Secret Embarrassment as Punishment | Kitzur Shulchan Aruch Notes

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This piece is part of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch Notes Series. 

Siman/Chapter 9:20 | Embarrassed by Invalid Tzitzit

Around section 20 of chapter 9, we wrap up (no pun intended) the regulations of valid versus invalid tzitzit threads. We’ve covered that there are a handful of requirements of tzitzit to make them acceptable, but this section talks about what happens if finding valid tzitzit or fixing invalid tzitzit is simply impossible. 

“If you go to a Synagogue on Shabbos and discover that a tzitzah (fringe) of your tallis (prayer shawl) has become invalid and you are unable to borrow another tallis and you are embarrassed to sit without a tallis, then, since it is not possible for you to tie another tzitzah on this day, therefore for the sake of your dignity you are permitted to wear the tallis as is but you should not recite the berachah. This is applicable only if you were unaware before Shabbos that [the tzitzah] became invalid, but if you knew before Shabbos that it became invalid you are forbidden to wear the tallis, since you should have fixed it the day before.”

We notice here flexibility and a balance in the text towards keeping the rules and the unpredictability of life. So, you arrive at synagogue only to find that one of your tzitzit is invalid, rendering the entire tallit technically unsuitable for use. To make matters worse, there isn’t another one you can use.  

What was your intent? To be compliant with the rules. 

What happened? You’re in an unavoidable situation where you can’t fix the wrong, but you’ll also be embarrassed by praying without a prayer shawl. Though we shouldn’t dwell on how others think about us, they’ll quickly notice your lack of a tallit in prayers and wonder what’s going on. This may even be distracting. Can you imagine if the rabbi in services one morning just decided to go without a tallit? It would likely cause a commotion that would injure the quality of the service. 

What is the remedy for this situation? Do you just carry on as though nothing had happened? Almost. 

As we read, the text says you can wear the tallit, but you can’t recite the blessing on it. Reciting a blessing associated with a tallit is usually in hushed tones or before you enter the synagogue, making your lack of doing so unlikely to draw much attention. Actually, you will be able to carry on throughout the service as though your tzitzit are completed valid. 

But you’ll know.

You’ll know that you’re technically wearing an invalid tallit. You’ll know that you didn’t say the blessing. In this case, the punishment for this crime is your own knowing. 

It’s not unusual to delight in observing the commands of Torah and the stipulations of halacha (tradition). In fact, doing so can be quite pleasurable for someone who feels that doing so pleases G-d and injects increase purpose and divine structure into their lives. Many on the outside fail to see the appeal in this and ask, “Well, what happens if you don’t do something? Are you punished?” 

Our answer is often, “well, no.” Our response, however, should be, “indeed, there is punishment — harsh punishment indeed.”

“Well, what is this punishment of which you speak?” 

“Anytime I don’t do a mitzvah, I miss an opportunity to do a mitzvah. That is my punishment. Likewise is the reward I receive from performing a mitzvah — the great gift of being able to perform a mitzvah.” 

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