“This shall be your fringes, and when you see it, you will remember all the commandments of the Lord to perform them, and you will not wander after your hearts and after your eyes, after which you stray” (Bamidbar 15: 38-39)
The Talmud (Menachos 43a) extrapolates from the phrasing “when you see it” that this Mitzvah is only binding on clothing intended for daytime use, i.e. when one can actually perceive the Tzitzis. After dark when one can no-longer see the fringes there is no obligation to tie tassels on four cornered garments.
Tzitzis is distinctive among Mitzvohs by virtue that the Torah provides an explicit reason for this commandment:
“So that you shall remember and perform all My commandments and you shall be holy to your God” (Bamidbar 15:40)
This begs the question. If the purpose of this directive is to protect from sin why is it limited to daytime? People are equally able to sin at night as well as by day. Moreover, the nocturnal world is enshrouded in a blanket of darkness offering an extra provision of protection and anonymity. This enables the would-be sinner to shred the shackles of society and act without fear of being recognized.
The Tzitzis are not designed to act as a barricade or an obstacle in preventing man from transgressing. If this was the case then perhaps it may be correctly argued that there is more of a need for these tassels by night than by day. Rather the Tzitzis have a different function. To understand their designated role it would be best to appreciate the differences between night and day – differences which are largely lost on today’s society.
With the setting of the sun, darkness envelopes the planet and human vision is somewhat restricted. In addition to moonlight, fire, one of man’s earliest creations was primarily developed to combat the darkness of night and improve his sight. However candlelight provides a very different experience to working and operating by sunlight. By the light of candles one cannot see far into the distance and one’s sphere of vision is limited to one’s immediate surroundings. This breeds a deeper focus not engendered by the more powerful sun.
Reb Shimon Ben Lakish observed: The moon was created only to facilitate study (Eruvin 65a)
Daytime study has its benefits adding to the clarity of one’s thoughts, but the day is prone to distraction due to the enlarged field of vision coupled with an increased hustle and bustle. Nighttime and moonlight make possible a unique opportunity; in-depth study.
Tzitzis were not enacted as a direct prevention against sinning; a more careful reading shows a subtle undercurrent “you shall not wander after your hearts and after your eyes” it is sanctioned to curb one’s wandering. People have a natural curiosity which in of itself is a good trait, but like all good characteristics it has potential to bring about man’s downfall. A person with unbridled inquisitiveness will expose himself not only to the pious and righteous but will also endear himself to the dregs and lowlifes of society. He will dabble with harmful chemicals and activities for the ‘experience’. The Torah provided us with Tzitzis as a constant reminder to rein in our curiosity and harness the urge and desire to experiment for positive uses. This is what is meant “you shall not wander after your hearts and after your eyes”.
It is now obvious why the Tzitzis were ratified as a daytime Mitzvah. The need for such a tool is more necessary during daylight that at night. The potential for rampant uncontrolled interest is greater at points throughout the day. Thus the Mitzvah is not just to see the Tzitzis, but to remind us what may be seen.