel for you to look at and
remember all the commandments of the LORD, so as to do them and not follow after
your own heart and your own eyes, after which you played the harlot, so that you may
remember to do all My commandments and be holy to your God. “I am the LORD your
God who brought you out from the land of Egypt to be your God; I am the LORD your
God.”

We also see it mention again in D’Varim or Deuteronomy 12:12:

“You shall make yourself tassels on the four corners of your garment with which
you cover yourself.”

 

The Tallit is the Jewish prayer shawl, the most authentic Jewish garment used during prayer  that reminds the wearer of both God’s Covenant and His commandments that a believer can follow. During prayers, the custom is to wear a large rectangular garment with tzitzit (called a tallis gadol) and pray while wrapped in it.

 

God gave His people a visual picture that would cause them to remember all the commandments of the Lord and to do those that are applicable to them; so that they would not follow after their own heart and their own desires. (Remember, that not all of the 613 commandments are applicable to all people. Some were written to men, some to
women, some to Levites, some were applicable only if you are living in the land of Israel.) In ancient Israel men wore a four cornered tunic, and these tassels were connected to that tunic. The tassels or tzitzit were tied to the four corners of this garment (Prayer Shawl). This outer garment eventually throughout history became known as a (Hebrew) “Talith” (Jewish Prayer Shawl). It eventually evolved into a more formal Prayer- Shawl., which is what most Jewish and Messianic believers wear in their Synagogues, congregations in a “holy place”.

 

The word “tallit” itself does not occur in the Torah (usually considered to be the first 5 books of the Bible or the books of Moshe – Moses or the Pentateuch), though the Hebrew verb root  ל ַל ָט ( (tah-lahl) appears and means to “cover over” as found in:

Nehemiah 3:15:
“Shallum the son of Col-hozeh, the official of the district of Mizpah, repaired the
Fountain Gate. He built it, covered it and hung its doors with its bolts and its bars, and the
wall of the Pool of Shelah at the king’s garden as far as the steps that descend from the city
of David.”

 

Genesis 19:8:
“Now behold, I have two daughters who have not had relations with man; please let me
bring them out to you and do to them whatever you like; only do nothing to these men,
inasmuch as they have come under the shelter of my roof.”

 

Both “covered” and “shelter” come from the root verb to cover ל ַל ָט  We also find that Ruth asked Boaz to “cover her” with is garment because he was a near kinsman.

 

Ruth 3:9:
“He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth your maid. So, spread your covering over your maid, for you are a close relative.”

 

Why the tassels? Because the tassels are what is important! These tassels or fringes are to remind each of us of our responsibilities to fulfill God’s commandments.  The fringes or tassels themselves are called tzitzit. Their strings and knots are a physical representation of the 613 commandments. Each letter in the Hebrew alphabet has a  corresponding numerical value. The numerical values of the five letters – “ת ִצי ִצ- tzitzit” that add up to 600. Add the eight strings and five knots of each tassel, and the total is 613.

 

There are 613 “laws” (or more accurately translated as instructions/teachings) in the Law of Moses! There are 365 prohibitions, “Thou shall NOT” and 248 that are affirmations “Thou SHALL!” These knots also correspond to the ineffable Holy Name of God. In the “Torah”, the Old Testament and Jewish writings: “YHVH” For that title of the Name of God. We must remember that the word “Torah” means “teaching” or “instructions; NOT law!  Alternatively, the fringes are like a royal insignia, reminding their wearers that they are always in the service of the King of Kings. The reminder is provided by the symbolism of the turquoise thread, which is the reminiscent of the Throne of Glory!

 

Exodus 16:13-14:
“So, it came about at evening that the quails came up and covered the camp, and in the
morning, there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew evaporated,
behold, on the surface of the wilderness there was a fine flake-like thing, fine as the frost
on the ground.”

 

The base of both Hebrew words (tzitzit and tal ( טל ) are the same. This means “tzitzit” was chosen for the tallit (as it holds the tzitzit) was perhaps chosen because it alludes the covering of  the morning dew in the wilderness that was accompanied by manna and the Tallit (holding the tzitzit) that covers one when the enter into intimate communication with God.

Numbers 11:9:
“When the dew fell on the camp at night, the manna would fall with it.”
We then see that this same word is used to liken the unity of brethren linked to the word
“dew”.

