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The Tzitz

In Parashat Pekudei, the portion of this past week, the garments and adornments of the High Priest are made. Among these is the tzitz, typically translated as frontlet, which was a gold plate that ran across the High Priest’s forehead. Inscribed upon the tzitz were the words Kodesh La-Hashem or “Holy to the Lord.” The tzitz was secured to the High Priest’s headdress by means of a p’til t’cheilet, or a “cord of blue.”

Tzitz comes from the same root as tzitzit, a root which connotes blossoms, blossoming, and flowering. The root has other meanings as well, but I’ll focus on “blossom” in this post. Tzitzit are the fringes which God commands the Israelites to attach to their garments so that they will look at them, remember God’s commandments, and fulfill them. Additionally, God command the Israelites to attach a p’til t’cheilet to the tzitzit.

I want to bring in one more piece of information before I give some thoughts on the tzitz. In Parashat Korach of the Book of Numbers, Korach and his followers foment a rebellion against Moses and Aaron. They challenge the legitimacy of Aaron’s claim to the High Priesthood. God tells Moses to set up a test: Moses is to take one staff from the chieftains of each of the twelve tribes of Israel. Aaron’s name is inscribed on the staff of the tribe of Levi, of which Aaron and the priests are a part. The staffs are set up overnight in front of the Ark of the Covenant inside the Tabernacle. In the morning, the staff with Aaron’s name has blossomed blossoms, vayatzeiz tzitz, and produced almonds.

So what’s going on here? Many commentators and scholars have given many thoughts on the tzitz, and this post explores just one line of reasoning. It starts with this question, what do tzitzit and blossoms have in common? One answer: blossoms precede fruit, they are essentially a signal for what is to come. Similarly, tzitzit serve as a visual reminder of the commandments; they are a signal for the wearer to fulfill the commandments. Ok, but what about the staff that blossomed almonds? Medieval French commentator Bekhor Shor gives a helpful comment. He says that, just like in Jeremiah 1:12, the significance of the almonds is the speed with which the almonds blossom (almonds bloom very early). In that section of Jeremiah, the namesake prophet has a vision of an almond branch. God informs Jeremiah that the vision is a message that God is “watchful to bring My word to pass.” The root for “almond” and “watchful” is the same, shoked. The almond symbolizes diligent fulfillment. Just like the almond quickly fulfills the promise of the blossom, God quickly fulfills his word, quickly proves Himself. Similarly, God quickly proves His will in the episode of Korach. Korach challenges Aaron’s legitimacy to the priesthood, and God quickly proves him wrong. He backs up His words that Aaron and his descendants are to be priests.

With this established, we can move on to the original topic, the tzitz. What are the tzitz to serve as a signal for? The clues are in the details. The tzitz is golden and worn on the head like a tiara. In Psalm 132:18, God says that he will make the crown of a descendant of King David sparkle, yatzitz. What is important here is the association between kingship and crowns, and the root tzitz. The tzitz seems to be a tiara that denotes some sort of regal status. Then there is the inscription, “Holy to the Lord.” Throughout the Torah, God tells the Israelites that they shall make themselves holy by fulfilling God’s commandments. There is a connection. The inscription on the tzitz relates to the function of the tzitzit. The people will make themselves “Holy to the Lord” by seeing the tzitzit and remembering to fulfill the mitzvot.

And there’s more! Both the tzitz and tzitzit have the cord of blue attached to them. writes of the cord of blue “This blue wool, known as tekhelet, was the hallmark of nobility, and in line with the tallit’s [tzitzit’s] purpose of reminding the Jew that he is a member of G‑d’s ‘kingdom of priests.’” The blue dye for t’cheilet was lost at some point in ancient history, hence most Jews today do not have a blue thread on their tzitzit. Beginning in the 1800s, though, many scholars began searching for the blue dye that produced techeilet. If you buy tzitzit with t’cheilet today, as some Jews do, they are likely dyed with dye from the murex trunculus. This is a type of sea snail native to the Eastern Mediterranean which makes a purple dye that was used for royalty throughout history. That purple dye can be processed to make blue, and this blue is accepted by some rabbis and scholars as the ancient t’cheilet. This seems to reinforce the idea of regalness or specialness which the golden tzitz and its inscription convey. The Israelites have a constant reminder, in the form of tzitzit, to be holy and special “kingdom of priests” to God by fulfilling His commandments. They also have a reminder, in the form of the person of the High Priest. The High Priest’s entire job is to serve God. When the Israelites see the High Priest, and see the golden tzitz which he wears, with its inscription and thread of t’cheilet, they are further reminded of their duty to sanctify themselves through the commandments. In a way, this is the function of the entire priesthood. As proven in the episode of the almond branch, God has chosen Aaron’s family to be models of holiness for the Israelites. While not everyone can be priests, serving God all day, they can use those priests as a model of their mission, holiness through the commandments. As they go about their lives, they can see the tzitzit on their clothes and think of the tzitz on Aaron’s forehead. They think of their role as a people to be “Holy to the Lord”, decked out in the dye of kings and priests.

So that’s my thoughts on the tzitz, thanks for reading it. I would love to know yours. Please comment on this post or make your own post in the forum section telling us what you think the connection between the tzitz, tzitzit, and the almond blossom is, or if you don’t think there is a connection to be made.

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