Kirkepiscatoid

Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!


(Photo of the various knots that make up the tzitzit in Ashkenazi (top) and Sephardic (bottom) style)

I think I'm having one of those weeks where I'm listening to my inner crypto-Jew.

As many of you know, I spent a lot of years learning about Jewish tradition in order to help out my retired pathologist friend M. with being a more active part in his Jewish community. At first I learned things just so I wouldn't look like a dolt at M.'s synagogue or make a faux pas at his Passover seders. But over time, I began to realize that learning a lot of Jewish symbolism and mystery helped me be more in touch with my own Christianity. I enjoy how thousands of years of the little details of Judaism shaped much of our own Christian symbolism, and it gives me a very connected feeling to God, that "God is in the details."

Take something as simple as the fringes on the tallis (the Jewish prayer shawl.) These fringes, or tzitzit, are made in a very specific fashion. Deuteronomic law says they should be made of 39 windings. Thirty-nine, when counted out as in the gematria (where Hebrew letters have a numerical equivalent) is the equivalent to part of the Shema--the equivalent of the phrase "The Lord is One.") Tzitzit are woven on the four corners of the shawl--the four corners of the earth.

Now, Ashkenazis wind those 39 winds in a different pattern (7-8-11-13, the same number of winds if one were to tie according to the Talmud's instruction of 13 hulyot of 3 winds each.) Sephardics wind it 10-5-6-5, (the numerical equivalent of YHWH,) but that's not a big deal in my mind. Each have their own reasons.

But Rabbi Arthur Waskow tends to like to discuss a more modern interpretation of the tzitzit. He likes to explain that the strings of the tassels are an extension of the person who wears them, and they reach out like fingers into the universe. In the space between the strings lies the universe, reaching fingers of air towards the person. The fringe is not only "the strings." The fringe is the combination of the strings and the spaces. It is in that space that we interact with the world, like enmeshed fingers of two hands.

That is an incredibly powerful thought.

Think about the Gospel stories where people touch Jesus' robe for healing. Jesus, being a good Jewish boy, probably was wearing his tallis. I like to think as those people clamored for healing, they reached for his tallis, and their hands brushed the tzitzit of his tallis.

Jesus--living tzitzit personified. Wow.

But it doesn't stop there. There's nothing to stop US from being living tzitzit. We can be the place where our most holy selves encounter the world--or we can be the place where the basest parts of ourselves meet the world. I think about how some of us might be plain white tzitzit, and some of us tend to have a few more colorful threads woven into us. We might not be able to travel to the four corners of the world, but we certainly are in sight of the four corners of ourselves.

I also think about the business of "fringe"...like out on the edges. How far to the edge do we go to put the hand of God's love in the world? I know I probably don't reach far enough. But I do like the idea that if we are living tzitzit, we are wearing a natural extension of God's love, that sort of flaps and swings in the breeze of the Holy Spirit...and perhaps we should simply follow where our tzitzit fly in that breeze.

3 comments:

Just curious.. in what tradition were you raised?

LCMS Lutheran. In rural Missouri. Wouldn't have known a faith tradition outside of Christianity if it had bitten me. But I have since learned that some of my German ancestors might have Jewish roots and simply converted to Christianity because the Lutheran church was the only German-speaking entity in rural Missouri in the 1830's.

I ask because one of my friends is like me (a Southern Baptist turned Episcopalian) and both of us have developed an affinity for Judaism, so I am wondering if there are others like us or if we're just both a little off. The way we were raised largely excluded the role of Jewish culture/religion in Jesus' message and actions and since we understand that message to be skewed, we seek the Jewish perspective to learn more about what Jesus really said and did.

And now that you said you might have Jewish roots, I'm a little jealous because I'm looking for a legitimate reason to hang a mezuzah on my door.

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Kirksville, Missouri, United States
I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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