Psalm 133:1-3:
“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity! It is like
the precious oil upon the head, coming down upon the beard, Even Aaron’s beard, Coming
down upon the edge of his robes. It is like the dew of Hermon Coming down upon the
mountains of Zion; For there the LORD commanded the blessing—life forever”.

We also see this Hebrew word likened to the favor of God:

Proverbs 19:12:
“The king’s wrath is like the roaring of a lion, but his favor is like dew on the grass.”
We can find that in In 1 Kings 19:9-12: Elijah meets God under his mantle:
Then he came there to a cave and lodged there; and behold, the word of the LORD
came to him, and He said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He said, “I
have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have
forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the
sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.” So He said, “Go
forth and stand on the mountain before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD was
passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking
in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the
wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake
a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle
blowing. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and
stood in the entrance of the cave. And behold, a voice came to him and said, “What
are you doing here, Elijah?”

The Hebrew word for mantle is: ת ֶּר ֶּד ַא [ʾaddereth /ad·deh·reth/] mantle, cloak made of fur or fine material. 1B1 prophet’s garment.

 

We find that Elijah passed his ‘mantle’ or prophet’s garment with it power derived from intimate relationship and communication with God to Elisha.

1 Kings 19: 19:
“So, he (Elijah) departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, while he was
plowing with twelve pairs of oxen before him, and he with the twelfth. And Elijah
passed over to him and threw his mantle on him (Elisha).”

 

We are then told that the “mantle – garment or robe of a prophet – his tallit with it’s tzitzit” has power: 2 Kings 2:7-8: “Now fifty men of the sons of the prophets went and stood opposite them at a distance,
while the two of them stood by the Jordan. Elijah took his mantle and folded it together
and struck the waters, and they were divided here and there, so that the two of them
crossed over on dry ground.”

 

We find that when Elijah was about to be taken by the chariot of fire to heaven he asked
Elisha what shall I do for you before I am taken from you.” We find that Elisha’s request was for
more of God’s power:

 

In 2 Kings 2:9-12: “Mantle” of Elijah describes that the mantle represents the power of
the Spirit.

 

“When they had crossed over, Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask what I shall do for you before I am
taken from you.” And Elisha said, “Please, let a double portion of your spirit be upon me.”
He said, “You have asked a hard thing. Nevertheless, if you see me when I am taken from
you, it shall be so for you; but if not, it shall not be so.” As they were going along and
talking, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire and horses of fire which separated the two of
them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven. Elisha saw it and cried out, “My father,
my father, the chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” And he saw Elijah no more. Then he took
hold of his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.”

 

Many people believe that this “mantle” was his tallit. There was the power of the Spirit  of God in Elijah’s mantel (his tallit) and was symbolic of the power of prayer that Elijah had saturated his “mantle” with. This ‘mantel” that Elijah left behind as he was taken up by a whirlwind into Heaven was what Elisha struck and parted the waters of the River Jordan with. Our mantle or tallit should be saturated with our prayers and just as the powerful with of the Holy Spirit when we meet with God in our tallit.  The Tallit was devised because of clothing changes over the centuries. At one time,  garments included the us of “corners” from which fringe could be displayed; later, however, such garments were not worn, and the Tallit was introduced to accommodate the Torah’s commandments [Vayikra (Numbers) 15 and D’Varim (Deuteronomy) 22:12]. The Tallit actually inspired the design of the Israeli flag.

Tzitzit
We previously read in D’Varim or Deuteronomy 12:12-13:

“You shall make yourself tassels on the four corners of your garment with which you
cover yourself.”
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A cord of is added to each corner of the tallit. All but one of the strands that make up the cord are white. There is a longer stand added to the cord which is supposed to be techelet (royal blue/purple) that is supposed to be added to the fringe at each corner of the tallit, however this dye was derived from a now extinct snail found near Tyre and was later waived as a requirement for the tzitzit. Although it has been recently reported that this particular snail has been found and is actually repopulating in waters near Tyre. As a reminder of the techelet, however, either blue and sometimes black strips are added to the tallit itself. We are now seeing that other colors as well are being used in the making of tzitzit. The tallit stripes became part of the emblem of the Israeli flag (most orthodox Jews wear black for mourning the destruction of the Temple). At this time, in Jewish synagogues you will see only men who have been Bar Mitzvah wearing tallit’s and tzitzit. Again, today you will find that in many messianic congregations that both men and women wear tzitzit.

