The Shulchan Aruch (24/1) writes that there is no obligation to wear a four cornered garment. Rather if you wearing one you must have tzitzis strings on it.

Yet we find that wearing tzitzis is a very important thing. It reminds you of all the mitzvos, you benefit great rewards (Shlchan Aruch 24/6), it saves you at a time of Hashem's anger (Menachos 41a), and there is a great punishment for those that don't keep this Mitzvah.

If Tzitzis is such an important Mitzvah, why is there no obligation to purchase a four cornered garment?

  • 1
    Well I beileve we learn from the gemara in Menachos about Rav ketina (iirc) that one must
    – sam
    Jun 4, 2018 at 23:06
  • Isn't there an obligation to purchase and wear a tallit katan, since nowadays we don't wear four-cornered garments every day? "Minhag Yisrael Torah Hi", no?
    – ezra
    Jun 5, 2018 at 2:35
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3 Answers 3


I heard the following explanation from Rav Yonason Sacks regarding the difference in obligation between the two mitzvos that we wear - tzitzis and tefillin.

The mitzvah of tefillin carries an absolute chiyuv (obligation), while the mitzvah of tzitzis only applies if you opt in. You only become obligated in tzitzis if you choose to wear a garment with four corners; without that choice, you have no obligation.

He explained the reason for the difference as follows:

The Gemara in a number of places (including Berachos 11a) describes tefillin as a p’eir - an adornment. The Gemara says that this is true to the point that one doesn’t wear tefillin during the first day of aveilus (mourning). Even though once his relative’s body is buried the mourner is no longer an onein and is obligated in all other mitzvos, he is not allowed to wear tefillin, as doing so is considered a contradiction to his state of mourning. The way Rav Sacks said it is that it would be like coming to a funeral dressed in extravagant, royal robes; it’s totally inappropriate given the nature of the situation.

As a symbol of royalty, tefillin represent that that the wearer is a ben melech - a child of the King.

When it comes to tzitzis, on the other hand, Tosfos on Menachos 43b (ד״ה חותם של טיט) say that tzitzis symbolizes avdus (servitude), like a garment or uniform that a slave wears to represent that he is a servant of his master.

Rav Sacks pointed out based on this distinction that, while maybe counterintuitive, we see that Hashem demands that we see ourselves as children and requests that we see ourselves as servants. Apparently to be an eved just because the Torah demands it and we have to is not the kind of service that Hashem is interested in. Hashem wants us to opt in.


Its "importance" only begins once the obligation of doing the mitzvah begins. As long as one doesn't wear a four cornered garment the obligation of doing the mitzvah does not yet begin so that importance does not exist yet.

Maybe this is even part of what that halacha of the Shulchan aruch teaches us.

  • 2
    His question might be why it is so easy to avoid obligation if it so important.
    – Alex
    Jun 4, 2018 at 23:09
  • @Alex And my answer was because it is NOT "so important" as long as one is not yet obligated. Just the potential of it becoming important for him to wear tzitzis does not obligate him to do so. Jun 4, 2018 at 23:11
  • But the premise of the question is that the importance is independent of the obligation. For instance, one of the questioners examples (reminds you of all the mitzvos) has seemingly nothing to do with being obligated.
    – Alex
    Jun 4, 2018 at 23:19
  • @Alex And my answer disagrees with that assumed premise. The MITZVAH of tzitzis reminds you of all mitzvos, but as long as there is no mitzvah yet there is no reminder. Jun 4, 2018 at 23:27
  • @RibbisRabbiAndMore - The Shulchan Aruch 24/6 writes that גדול עונש המבטל מצות ציצית there is a great punishment for not doing the Mitzvah of tzitzis, isn't that to be understood that one will be punished for not wearing a four cornered garment? That would mean it is important even before one has an obligation. Jun 4, 2018 at 23:41

After the story of the wood-gatherer, Moshe turned to Hashem and said "during the week we have tefillin which serves to remind us of all the commandments in the Torah; on Shabbos, we have nothing like that." Hashem replied that He would give us the mitzvah of tzitzis to fill that role (see Ohr HaChaim Num. 15:37)

I heard an explanation from Rabbi Yissachar Frand where he examined the similarities of the language used at the beginning of the story of the meraglim ("v'yasuru...";"lasur es ha'aretz") and the parsha of tzitzis ("v'lo sasuru...") which appears at the end of that Torah portion.

The commentaries explain that the sending of the meraglim was an optional idea; God didn't command it but allowed b'nei Yisrael to implement this mission. Unfortunately, it ended in an unmitigated disaster. Rabbi Frand posited that the parallel language used in the mitzvah of tzitzis was to illustrate to us the importance of properly fulfilling even optional mitzvos.

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