I get asked this all the time. It’s probably the most common question I get as a rabbi.
Last week while walking in the park I was asked, “What are those strings for?”
As a young boy, I struggled with tzitzis, that four-cornered woolen (some wear cotton) garment with eight strings and five knots in each corner.
Try to imagine this: You wake up on a hot, humid summer morning and you are trying to find the perfect breathable clothes to wear — preferably something wicking that won’t stick to your skin when you sweat.
So, you put on your perfectly thin “Cool 32” wicking shirt, and then you put on this extra woolen layer. The super cooling power of your awesome shirt is now useless.
So why wear them?
My parents — to their credit — gave me some ingenious explanations for tzitzis from Jewish tradition.
All I have to do is toss the garment over me and slide my head through the hole and voila, I’m magically surrounded by a mitzvah. I have this wireless connection to God, though I have 32 mini wires hanging from my side.
Remember cordless phones with the big antenna? That’s what I had.
But, I still struggled with them.
One day, my mom asked me to vacuum my room. My tzitzis got sucked into the back of the blower. I had to cry for help to get “unvacuumed.”
One time, I was trying to get out of the car, and I discovered that my tzitzis were magically tied with my seatbelt and I was anchored in…extra safe.
One time, when I was studying abroad, the cleaners charged me a fortune for having to undo all those knots!
Thank G-d, we come to this week’s Torah portion, where G-d tells me exactly why he gave us this wireless connection of tzitzis. “Wear them so you should be reminded of all the many mitzvah opportunities you have in your life.”
Aha! Tzitzis are for me! All those 32 wires remind me that I’m directly wired — albeit wirelessly — to my source: G-d Himself.
Tzitzis is a constant meditative exercise for me to mindfully and physically envelope myself in this mitzvah, and in all mitzvot/opportunities to connect with the Almighty and with each other.
Tzitzis hanging at my side remind me that G-d has empowered me to elevate myself, to be bigger than I think I can be, to be kinder, to be distinct in my actions, to live a more meaningful life.
I am grateful for all 613 incredible opportunities to live happier!
So the next time I get asked, “What are those strings for?” my answer is simple: “I wear them to be awesome.” PJC
Rabbi Ely Rosenfeld is the director of the Jewish Relief Agency and the TheHappyRabbi.com. This column is a service of the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh.