How do you remember something really important? Is there a particular action or item that you use to help you remember? If you ask a young child this question, they will probably say that they tell their parents. Other people may tie a string around a finger or use some other visual reminder, or make a list and check things off, or write things on a calendar. In the workplace, companies may send out email reminders or post reminders on a bulletin board. In the 21st century, many people use their Blackberries or computers to give them reminders.
Many centuries ago, the children of Israel witnessed amazing and incredible acts of God, as they were freed from Egypt, given the core commandments of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and led to the land of their forefathers. Despite all of these direct signs that God was watching them and caring for them on a daily basis, this band of former slaves continually doubted that God would fulfill the promise to return them to their homeland, until God had to decide to wait for the next generation to enter Canaan. God instructs the children of Israel to place tzitzit (fringes) on the four corners of their clothes as a constant reminder of all that been done for them and of the commandments that God had given them, to ensure that they would pass them along to future generations.
Most of us no longer wear clothes with four corners, or even a tallit katan. Modern life contains many distractions and temptations that make it hard for us to remember God and God’s commandments. Yet it is still important for us to remember the commandments and to fulfill them to the best of our ability. The news is full of stories about Jews who have strayed from the teachings of the Torah (e.g., Sholom Rubashkin who owned the meat packing plant in Pottsville, IA, Bernie Madoff). Each of us is faced with the responsibility of remembering the commandments, of coming up with a personal system that helps us remember. This system for remembering is our “personal tzitzit”, the act or thing that helps us remember that we are Jews.
Here are some responses I have received to the question, “What are your personal tzitzit?”:
Bringing the tzitzit together during the morning service as a symbol of Jews from the four corners of the world
The indentations left on my arm by my tefillin after the morning service
Keeping a kippah in my pocket or briefcase
The pictures of my wife, my children, my parents, my in-laws, my grandparents, etc.
Seeing my calendar or email reminding me of Judaic classes or events
Office and home libraries overflowing with texts and stories to read and study
Keeping kosher, reminding me of my decision to lead a Jewish life whenever I eat
A Star of David on a chain around my neck or an Israeli half-shekel in my pocket.
How about you? What will remind you of God and the commandments on a regular basis? Share your personal tzitzit here on Mentschen.