 

There are many customs about the proper method of tying the tzitzit (tying Tzitzit is a Jewish art, a form of macramé.). There are 8 threads or strings, the longest thread being the Shamash (the colored thread), the remaining 7 threads are wrapped around the Shamash. Some people worry that they will mess up and the tallit won’t be acceptable, but with these 12 simple steps you can confidently and enjoyably tie your own tzitzit.

1. Each tzitzit has four strings–three of the same length and a fourth longer one called a shamash. The shamash is used to wrap around all the other strings.

 

2. Place four strings (three short and one long) through the hole. Even the ends so that you have seven that are the same length, and one longer. Some wear their tzitzit on an undergarment known as a tallit katan. This is similar to an undershirt except it has four distinct corners on which the tzitzit are attached. Many messianic believers wear tzitzit on the four belt loops of their slacks or pants, because slacks do not have distinct corners. If they do this, they need to be able to remove them and to reattach them. You can do this by creating a loop before you begin to tie tzitzit and then pass the tied portion through the loop after threading it through the belt loops of your slacks.

3. Tie a double knot using four strings on each side.

4. Take the shamash and wrap it 7 times around the other 7 strings.

5. Tie a double knot.

6. Take the shamash and wrap it 8 times.

7. Tie a double knot.

8. Take the shamash and wrap it 11 times.

9. Tie a double knot.

10. Finally, take the shamash and wrap it 13 times.

11. Tie a final double knot.

12. You can either cut off the ends of the tzitzit or leave them uneven. An orthodox Jew  would not use a metal blade to cut your tzitzit, they would either bite them off or leave them uneven.

When is a Tallit Worn?
Traditionally only men (any male over the age of 12) who have entered into their bar mitzvah wear a tallit during services and during prayers. In many messianic congregations both men and women may wear a Tallit. Many times, you will see that women will cover their head with a scarf during times of prayer. The prayer shawl is worn during:

1. Shacharit (when reciting the Amadah or standing prayer- 3 times a day)

2. Times of personal prayer, meditation or reflection (a personal time with God)

3. Reading of the Torah

4. The Holiday Services

 

5. Special occasions such as circumcisions, bar mitzvah’s, weddings (many times a tallit is used to make a canopy over the couple.)

6. An orthodox Jewish man is wrapped in his tallit when he is buried.

7. Many messianic congregations or synagogues will let you borrow a tallit for the morning  service; say the normal blessing when putting on this tallit.

8. There is one do not: Do not wear a tallit into the bathroom (there are generally hooks for you to us either outside the door or inside the bathroom.

Before Putting on the Tallit
When you take your tallit out of its tallit bag you then carefully unfold it, holding it up to inspect the tzitzit – then recite the following blessing (this can be done in Hebrew or in English).  Blessed are You, Lord our God, Master of the Universe, who sanctifies us with His commandments and commanded us regarding the wearing of the tzitzit.
ךְוּרבּב ת ָת ַא ָ׳ְ׳ וּני ֵהלֹ ֱא ךְ ֶל ֶמ ם ָל ֺוע ָה רשׁ ֲא וּנשׁ ִד ִק י ָת ֺו ְצ ֵמ ְבּו וּנ ָו ִצ ְו ל ַע תַו ְצמ תי ִצי ִצ

 

Transliteration:
Barukh attah Adonai, Eloheinu melekh ah-olam, ashe kiddeshanu bemitzvotav, al mitzvat tzitzit.

Next, put the tallit on and recite (or read) the blessing as written on the atarah (the band that  goes across the side of the tallit that covers your head).

Blessed are You, Lord our God, master of the Universe, who sanctifies us with His commandments and has commanded us to wrap ourselves in tzitzit.

ךְוּר ָבּ ה ָת ַא ָי ְי וּני ֵהלֹ ֱא ךְ ֶל ֶמ ם ָל ֺוע ָה ר ֶשׁ ֲא וּנ ָשׁ ְד ִק י ָת ֺו ְצ ֵמ ְבּו וּנ ָו ִצ ְו ף ֵט ֵע ְת ֵה ְל תי ִצי ִצ ַבּ

 

Transliteration:
Barukh attah Adonai, Eloheinu melekh ha-olam, asher kiddeshanu bemitzvotav, betzivanuy  lehitataf batzitzit.

