Some of my clearest early memories of Shabbat are of sitting in morning services next to my father reciting this passage. He would wrap his tzitzit around his forefinger, press them to the page of his siddur, then bring them to his lips and kiss them. He would then reach over and let me kiss them as well. I remember clearly the longing to grow up and have my own tzitzit to treasure. Kissing tzitzit made them precious — almost like kissing God.
So it was with trepidation that I asked my Conservative rabbi if I, too, could receive a tallit at my batmitzvah. Why did I want it, he asked. Did I understand the implication of taking on this mitzvah for myself? Did I realise that wearing the tallit was a life-long commitment not just to the tzitzit but to all the mitzvot they represented?
No one ever asked my brothers those questions. Boys were simply given tallitot for their barmitzvah. They had no choice. As a girl, I had to prove my worth.
But in fairness, my rabbi did allow my parents to present me with a tallit at my batmitzvah. And his questions have remained with me to this day, every time I don my tallit. Each morning as I drape it over my shoulders to pray, I remember the responsibility wearing it conveys and the commitment to Jewish practice that its tzitzit symbolise.
And each time I recite these words from Numbers during the Shema, I wrap the tzitzit around my fingers, press them to the page, bring them to my lips and kiss them in reverence to the tradition my parents imbued in me and all that represents.