In Sunday’s Gospel, we hear about the woman with a hemorrhage. She had been suffering for many years. She had gone to many doctors, who took her money but did not heal her. She only got worse. The one day, “she had heard about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak. She said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.’ Immediately her flow of blood dried up. She felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction “(Mk. 5:27-29).
This translation does not reflect entirely what really happened. The woman touched the fringes of Jesus’ garment. She intended to touch the male garment that symbolizes God’s presence and holiness. She experiences the power of God. Jesus, too, was aware that “power had gone out of him” (Mk. 5:30).
Jewish males were required to put tassels on four-cornered garments. This requirement is found in Deut. 22:12: “You shall put tassels on the four corners of the cloak that you wrap around yourself.” The longer passage in Numbers 15:38-40 forms the third paragraph of the Shema, a prayer proclaiming God’s unity and sovereignty, which Jewish men recite twice a day:
Speak to the Israelites and tell them that they and their descendants must put tassels on the corners of their garments, fastening each corner tassel with a violet cord. When you use these tassels, let the sight of them remind you to keep all the commandments of the Lord, without going wantonly astray after the desires of your hearts and eyes. Thus you will remember to keep all my commandments and be holy to your God. I, the Lord, am your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I, the Lord your God.
In most translations, the cord is blue, not violet, and it is blue in Jewish tradition. The dye is said to be from an amphibian, the identity of which is now unknown. According to some Talmudic sages, blue is the color of God’s glory. When Moses and the seventy elders of Israel beheld God, “under his feet there appeared to be sapphire tilework, as clear as the sky itself” (Ex. 24:10).
Jewish men wear a tallit, or prayer shawl, for daily morning prayer, and the very Orthodox wear a fringed undergarment. The Hebrew word for fringes has the numerical value of 600, and the five knots and eight strings or fringes add up to thirteen. By wearing a prayer shawl, or a smaller version generally worn under the shirt, Jewish men wrap themselves in all 613 commandments. It is a way of uniting oneself with God’s will.
The wearing of this garment is classified as a time-related commandment, and is therefore not required of women. Jewish women are exempt from time-related commandment because of the manifold responsibilities of raising children. Moreover, men must be reminded of God’s presence, but women do not need to reminded, since they are at higher spiritual level. Really.
The prayer shawl, tallit, is actually worn as a shawl. It is not simply draped around the neck. Rather, it is draped around the body so that two of the four fringes are to be worn in the back of the body, and four in the front. In this way, the men wrap themselves in holiness. Before donning the tallit, the frist two verses of Psalm 104 are recited “Bless the Lord, my soul! Lord, my God, you are great indeed! You are clothed with majesty and splendor, robed in light as with a cloak.”
Let’s wrap ourselves in holiness too.
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.