The Power of Tzitzit

“Something Borrowed, Something Blue,” posted last week, mentions a 30-day grace period before a four-cornered garment requires tzitzit [ritual fringes].

This ruling is attributed to Rav Judah. It appears in his name in tractate Chullin (110a-110b) within a story that appears to be challenging strictures that serve as barriers to observance. The same ruling is mentioned following a very different story:

It was taught: R. Nathan said, There is not a single precept in the Torah, even the lightest, whose reward is not enjoyed in this world; and as to its reward in the future world I know not how great it is. Go and learn this from the precept of zizith.

[There follows the story of a pious man visiting a prostitute: he is stopped from sin when his four tzitzit stand up and strike him in the face. As a result of the encounter, the prostitute seeks out the pious man’s teacher and converts to Judaism. Eventually, the pious man and the woman wed.]

Those very bed-clothes which she had spread for him for an illicit purpose she now spread out for him lawfully. This is the reward [of the precept] in this world; and as for its reward in the future world I know not how great it is. Rab Judah said, A borrowed garment is exempt from zizith for the first thirty days, thereafter it is subject to it.
— B. Talmud, Menachot 44a

This is followed by brief mention of a similar 30-day grace period for affixing a mezuzah to a new residence. The grace-period comments are apropos of nothing apparent to me in the prostitute-convert story, and I’ve never studied this. But the stated context is the reward of “light” commandments and, more broadly, the relationship of effort to commandment and reward.

The concept of “reward in this world and… in the future world” is one I generally steer around. But I have been interested in this idea of “light” commandments ever since Gerry Serotta introduced me to it some years ago.
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Purposefully Blue

The peculiar blue [תכלת, tekhelet] thread used in tzitzit [ritual fringes] (Numbers 15:37-41) also appears prominently in the construction of Tabernacle (Exodus 25ff). It is used in the inner curtains and the loops that connect them; it also appears throughout the priestly vestments.

Why this blue?

It has been taught: R. Meir used to say: Why is blue [תכלת] specified from all the varieties of colours? Because blue resembles [the colour of] the sea, and the sea resembles [the colour of] heaven, and heaven resembles [the colour of] the Throne of Glory, as it is said: And they saw the God of Israel and there was under His feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone [לבנת הספיר], and as it were the very heaven for clearness (Exod. 24:10) and it is written: The likeness of a throne as the appearance of a sapphire stone [אֶבֶן-סַפִּיר] (Ezek 1:26).
— Sotah 17a (also: Menachot 43b and Chullin 89a)

Kedushat Levi links the above passage about blue, תכלת, to the stages of a creative act, beginning and ending with its purpose [תכלית]:

[A project from thought to completion] has undergone four distinct stages. 1) original mental image of the project; 2) clarification of the details, etc. 3) translating thought into deed. 4) carrying out the intention which originally prompted the project. [Punctuation follows translation.] When the original mental image of the project is seen reflected after its successful completion, the person inhabiting this building will experience a sense of satisfaction and joy.
— Kedushat Levi, p. 475 (see Source Materials for full citation)

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