From Pirke Avot 4:3
He [Ben Azzai] would also say: Do not scorn any person and do not discount any thing. For all of us have our hour, and all things have their place.
Wednesday night, I sat down with a minyan’s worth of others to tie my tzitzit so that I could start the 30-Day Tzitzit Challenge on my way home; but tying tzitzit is like knitting without the needles. So, I only finished one and half of the sacred fringes that night.
On Thursday morning, I began work again. I finished the second batch and moved on to the third. Each bundle of threads was supposed to have three threads of equal length and one longer thread – four threads, which, when folded over, gives you eight threads to tie into tzitzit for one corner of your garment.
When I got to that third batch of threads, Thursday morning, I realized I was missing one of the threads. So, what could I do?
- I could wait until I got another kosher thread from Rabbi Berkowitz.
- I could find a thread in my copious supply of needlework supplies – no sarcasm, I have an absurdly copious supply of yarn, embroidery yarn, quilting thread, twine, string, and so on; I could clothe an arctic expedition if I could knit fast enough . . . but I digress.
- I could create the third tzitzit bundle, one thread shy.
I chose that third option because it reminds me of the tension between ritual and meaning, between convention and creation, between enough and plenty, between what we think of as complete or acceptable or right and what really is. Are tzitzit defined by how well they fit the rabbis’ time-worn definition or are they defined by how well they remind us of God’s commandments? Are people defined by how well they blend in with what our society expects or are they defined by how well they express their individual gifts and strengths.
I realized that my third bundle of threads is as important as the rest of my tzitzit, that it is as whole and full as the rest, and that it has a sacred place in my practice along each other person and each other thing.
POSTSCRIPT: I translated Ben Azzai’s text faithfully, but not accurately, meaning the text says “there is no man without his hour, and there is no thing without its place.” With this text, most especially, I think it’s necessary to tease the sexist language away from the meaning.