February 7, 2015

Tzitzit and the Healed Woman



In the synoptic gospels, we read of the story of Jesus healing the woman who had an issue of blood. The woman had tried unsuccessfully for 12 long years to be healed by numerous physicians (see Luke 8:43). According to the Law of Moses, because she constantly was bleeding, she was considered unclean, and thus should not touch anyone else, as they would also become unclean.

Matthew records that the woman, upon finding Jesus in a crowd of people “came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, for she said to herself, ‘If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.’ Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, ‘Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.’ And instantly the woman was made well.” (Matthew 9:20-22 ESV).

We also learn of other similar accounts when the sick and afflicted were healed by touching Jesus’ garments. In Mark we read, “And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well.” (Mark 6:56 ESV).

Blue tzitzit attached to the tallit katan
Most scholars agree that the “hem” or “fringe” of his garment refers to the tzitzit or tassels worn by observant Jews. The tzitzit are “specially knotted ritual fringes ... attached to the four corners of the tallit ([or] prayer shawl) and tallit katan ([or] everyday undergarment)”[1].  The four fringes were designed to help Israel remember their covenants with God.

In the book of Numbers, the Lord said unto Moses, “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 the Lord, and do them” (Numbers 15:38-41).

Blue and white tzitzit (or fringes) attached to the tallit katan 
This specific color of blue is mentioned 49 times in the Old Testament [2]  and was associated with the same blue colored thread and cloth of the high priest garments, the tabernacle, and of nobility (see Esther 8:15). Most Jews at the time of Jesus only had enough money to buy clothing of simple colors, such as grey, brown, or off-white, so these blue threads would stand out in contrast with the rest of their clothing. A modern Jew commented on the significance of this color blue by saying that the ancient Jew would remember, “’I am not a peasant farmer,’ and no matter what his station in life, he would realize, and he would hold his head up high and remember, ‘I am a priest, I am a king, I am a prince’” [3].

Because the Bible is not clear on how to make the specific color of blue, many modern Jews will only wear white tzitzit attached to their clothing and prayer shawl. In addition, the modern tzitzit is tied in a specific way to create 613 knots, symbolizing the 613 commandments in the Torah, a constant reminder to always remember the commandments of God [4].

Why the woman decided to touch this specific part of Jesus’ garments is unknown. Was it simply because it was easily accessible to her touch, being low on his robe, or was it because she possibly knew that there is power in remembrance, power in the commandments, and power in obeying them. Perhaps she thought that of all places to touch on his clothing, these tassels, with their priestly blue threads, would be the closest thing to touching heaven.

[1] Tallit - Wikipedia
[2] Tekhelet - Wikipedia
[3] The Mystery Of Tekhelet - Part I of III - YouTube
[4] Tzitzit - Wikipedia

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