 

After reciting the blessing:
1. Kiss the end of the atarah where the last word of the blessing is embroidered, and then again at the beginning where the first word is.

2. Wrap the tallit around your shoulders, holding it over your head for a moment of
private meditation.

3. Adjust the tallit on your shoulders comfortably.

4. You may also wish to add the following blessing after having put on the tallit.

Psalm 104:1-2:
“Bless the LORD, O my soul! LORD my God, You are very great; You are clothed with
splendor and majesty, Covering Yourself with light as with a cloak, Stretching out
heaven like a tent curtain.”

Taking off the Tallit
The tallit should be treated with respect as it is your personal meeting place with God
Almighty. Many people will kiss the blessing on the tallit after removing it. Do not let it trail on
the floor or be stepped on. Keep it clean and neatly folded into your tallit bag or carrying bag.
Yeshua (Jesus) and the Tallit Yeshua referred to the tallit several times during His ministry and more than likely wore a tallit Himself, as was the custom of not only Jewish men but especially a teacher or rabbi.  It is more than likely that Yeshua (Jesus) was speaking about the tallit when he addressed His followers in the Sermon on the Mount found Matthew. In the portion of the sermon where He addressed hypocrisy and righteousness in Matthew 6:1-18, we find and interesting verse that alludes to the use of the tallit during this time.

Matthew 6:6:
“But when you pray, go into your (most) private room. and closing the door, pray to
your Father, Who is in secret; and your Father, Who sees in secret, will reward you (in
the open.)”

 

According to Isaiah 26:20: To enter into a room or chamber is used metaphorically of prayer and communion with God:
“Come, my people, enter into your rooms and close your doors behind you; Hide for
a little while until indignation runs its course.”

Webster’s dictionary defines chamber as: “a natural or artificial enclosed space or cavity.” The Greek word translated as “private room” or your translation may say “closet” is the Greek word “tameion”. It literally means an inner changer or “secret room” (it does refer to a closet in your room or a room at home. The “closet” or “secret room” is actually referring to the covering of the “tallit.” Prayer is an intense intimate personal interaction between God and man/woman. Prayer is a dialogue, it means that man speaks to God and God speaks to man. You speak to God and then you hear from God. It is a conversation that occurs when a man/woman is intensely focused entirely communion with God, having “shut out” all the rest of the distractions the in world. You can easily get rid of all the commotion and frenzy surrounding you and concentrate on your communion with God. When a you wrap yourself in your “tallit,” your prayer shawl, you are secluded from everything external so that your soul is consumed in thoughts of reverence and communion with God.

 

In the Orthodox Jewish community, a Jewish man realized that just his “tallit” adds value to his person, so if his faith is to be effective it must involve the totality of his life. All of his actions throughout the day are directly connected to his faith. that is why they respond the way they do in protecting their land and their people. They don’t just go to the job and do their military duty during the day and come home and thing about God. Many believers in Messiah today segment God to a certain day of the week, a certain place and to certain activities in their lives. A Jewish man will always have his tallit (his prayer closet) with him, always reminding him of the “commandments” of God and of His Holiness.  There is something that we need to discern, understand, learn and apply in our own lives. Prayers sent up to God should not be a public display of vain repetitions characterized by religiosity. Prayer is a form of “2 way” communication with God. It is most effective when all surrounding distractions are removed. This is why we enclose ourselves in our “tallit” our prayer closet, shutting off the mundane and elevating our spirit; only to commune with God in our secret place of prayer.

