What is the purpose of a prayer shawl?
In Numbers 15 God commanded the people of Israel to put tzitzit, or tassels, upon the borders of their garments. The reason was that they would then see the tassels and remember the commandments of the LORD. Reading this passage in Hebrew shows an important detail: the tassels were to be attached to the borders of their garment. The Hebrew word here is “canaf” and carries a dual meaning. It can mean either the border or hem of a garment and it can also mean wing. The Hebrew Bible appears to imply both definitions on occasion, instead of just one.
For example, we are told in Malachi 4 that the Sun of Righteousness will arise with healing in his wings (canaf!). I have often wondered if this verse on which the woman with the issue of blood in Luke 8 based her actions? Luke tells us that she came behind Jesus and touched the border of His garment and was immediately healed. Did she know that the Messiah would have healing in His wings, in His canaf? Did her profound faith in Jesus as Messiah prompt her actions?
Something for a believer in Jesus to consider is that He said that He did not come to do away with the Law but to fulfill it. As an observant Galilean of His day, we can safely assume that He dressed as other religious men of His day and region and wore a tallit - prayer shawl. This would have included tzitzit or tassels on His canaf in fulfillment of God’s command. As the Bible instructs, an Israelite of that day would have looked at the tassels and thought of the commandments he had to fulfill. As believers, we can look at the tassels and remember the Law of God that Jesus fulfilled for us. The Israelites were to look at them so that they would not seek after their own heart and their own eyes, in other words they would not forsake the God Who brought them out of the land of Egypt. As believers in Jesus, we have been redeemed from bondage by the same God as the Israelites. Nevertheless, we too face the same temptation, the desire to forsake Him and go our own way. Perhaps we should have a daily reminder of God before us. Perhaps a tassel on our canaf.