Wrapped in the wings of God
This week’s Torah reading begins with the episode of the spies who are sent to scout the Promised Land and return with a report. Much of the rest of the portion deals with the description and consequences of their tour. Then, tucked at the very end of the story, the maftir for this week, is the commandment to put fringes on the corners of our garments to remind us of the mitzvot. It is fascinating to me that the fringes are the important part of the tallit, when the experience of wearing one is so entwined with the bracha: “Blessed are You God, who commands us to be wrapped in tzitzit.” The tzitzit, the fringes, remind us of the commandments, but the experience is that of being wrapped in them. When the Torah describes the corners of the garment it uses the word “canfei vigdeihem;” “canfei” which can mean ‘corners’ but also ‘wings.’ We read about being wrapped in God’s wings, and that can be the experience of wearing tallit; feeling wrapped in the shelter of God’s presence, feeling the wings of God enfold us like an eagle protecting her young. When we put on a tallit, there is a tradition of wrapping it around our heads, being hidden beneath its folds, a moment of solitude and quiet darkness, a chance to commune with the Divine, to breathe, to spend a moment feeling shelter and peace.
When we put on the tallit, we recite: “Barchi nafshi Adonai, Adonai Elohai gadalta me’od, hod ve hadar levashta, oteh or casalma, notei shamayim keyirah.” “Bless God, my soul. Eternal, my God, how great You are, clothed with splendour and majesty, wrapping Yourself in light as in a garment, spreading forth the heavens like a curtain.” The midrash tells us that: “God wrapped in light like a garment” was God wrapping in a white tallit which illumined the world with its light. The heavens were made with God’s garment, God’s primordeal, ethereal light, was the tallit God wore, radiating light across the world, bringing illumination and beauty. God’s lovingkindness and presence are manifest in the tallit, the garment of light in which God wrapped the world, and is mirrored in the tallitot that we wear. The tzitzit reminding us of God’s commandments, the cloth wrapping us in God’s warmth, love and presence. And we need both. We need the connection to the mitzvot, the draw and the pull, the reminder to draw close to the holy through our deeds and our actions. But we also need to feel the comforting presence, the spiritual beauty of being enfolded and wrapped in the wings of the Shechina, the protective cover of God, inspired by God’s light, illuminating our path and our way forward.
Rabbi Jacqueline Ninio