 

Yeshua more than likely was referring to his Tallit (garment with tzitzit) when He encountered the woman with the issue of blood. Matthew 9:20-22 states:
“And a woman who had been suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years, came up
behind Him and touched the fringe of His cloak; for she was saying to herself, “If I only
touch His garment, I will get well.” But Jesus turning and seeing her said, “Daughter,
take courage; your faith has made you well.” At once the woman was made well.”
We see this encounter captured for us again in Mark 5:27-34:

Mark 5:27-34
“A woman who had had a hemorrhage for twelve years and had endured much at the hands
of many physicians and had spent all that she had and was not helped at all, but rather had
grown worse—after hearing about Jesus, she came up in the crowd behind Him and
touched His cloak. For she thought, “If I just touch His garments, I will get well.”
Immediately the flow of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was
healed of her affliction. Immediately Jesus, perceiving in Himself that the power
proceeding from Him had gone forth, turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched
My garments?” And His disciples said to Him, “You see the crowd pressing in on You,
and You say, ‘Who touched Me?’” And He looked around to see the woman who had done
this. But the woman fearing and trembling, aware of what had happened to her, came and
fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth. And He said to her, “Daughter, your
faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your affliction.”

 

Our friend Webster defines cloak as: a loose outer garment, something that envelopes or  conceals, a mantel, or a shawl”

The Strong’s Enhanced Lexicon tells us the Greek word used here is him·at·ee·on. It is from  a presumed derivative of ennumi (to put on): 1 a garment (of any sort). 1A garments, i.e. the cloak or mantle and the tunic. 2 the upper garment, the cloak or mantle. a: something that  envelops or conceals〈a cloak of secrecy〉

The woman with the 12 years of the issue of blood had made a demand on the anointing power of God. Her faith has made her whole, just by touching in faith the “tassels” of His garment (Amplified Bible). The Lord spook to her saying that is was her trust and confidence which was her faith, in Him, in God was the reason for her restored health. Here is an example of faith and determination which we all can follow and profit from. The touch of faith is different from the physical touch, but it is just a real. Too many people are looking to the faith of the preacher or the one who is praying for them instead of getting and exercising person faith. It is all covered by the promises of God. Personal faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17) and by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:4-11). Nothing is impossible for our “faith” today just as in this woman’s time.

 

Remember Deuteronomy 22:12: “You shall make yourself tassels on the four corners of
your garment with which you cover yourself.”

 

Yeshua was a Torah observant Jew and wore a tallit!
We also find that the tallit was sometimes used to indicate the social status of the wearer. The Pharisees sometimes word extra-long fringes to affect a display of piety – a practice that Yeshua condemned.

 

Matthew 23:5
“But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and
lengthen the tassels of their garments”.
The Tallit and the Torah
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As I have mentioned above, the word “tallit” does not occur in the Torah (though the verb  ל ַל ט) appears and means to cover over. The root word (לט) means “dew” and the word Tallit was perhaps chosen because it alludes to the morning dew in the wilderness that was accompanied by  manna (Exodus 16:13-14 and Numbers 11:9). The unit of brethren is also likened to the dew as found in Psalm 133:3 as well as the favor of God (Proverbs 19:12). The modern use of the Tallit allows “fringes” or tzitzit to be displayed from the “four corners” of a garment. This seems to be the essence of the requirements given in Numbers 15 and Deuteronomy 22:12.

 

The various customs and “laws” surrounding the Tallit are mostly Rabbinical-Talmudic, and
not based on the Torah. Here are the Torah restrictions for use:

1. The fringes must be on the border of your garment (Numbers 15:38)

2. The fringes must be put on the four corners of the garment (Deuteronomy 22:12)

3. The fringes must have one ribbon of tekhelet. Since the name of obtaining this dye was lost, two schools of thought arose: a) use black to indicate mourning for the destruction of the Temple, and to use all white because we do not have access to the tekhelet. Again, you will see many messianic believers using a royal blue thread or other colors.

 

4. The garment and fringes are not made of “divers kinds. Do not mix cotton and wool, etc.
this is found in Deuteronomy 22:11.

5. That when you look upon them you are to remember God’s commandment “to do
them” as found in Numbers 15:39-41.

The most important reasons we use a tallit and wear tzitzit is that:  We have a secret room, a private chamber in which to commune with God. This secret room shuts out all of the noise, confusion and distractions from the outside word and allows us to become intimate with our God. We speak, and He listens, He speaks, and we listen, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us as we spend this precious time with our God.

 

We wear tzitzit to remind us that we are not our own, we have been purchased with a great price. We are to live a life that is different from the world’s and we have instructions and teachings which God Himself has given by with to live our lives. Every time we see the tzitzit we are reminded of this – our halacha, our walk is the evidence that we have been saved and are not our own.

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