Last week I took my two tallitot to be cleaned, as I do every year at this time. The dry cleaner across the street is owned by a Korean family, but they're probably more familiar with the religious and cultural garb worn by residents of this ethnic stew of a neighborhood than most members of the groups in question. "Oh, a prayer shawl!" said the boss in past years as I unfolded it on the counter.
But this year someone new was up front. I explained what it was; she looked dubious. "It's a tablecloth," she decided, and checked the price on her chart. "A beautiful tablecloth," she added, admiring the embroidery and fringes.
She wasn't wrong. A tallit adorns and guards the worn surfaces of ourselves while we're being nourished with prayer. Life is hard; gentle, graceful armor is always needed. As the rabbis reminded us again this morning, today was "the jacuzzi Shabbat"--a time of extra rest and compassion for souls overtaxed by a week of self-reflection. I think that our existence is God's feast, a bounty on God's table. And tomorrow evening at Kol Nidre, the only time of year when we wrap ourselves in tallitot at night, the soft folds of silk and linen will be ready to catch all our crumbs, our spilled glasses of wine, our tears.