These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

True Blue

Posted on May 27, 2013 by David Bogomolny

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I shared this dvar in honor of the Robbin Landes Family @
a 7 Brachot meal for Hannah Robbin Landes & Eitan Gavson:

Dear Sheryl, Rav Landes, Isaac, Hannah and Eitan,

I am so touched to have the opportunity to address the five of you directly in celebration of Hannah’s & Eitan’s marriage. Thank you.

You all mean a great deal to me – both as individuals, and as a model of a beautiful family. And in both cases, you demonstrate a searching for meaning that is expressed in the thoughtfulness of the choices that you make. Your Judaism – the Judaism that compels me – is a delicate balance of commitment to our Halakhic heritage, and the embracing of every individual’s self driven journey to find his or her best and most true self.

I’d like to consider one component of Parshat Shlach with you now, examining it through the lenses of choice and commitment.

At the very end of this week’s Parasha, on the fringe, so to speak, we find the mitzvah of tzitzit (Numbers 15:38-40):

לח דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם, וְעָשׂוּ לָהֶם צִיצִת עַל-כַּנְפֵי בִגְדֵיהֶם, לְדֹרֹתָם; וְנָתְנוּ עַל-צִיצִת הַכָּנָף, פְּתִיל תְּכֵלֶת. 38 ‘Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them throughout their generations fringes in the corners of their garments, and that they put with the fringe of each corner a thread of blue.
לט וְהָיָה לָכֶם, לְצִיצִת, וּרְאִיתֶם אֹתוֹ וּזְכַרְתֶּם אֶת-כָּל-מִצְו‍ֹת יְהוָה, וַעֲשִׂיתֶם אֹתָם; וְלֹא-תָתוּרוּ אַחֲרֵי לְבַבְכֶם, וְאַחֲרֵי עֵינֵיכֶם, אֲשֶׁר-אַתֶּם זֹנִים, אַחֲרֵיהֶם. 39 And it shall be unto you for a fringe, that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the LORD, and do them; and that ye go not about after your own heart and your own eyes, after which ye use to go astray;
מ לְמַעַן תִּזְכְּרוּ, וַעֲשִׂיתֶם אֶת-כָּל-מִצְו‍ֹתָי; וִהְיִיתֶם קְדֹשִׁים, לֵאלֹהֵיכֶם. 40 that ye may remember and do all My commandments, and be holy unto your God.


On the subject of tzitzit, the Talmud in Tractate Menakhot 43b offers the following:

שקולה מצוה זו כנגד כל המצוות כלן. This mitzvah is equal in weight to all the mitzvot.

And in his Biblical commentary on Numbers 15:39, the sage Rashi presents the following gematria, suggesting that the tzitzit symbolize all the 613 mitzvot:

גימטריא של ציצית שש מאות, ושמנה חוטין וחמשה קשרים הרי תרי”ג. The gematria of tzitzit (is) 600, and eight strings and five knots – behold (this adds up to) 613.

Still, despite the powerful symbolism behind tzitzit, this mitzvah only applies when we wear four cornered garments – in other words, one could avoid it entirely without breaking from halakha by never donning such items.

It would seem that in today’s world of choice, this is actually quite fitting – we must choose this reminder of our commitments to HaShem’s mitzvot – just as we must ultimately choose for ourselves whether or not we want to engage with halakha, and this first, basic level of choice is obviously one that each of you have made for yourselves.

Interestingly enough, there is another level of choice to be made for those of us who wear tzitzit – and that is wearing (or not wearing) the “thread of blue” prescribed for us in Numbers 15:38.

“At some point following the Roman exile of the Jews from the land of Israel, the actual identity of the source of the [blue] dye was lost and as a result the Jews [wore] only plain white [fringes]” (Wikipedia), but in the present day, some experts are claiming to have rediscovered the original dye, and it is once again entering the mainstream.

Many rabbis accept the authenticity of this modern revival, but many others continue to reject it – and many still continue to remain uncertain. In a sense, choosing to wear (or not wear) this special thread is a second level of choice, beyond simply electing to wear tzitzit.

However, this is not just any “blue”, but rather a very particular hue called tekhelet, which the Talmud claims has tremendous symbolic significance (Tractate Menakhot, ibid.):

מה נשתנה התכלת מכל הצבעים? מפני שהתכלת דומה לים וים לרקיע ורקיע לכסא הכבוד. What distinguishes tekhelet from all other colors? Tekhelet is like the sea, the sea is like the sky and the sky like the Throne of Glory.

[expand title=”Bonus: A Tekhelet Tidbit“]This beautiful imagery excites the imagination, and Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan regards this as a description of a meditation practice. One can experience the cool calmness of the sea and the serenity of its depths. One’s thoughts are then directed up to the heavens, higher and higher, up to the farthest reaches of the sky. Then one’s thoughts penetrate the sky, and one approaches the Throne of Glory. (Tekhelet Tidbits).[/expand]

For me, the “Throne of Glory” is a clear allusion to Leadership. It takes commitment and bravery to be the tekhelet of the tzitzit – to stand out among the rest of the threads. For thousands of years, our all-white threads symbolized a certain uniformity; and many of us who live according to halakha today experience a tremendous social pressure to conform with streamlined, communal halakhic positions, which only reflect a very narrow slice of the full halakhic discourse.

Making the choice to wear (or not wear) tekhelet should be no simple decision. There is a wealth of Jewish sources and modern scientific analysis on this subject, which bear serious study and deliberation. This kind of leadership demands thoughtful courage, and a passionate, unorthodox searching for Truth and Authenticity. And simply put, this compelling mode of Jewish leadership bursts forth from the Robbin Landes household.

Sheryl, Rav Landes, Isaac, Hannah, and now Eitan – the strength of each of your unique characters, your striving for G-d’s Truth and your kindness – and the respectful space that you all create for one another and for your friends, family and students – this is my tekhelet – this is what I aspire to. Thank you all for inspiring us with your love, your soul searching and your openness – we are all thrilled to be celebrating with the Robbin Landes family tonight.