This is part of a series on practical ways to obey the Torah, God’s love letter to us. You can start the series here.
I had promised you that in the days and weeks ahead, I was going to try to retrace my first steps into Torah with you. We’ll explore some of the subjects I looked in my first year of trying to read it and obey it, and I’ll show you how I worked through various issues. I want to show you how the Torah made a practical difference in my everyday life, and in our home as well.
Look, Remember, Obey
Back in 2006, when I first started to read Torah with a mind to obey, as if it were written to me personally, I started in Genesis 1 and read with my pen in hand, highlighting verses in various colors and taking extensive notes in a journal.
I was particularly looking for any instructions, commanded things that I was not already obeying. Of course, I quickly saw the Sabbath. As I traveled through Genesis and into Exodus and Leviticus, I noted the feasts of YHWH (Passover and more), and we made plans for how to begin to incorporate those into our lives. We learned about clean and unclean foods and started to rid our home of foods that are an abomination to God.
However, when I got to Numbers 15, I was particularly struck by the notion of wearing “tassels” on the corners of my clothing. I had never heard of such a thing. I had a friend who was also trying to obey Torah, so I asked her about these strange things.
She made me my first set, and I began wearing them, even if somewhat secretively for a time. (Actually, thinking back, I think they served as a bookmark in my Bible during that first reading of Torah.)
The purpose of wearing tassels on my clothes was so that when I looked at them each day, I would remember all the commands of YHWH and that I would obey them.
In fact, the wearing of these tassels was symbolic of my heart’s intention to look into the Scriptures each day, remember all that YHWH had commanded, and obey it.
What Are Tzitzit?
I have a rather simplistic way of learning Torah. First I read it, then I look up what the words and phrases mean, then I try to begin to immediately obey.
In fact, when I was first reading through the Torah, there weren’t near as many websites, videos, and books as there are today. There were a few, and of course, I could do research to see how the Jews currently obey these commands. However, my husband made it very clear that he would only permit this crazy (almost heretical?) reading of Torah if I agreed to stick to Scripture, just the Scripture, and nothing but the Scripture.
First, I opened up my Bible as well as a Strong’s concordance. (Today I would just use a Bible-study app on my phone or computer, such as Blue Letter Bible or Bible Hub.) I used a King James Version for this study since it’s a very literal translation from reliable manuscripts.
And YHWH spake unto Moses, saying, “Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them fringes in the borders of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the fringe of the borders a ribband of blue: And it shall be unto you for a fringe, that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of YHWH, and do them; and that ye seek not after your own heart and your own eyes, after which ye use to go a whoring: That ye may remember, and do all my commandments, and be holy unto your God. I am YHWH your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: I am YHWH your God” (Numbers 15:37-41, KJV).
Reading and simple study told me several things:
- This command was for the children of Israel. (Whether this meant me was yet another issue I had to study out, and you can read more about that here.)
- This command was perpetual, “throughout their generations.” From these two phrases, I decided that I needed to obey.
- I was to make fringes. The word “fringes” is tzitzit (pronounced “zeet-zeet”) in Hebrew (Strong’s #6734), and it means a “lock” or “tassel,” much like a woman’s bangs are the fringe on her face. In Deuteronomy 22:12, the word is Strong’s #1434, which gives more of the impression of something twisted or braided.
- The fringes or tzitzit are to be located on the “borders” or edges of my garments. Deuteronomy 22:21 mentions the four “quarters” or borders of a garment as being the place for tzitzit to be.
- Each tzitzit was to contain at least one blue strand, although we aren’t exactly sure why. (We can theorize that it’s to remind us of His royalty, or maybe blue is the Creator’s favorite color, but these verses just don’t give a reason.)
- I am to look at the tzitzit each day so that I’ll be reminded to obey. Therefore, I can see that they are to be visible to my eyes, not tucked in somewhere where I can’t see them.
That fall, the kids and I sat at the table and made our own sets of tzitzit. That was a lot of fun! By then, we had chosen to use a traditional Sephardic Jewish form of braiding and tying the tzitzit. The number of knots in each set of braids represents the name of YHWH, and since I read in Revelation 19:16 that when Yeshua returns, He will have his name written on his robe and on his thigh, I particularly liked the idea of having the name of YHWH braided into my own tzitzit.
Since then, I’ve been privileged to know many friends who also wear tzitzit, and I am in awe of the beauty and diversity that these simple fringes can represent.
Each morning I attach them to the bottom corner of my shirt, where the corners of the seams attach together, as I say my morning prayers. They twirl and dangle around me all day, and they truly do help me remember to obey.
Now I’m in Trouble
These tzitzit started to get me into trouble! You see, the instructions of the Torah are not difficult to keep (Deuteronomy 30:11-14), but they do have a tendency to attract attention. People notice when you politely pass over the casserole dish that contains diced ham, or when you won’t open your garage sale on Saturday mornings, or when you start wearing funny strings on the bottoms of all your shirts. They might not say anything — at first — but they notice!
Maybe this is why Yeshua told us that doing good works is much like lighting a candle and putting it on a stand, where it gives its light to everyone in the house. We are to let our light shine before everyone, so that they will see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:14-16).
But some people don’t think that Gentiles like me should wear tzitzit. Some people don’t think women should wear them. Some people don’t think we should use a blue strand, while others think we should only use blue and white.
But if I just read my Bible, I don’t see any of these qualifications. Because I have been grafted into Israel through the shed blood of Yeshua my Messiah, He doesn’t see me as a Gentile any more. In Messiah, there is no Jew or Gentile, male or female, and so forth.
I also know that my heart is prone to wander, as the old song goes, so why would I not have a memorial for my eyes to look upon throughout the day, so that I will not follow the lusts of my heart? Why would I not want to have His name upon my robe and upon my thigh?
Am I Able to Understand Scripture?
So here is the bottom line for me. Is the Torah easy to understand, simple to obey, and intended for all of His people to keep?
Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it. (Deuteronomy 30:11-14, NIV)
A few years ago, I was teaching a group of children the story of the woman with the issue of blood who reached out and touched the fringes of Yeshua’s cloak and was immediately healed (Matthew 9:20-22). After the story, we went to the table and helped the children make tzitzit from white and blue yarn. I found that even toddlers could make tzitzit with a little bit of help. If a small child can obey this simple command, then surely I can, too!
This is just one example of a command from Torah that was new to me, but the principle of study application — of looking, remembering, and obeying — is a principle that can be applied to anything that the Bible contains. In other words, this is easy enough for a small child, and this is easy enough for you!
- Video – How to Make Tassels (showing how we tie them in our family)
- On Tzitzit (also includes images and instructions)
- Tzitzit for Women (testimony and Scripture)
- Women and Tzitzit (a bit of history)
- Using Tzitzit and Other Memorials to Start Conversations with Children About God
Here is a short (3-minute) excerpt from a teaching by Brad Scott, on whether women are included in commands to the “sons of Israel.” (Watch from 15:45-18:36.)