Potters Clay Ministries, Inc.
417 NW 42nd St.
Oklahoma City, OK 73118
Secrets of the Prayer Shawl
( The Tallit ,Its design and use )
The prayer shawl is called tallit in Hebrew. In the Greek it is himation and in Latin it is called pallium. The meaning is that of a rectangular, four-cornered, cloak, mantle or tunic. It is an adaptation of the Greek word for stole, from which we get the name of the garment worn over the robe of our liturgists in sacramental churches. In Numbers 15:37-41, the ordinance for the fringes is given. (see also Deuteronomy 22:12)
What we have now before us is a tallit. We also have a stole, borrowed from one of our pastors. The garments are pretty dissimilar and yet come from the same root. The original tallit was an integral part of mans everyday garment. It was an outer garment and had four corners, each with a fringe or tzizit on it. It has now become what we have before us, an extra garment, only worn during prayer or certain holiday services. Numbers 15:38 tells us there is to be a ribband of blue. This is a very interesting part of the garment. The blue dye was very difficult to obtain and therefore expensive. In Hebrew the blue is techelet. I have a set of fringes with the techelet included. These fringes are not wrapped or tied, just as they come from the source in Israel. I want you to see what the blue looks like and learn to appreciate it. The dye is extracted from a sea snail and was worth its weight in gold. The snail must have its shell hand drilled while alive and the dye extracted from a gland. It takes 8500 snails to produce one gram of dye, or 3,855,515 snails to produce one pound of dye. I have a box of Rit dye with me. It is 31.9 grams by weight and costs $3.99 at the store. At todays gold price of approximately $258.00/0unce, this same box containing techelet would cost $290.31 or $ 4128.00 / lb. It would take 271,150 sea snails to produce it. We are told that after the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD that the snail disappeared and the process was lost. After the Six Days War in 1967, these snails began washing up on the shore around Tel Aviv. Next to Tel Aviv, in Joppa were dye makers who just happened to have the process required handed down from generation to generation. We now have the Biblical blue dye available and it is being produced. For almost 2000 years, devout Jewish men have not been able to fulfill the commandment to wear the ribband of blue, because it was lost to them. Now it is restored. In ancient times only kings wore garments made of blue and this is why we have the name, "royal blue", only royalty could afford it. In Judaism, priests wore garments with blue included. So the fringes were required for all men, why? Each man is a king and priest in his own house. Each man could afford one thread of blue, thus the requirement was to equalize men by elevating rather than just leveling.
The "Code of Jewish Law" gives the requirements for tying the fringes. They were not haphazard, they had order and symbolism. We will look at a chart that shows the way the fringes were tied. You can take the numerical equivalent in Hebrew and see that the central element of the Shema is present. Yahweh Echad God is Unity (often translated; God is one). There are other reminders coded into the fringes. The 613 commandments of the Torah as well as other messages contained within the tying of the fringes.
What interest is this really to us? Well, it begins to explain some of the things that happened in the Bible and some of the things the Bible shows us. I will share a couple with you this morning, there is not enough time to go into all of them or all the implications.
Matthew 6:6 tells us to enter into our "closet" for prayer. When a Jewish man puts on his prayer shawl, he closes himself in and shuts out the world. This effectively becomes his "prayer closet" and this was an image in the mind of Matthew when he wrote the admonition of Jesus.
Another story unfolds in Matthew in Matthew 9:18-26 and Mark 5:20-43. We find Jesus being sent for by Jairus, a ruler of a synagogue, to minister healing to his daughter. Before Jesus can get to her a woman with an issue of blood comes and touches his garment. If she can just touch the "hem of his garment" she will be made whole. The word, translated hem in this passage, is the same one translated as fringes in other passages. She knew that if she could just get hold of God, she could be healed. Jesus knew that He had been touched. Mark 5:30 says Jesus knew virtue went out of him. The word rendered virtue is more accurately translated "power". The Hebrew equivalent from the LXX, is "army or host". Power left Him .was it power to heal? Yes, to a point, but it was more than that. Cleanliness left Him. The woman rendered Him unclean by touching His clothes. Through no fault of His own, He became unclean and He felt the power leaving Him. This is important to the rest of the story. It was forbidden for a rabbi or priest to touch a dead body and remove his state of cleanliness. When Jesus reached Jairus house, He was told that the girl was dead. Jesus states the she is only asleep and they laugh Him to scorn, Mark 5:40. Why did He make this statement? He wanted them to know she was dead and He was going in. He was allowed to enter because the woman with the issue of blood rendered Him unclean. Then Jesus calls "Talitha Cumi". The translators tell us it means "damsel, arise". There are other words that would have been used to address the girl. What Jesus actually said was more like Girl in the Tallit, God says arise! This is why He said not to tell what had happened. The people knew she was dead and would just as surely know she was now alive. What Jesus did not want them to know as yet was the fact that He walked, lived and functioned on earth as God and in fact was God! He knew it and those in the room knew it, but He did not want anyone else to know it as yet.
Return to Potter's Clay Homepage