One of our most spiritual commandments written in the Torah is the obligation to wear a special garment called a tallit. When our children become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah they are presented with a tallit, a prayer shawl which they wear for the first time during the service. What is it about seeing our children wearing a tallit that touches us all?
In the original commandment the Torah commands us to wear fringes around the four corners of our clothing, two in front and two in back. These fringes are part of an undergarment which today is called the "Tallit Katan" or small Tallit which is worn under the shirt. It is basically a small poncho, rectangular in shape which has four holes on its four corners. Four strings are inserted through each hole on each corner. They are then folded to create a cluster of eight strings which are tied together by looping one string around the other seven, in a prescribed way to remind us of the 613 biblical commandments. These strings are called "Tzitzit." Those who wear the tallit katan usually have the tzizit visible hanging on their clothing.
The Tallit we use in the Synagogue is the "Tallit Gadol" or the large Tallit which is the prayer shawl used during prayer time. It too has a rectangular shape with eight stings tied together in each of its four corners. Here too the strings are tied in a way which remind us of the number 613. The Tallit Gadol is worn only during prayer times. It could be made from any type of kosher material as long as it is not a blend of different materials.
The Tallit Katan which is worn everyday is meant to be a constant reminder of our unique obligation to make this world a better place for all mankind by observing the biblical commandments and precepts. This obligation is called Tikun Olam, literally repairing the world for the benefit of all.
The Tallit Gadol which we put on in the beginning of services has a slightly different purpose. It also involves a particular ritual. Before wrapping oneself it is customary to check the fringes in order to make sure none are missing or torn. While doing that the Light of G-d, the Shechina, is invited to descend upon us. Then the Tallit is wrapped around the head and a specific blessing is recited. It is then "lowered" to wrap the shoulders.
This act of covering the head and the shoulders with the Tallit and its fringes representing the 613 commandments is meant to help our body and soul concentrate solely on the prayers we about to offer. It is a powerful spiritual ritual of devotion and meditation which connects us to our ancestors of many centuries ago.
Although wearing the tallit has traditionally been reserved for males, females also may now choose to wear a tallit during services. Often the tallit for a Bar or Bat Mitzvah child is a gift from grandparents, parents or another close relative. It then becomes a treasured gift that forever links the child to the love of family and the Jewish People.
Hebrew School Children Learn to Tie Tzizit