Friday, August 28, 2015
From Rabbi Peter Stein
As we continue to approach the High Holy Days, we turn to this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tetse. The portion contains a wide variety of laws focused on moral standards in the community. Famously, this portion contains 72 different commandments!
While most of the instructions deal with social behavior as opposed to ritual, there is a verse that tells us “You shall make tassels on the four corners of your garment.” This is the root of the tallit: the prayer shawl which has a series of tassels on the corners. The tsitsit are a reminder of the commandments…an ancient version of the proverbial string tied to your finger.
I did not grow up wearing a tallit, but have found great meaning in using a tallit in my adult life. Most of my tallises come from Israel, and help me remember the special time I have spent there. One of my tallises was an inheritance from a beloved family member, and helps me remember the heritage that I can honor by making good changes. And, fundamentally, when I wear the tallit and hold the fringes, I remember that I am in a relationship with God and therefore have the ability and obligation to reach for a high moral standard.
I wore a tallit during my recent participation in Alabama on the Journey for Justice. It has added a layer of meaning to this ancient ritual...that it is possible to take action that brings us closer to a world of justice, equality, and peace. The ritual serves as a special reminder of what I can do – what each of us can do – to honor our Creator and the perfect world from the time of Creation.