Touching the Hem of Jesus

Touching the Hem of Jesus

This is’s first guest blog post.  It is by Jennifer Orten, a reader here, and a student of the gospel.  She sent me the following short article she wrote about the talith, and I thought it had some great thoughts to share with all of you. -Bryce

Guest Blogger: Jennifer Curtis Orten grew up in Sherman, Texas and attended the University of Utah where she received her master’s degree in physiology. She is a stay-at-home mother of four children, ages 5, 4, 2, and 3 months, and is married to her best friend and eternal companion, John. When she isn’t cleaning up cheerios or playing Chutes and Ladders, she loves to study the scriptures and doctrine. She particularly enjoys studying symbolism, Biblical customs and culture, history, science, art, and languages. She is currently a Relief Society instructor in Chino Hills, California.

The Jews have a religious symbol called a talith (tallit), or a prayer shawl, that covers them when they pray. They claim that it envelops them both physically and spiritually, in sorrow and joy, in celebration and prayer. Today, this shawl is worn at all of the major feasts and festivals, but in Biblical times, it was worn constantly by the men while outside of their home. Even Israel’s flag was inspired by this shawl, adding only David’s shield to create their national flag.

The word talith contains two Hebrew words: tal = tent and ith = little.

In other words, it was a “little tent.” In the days of Moses, a large tent was set up according to the Lord’s command, a Tabernacle, where the Israelites could worship and offer sacrifice. This Tabernacle served as a pattern for individual and familial worship to the tribes. Each man was able to create his own sacred space where he could commune with God, free from the interruptions of the day. By taking the ends of the talith and pulling it over his head, a “little tent” was formed where he could sing praises to the Lord, meditate, and call upon the Lord in fervent prayer. In essence, the talith became his own personal sanctuary – a sacred grove.

This may provide additional insight into the scripture “And my father dwelt in a tent” (1 Nephi 2:15). While in the desert Lehi certainly resided in a physical tent dwelling as was the custom, but could it also be a reference to Lehi creating a sacred sanctuary in the desert where he could commune with God and seek His presence?

In addition to a sanctuary, during Jewish wedding celebrations the talith may serve as a canopy (chupah) for the bride and groom. Four poles hold up this tent, which represents both a home and the protection of God, who is above all, throughout their marriage covenant. The groom may also place the shawl over the bride’s head as a symbol of taking her under his care. As the talith is a protective covering, it represents prayer, communion with God, and the temple, and we can see the importance of these throughout marriage and family life. We can also see symbolism of the marriage of the Lord to his bride, the church.

Although the shawl itself was of importance and made with quality, it became special because of the fringes (tzitzit) on the four corners which served as a visual reminder to follow the commandments and seek righteousness (Numbers 15:39). These tassels also stated the status, rank, and importance of the wearer, which explains why Jesus disapproved of the enlarged fringes used to magnify one’s own importance and status (Matthew 23:5).

The hem of the garment often had the genealogy of ancestors written upon it. Removing the hem or fringe was equivalent of losing one’s status and position, such as the removal of a woman’s meant a divorce. When David removed the hem of Saul’s garment, it was an indication of Saul’s loss of status and power (1 Samuel 24:4). It is this same piece that some believe was the mantle given to Elisha by Elijah (2 Kings 2). And we cannot forget the miracle of healing that occurred when the inflicted woman touched the hem (tassel) of the Savior’s garment (Luke 8:43-44, Matthew 9:20).

“But unto you that fear my name shall the Son of righteousness arise with healing in his wings” (Malachi 4:2). The corners of the prayer shawl are often called “wings.” This provides insight into Psalm 91 which speaks of abiding “under the shadow of the Almighty” and “under His wings” (v1, 4).

Realizing the spiritual and physical natures of the talith, we can see additional applications for Isaiah 54:2: “Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes.”

The places of our tents, when thought of as sacred and holy space, can comprise more than just the stakes that are referenced, as commonly interpreted. When we enlarge the place of our tents, we must start within us individually and expand outward. Our tents are found within and around us as we strive to create a holy, sacred place where we may commune with the Lord and feel His Spirit.

As we enlarge the boundaries, our homes become our tents and protection from the world. They have the potential to serve as a holy place, a temple even, where the Lord’s spirit may dwell. The LDS Bible Dictionary entry on “Temples” notes that “Only the home can compare with the temple in sacredness.”

“Stretching forth” even further, we have an opportunity to make our wards and stakes more holy, securing it more firmly and “strengthening thy stakes.”

Ultimately, through mastery and discipline in our personal, family, and community settings, we arrive at the largest and most holy tent of all – the temple and literal home of our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. It is this great privilege to come as His guest, to become His bride, in this most sacred place, that we must “spare not” and make every effort to receive and enjoy, for its benefits are for eternity.

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