What are Tzitzit?
I recently visited Israel and saw the men praying with prayer shawls. What was that exactly?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
The Torah says: "Speak to the children of Israel and tell them to make tzitzit fringes on the corners of their garments, throughout their generations." (Numbers 15:37-41)
Tzitzit must be attached to any four-cornered garment. However, people today generally don't wear a four-cornered garment (except for maybe the occasional poncho). So in order to fulfill the mitzvah we have a special four-cornered garment called a tallit. There are two basic types: A Tallit Godol is a large garment that looks like a cloak, and is worn when men pray in the morning. The Tallit Katan is much smaller, usually worn all day long underneath one's shirt.
The tzitzit themselves consist of four strings (doubled over into eight), and then tied in a special way to all four corners of the garment.
From the moment one dons the tzitzit, until the end of the day when he takes them off, he is involved in a mitzvah! In this way, the tzitzit provide an anchor to the world of spirituality while going about our daily chores. Whether in the work place or in an amusement park, one can always look at his Tzitzit and get in touch with G-d, Torah, and his mission as a Jew.
Just how do the Tzitzit remind us of this? The numerical value of "tzitzit" is 600. Add to that the 5 knots and 8 strings on each corner, and you get the number 613, which is the total number of mitzvot in the Torah. (Rashi - Numbers 15:39)
To learn more, read "Tzitzith" by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan.