Are there any sources which specifically say to cover your head with the Tallis while getting an Aliya? (Some Shuls have this as their minhag and insist that all visitors do the same) (I had a hard time finding any source on covering head with Tallis at all, such as for borchu through kedusha)
The Shulachan Aruch O:CH 8-2, says that it is preferred that one cover his head with the tallis. The Mishna Berurah (ibid-4) bring the Bach that the reason is because when the tallis is covering our head it gives us more of a feeling of yiras shomayim. This is especially applicable when we are actually davening, see Rambam Hilcos Tzitzis 3-11, and Shulchan Aruch 91-6, and Zoher Bereishis 23-2 who learns it from the posuk “tefialh l’oni ki yaatof”, that when one davens his head should be covered with a tallis. Another sources for covering our heads during kriyas hatrah and when getting an aliya is in Mor Uktzia (R’ Y. Emden) O:CH Siman – 24, The reason that we cover our head is in reverence to the torah that we are standing in front of.
As a side point, there are many sources for covering one’s head with a tallis, and the first one is the gemora Rosh Hashana 17b, on th posuk “v’yaavor H’shem al ponov vyirah”, the gemorah says that if the posuk wouldn’t of said such a thing we would never be able to say it, but when Moshe Rabeinu was in heaven, that H-shem put on a tallis over his head like a chazan, and told Moshe that whenever Klal Yisroel will say the 13 attributes of mercy that they will be answered. With your permission I would like to expound a little bit on the mitzvah of tzitzis, and this will help us have an appreciation why we should cover our head with the tallis when davening.
Three reasons for the mitzvah of tzitzis
- To show that we are the special servants of H-shem- The gemora ( Menahchos 43b) says that the punishment for not wearing the techeles strings is worse than the punishment for not wearing the white strings. A moshul of a king that told one of his servants to make himself and emblem (that he is a servant of the king) out of pottery, and the second one he told to make an emblem out of gold. Both didn’t listen. The servant that didn’t even do the pottery, was punished more than the one that didn’t make the gold emblem (because the pottery one is cheaper and easier to make). Nevertheless we see from here that tzitzis is an emblem that we are the subjects of H-shem. This could be why the torah mentions going out of mitzrayim in the parsha of tzitzis- because they are the same idea, (Sefer Zechor L’dovid pg. 11).
- As a symbol of honor- It is brought in Mishnas R’ Eliezer (chap. 14) in the name of R’ Eliezer ben Pidos, Why were klalYisrel Zoche to the mitzvah of tzitzis? From the story of Shem. When Shem saw his father laying in an embarrassing way, he took a garment and walked backwards in order not to embarrass his father. It wa then that H-shem said that he will rpay his children by giving them the mitzvah of tzitzis “which is a honor and glory in this world and in the next world”
( As a side point, in Mishnas R’ Eliezer ( ibid) he brings from R’ Simon bar Yochai, who says, the mitzvah of tzitzis should not be lax in your eyes, because klal Yisroel will get much honor lasid lavo from the tzitzis, as it says in the posuk ( Zecharia 8-23), “So says H-shem, in those days ten people from each nation will hold on to a corner (of the tzitzis) of a Jew and say let us come with you because we heard that H-shem is with you”. There are 70 nation, and if ten people from each nation will be holding that corner that is 700 people, begging to be able to convert, and this is just for one corner, for 4 corners it will be 2800 people, honoring his tzitzis! (Per yid!).
He also brings from R’ Brechya who says, “ who cherished are the Jews that H-shem raised them above the malachim. The malachim have six “knafim” (wings), but two are needed to cover themselves from the shechina, and two are needed to cover their feet, therefore they only have two useable “knafim”. Klal Yisroel however has four knafim,as it says “arba kanfos kesusecha”.)
- To show that we are close to and under the protection of H-shem- This is why right after donning the tallis we say, “ma yakar chasdicha elokim, ubtzel knafecha yechsayun”, “how cherished is your mercy elokiim, in the shadow of your garment we are protected”. Meaning that when we don a tallis we are putting ourselves into under the “cloak of H-shem”, making ourselves close to him and under his close protection.
Tzitzis being equal to fulfilling all 613 mitzvos-
The gemorahנדרים כ”ה. says, שקולה מצות ציצית כנגד כל מצות שבתורה “Tzitzis is equal to all of the mitzvos”. The word ציצית equals 600 + 8 strings and five knots, equals 613. The אלשיך in (Parshas Chukas) says that we know that we have 248 limbs and 365 sinews כנגד the 613 mitzvos in the torah, and to give spiritual health to all of our organs. Unfortunately though, no one in Klal Yisroel can do all of the mitzvos. There are certain mitzvos only for men, and certain ones only for women, some only for kohanim, and some only for Yisraelim, so how can we make ourselves totally healthy if we can’t possibly do all of the mitzvos? The answer is, the torah says that the reason that H-shem gave us this mitzvah is in order that the ציצית should remind us to do the mitzvos, and when we look at the ציצית we are also accepting upon ourselves to do the mitzvos, if they would apply to us, then it is considered as if we did all of them, and then we have the “light” of all the mitzvos on us!
(As aside point it says in Mishnas R’ Eliezer chap. 14, that there are a total of 32 tzitzis which represents the whole torah which starts with a ב’and finishes with a לwhch together equal 32.)
There are other ways that all the 613 mitzvos are symbolized in the ציצית. The way the ציצית are made is by making two knots, then wrapping one string around the others 7 times, then 8 times then 11 then 13. There is deep meaning in this, 7+8 =15, which is the gematria of י-ה, then we add another 11, equaling 26, the full name of י-ה-ו-ה, then after that we add another 13, which is the gematria of אחד, which gives us the gematria of 39 which equals י-ה-ו-ה אחד ! Now the words really have tremendous meaning, besides for being the last two words of שמע ישראל, they also encapsulate all of the mitzvos. We know that all of the mitzvos are essential included in the first two commandments that H-shem gave us on Har Sinaiאנכי and לא יהיה לך, חז”ל tell us that the commandment אנכי believe that I am H-shem your G-d is the basis for all מצות עשה, and the לאו of לא יהיה “don’t have any other gods” except H-shem is the basis for all the לאוין in the torah. The two words י-ה-ו-ה אחד, express these two ideas, because י-ה-ו-ה corresponds to אנכי, and אחד corresponds to having only one god. Therefore when we look at the ציצית, and we see the words י-ה-ו-ה אחדwe are also reminded of all the mitzvos- but through our emuna in H-shem.
H-shem’s special protection-
When we daven Ma’ariv we say an additional bracha that we don’t say during the day. Theברכה of השכיבנו. This is a bracha where we ask ד’, to protect us from all sorts of bad things, and it is a very powerful teffiloh. The מטה משה (אות ק”א) brings from the מדרש תהילים ס’ ו’, that the reason that we only sayהשכיבנו at night is because at night we don’t have the protection of the ציצית. This needs an explanation, what is in the ציצית that provides us with protection? The שלחן ערוך כ”ד סע’ ז’ says that we should place two ציצית in the front and two in the back of us, the reason being that each corner has 8 strings on it and five knots equaling 13, and therefore two sets of strings in the front of us equals 26, which is י-ה-ו-ה. We can extend this idea a little bit. The ציצית are supposed to in front of us two in the back, which is also two corners to our right and two to our left. Therefore on each of our four sides we have 16 strings and 10 knots- שם ד’ on each of our four sides. When we are surrounded by the name of ד’, we have the strongest protection possible. We don’t need the protection of the מלאכים like we say at night”מִימִינִי מִיכָאֵל, וּמִשְּׂמֹאלִי גַּבְרִיאֵל, וּמִלְּפָנַי אוֹרִיאֵל, וּמֵאֲחוֹרַי רְפָאֵל” , because we are surrounded because we are surrounded by H-shem himself.
Now we can appreciate, the when we put the tallis over our head, we are surrounding our head with the mitzvos, the name of H-shem, and this enhances our yiras shomayim.
Additional sources for covering our head with the tallis during davening, see Radvaz 2-342, Magan Giborim 91-3, Mikor Chaim (Chavas Daas) 53-1, Eliyahu Rabba 8-2, Sfas Emes to Miseches Avos Letter at the end of Chap. 3.