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I've heard many Shiurim and Divrei Torah which compared Tzitzis to a uniform or a badge of honor. While this is logical, I wanted to know, is there an early source for this? Did Chazal ever refer to Tzitzis this way?

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The Gemoro Menachos 43b says

תניא היה רבי מאיר אומר גדול עונשו של לבן יותר מעונשו של תכלת משל למה הדבר דומה למלך בשר ודם שאמר לשני עבדיו לאחד אמר הבא לי חותם של טיט ולאחד אמר הבא לי חותם של זהב ופשעו שניהם ולא הביאו איזה מהן עונשו מרובה הוי אומר זה שאמר לו הבא לי חותם של טיט ולא הביא

It is taught in a baraita that Rabbi Meir would say: The punishment for not attaching white strings is greater than the punishment for not attaching sky-blue strings, despite the fact that the sky-blue strings are more important. Rabbi Meir illustrates this with a parable: To what is this matter comparable? It is comparable to a king of flesh and blood who said to his two subjects that they must bring him a seal. The king said to one of them: Bring me a seal of clay, and he said to the other one: Bring me a seal of gold. And both of them were negligent and did not bring the seals. Which of them will have a greater punishment? You must say that it is this one to whom he said: Bring me a seal of clay, and despite its availability and low cost, he did not bring it.

Rashi on the word חותם says

היו עושים לבהמה ולעבד כשקונין אותן לשם סימן עבדות:

they used to make a seal for an animal and a servant when he was purchased as sign of his status as servant.

So we see that servants did wear a seal representing their status as servants and that this is compared to tzitzis in this Gemoro.

... and there is a Tosfos there that reads

חותם של טיט. מה שמדמה חותם של טיט לציצית שכן עושין לעבדים והציצית מעיד על ישראל שהם עבדי הקב"ה כדאיתא פרק במה אשה (שבת דף נז:) כבלא דעבדא תנן:

which clearly shows that tzitzis teach that Israel are servants to HaShem (hat tip @talmidforlife).

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  • I think there is a Tosfos on that very same amud that says that an avel can wear tzitzis because it is a beged avdus, unlike tefillin which are pe'er. – talmidforlife Aug 4 at 16:12
  • Perfect! With the Tosfos this is excellent. (I actually came to add that Tosfos to your answer because Rabbi Shalom Rosner quoted it in tomorrow's Daf Yomi Shiur covering the bottom of today's Amud Beis but I see you beat me to the punch) – Eliyahu Aug 5 at 2:08

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