Seasons of the Moon - Iyar/Sivan 5760

The Color of HeavenArtscroll

Seasons of the Moon - the Jewish year seen through its months

Elul 5760/Tishrei 5761
September 1, 2000 - October 29, 2000
 

SEEING BLUE

Lift up your eyes and look into the distance. What do you see? What do you see when you gaze at the furthest point that the eye can see -- when you look at distance itself ?

The color blue.

Miles and miles of endless blue.

In Hebrew, there is a specific name for that color. It is called techelet. Techelet is the color that we see when we look at the world without any outside interruption, without any object interposed between our eyes and infinite distance. Techelet is the color of the end of sight itself.

There's a very revealing connection between the word techelet and another word in Hebrew which is spelled almost identically. That word is tachlit which means "end" or "purpose." Techelet is the end of sight, of all perception. Techelet is seeing all. And it is also its purpose -- its tachlit.

A Thread of Blue

One of the more unusual sartorial aspects of being Jewish is wearing a four-cornered garment with four threads attached to its extremities. These threads are called tzitzit. The word tzitzit is connected to the word in Hebrew meaning "to peek" (lehatzitz). Tzitzit allow us a peek at the world's end and its purpose.

Three of the threads of the tzitzit are white, the fourth is supposed to be the color of techelet.1. The mitzvah of tzitzit is a mitzvah of sight. The Torah tells us that we should see the tzitzit. What are we supposed to see when we look at these threads of wool? When we look at the blue of the tzitzit, we see a reflection of the blue of the sea, and the blue of the sea is a reflection of the blue of the sky, and the blue of the sky is a reflection of the blue of the heavens. Tzitzit allow us a peek at the blue heavens.

In Hebrew, the word for "heavens" is shamayim. Shamayim comes from the root meaning "there" -- sham. The heavens represent all the "theres" that are possible. All the sham-im that can be. When we look to "there," into the endless distance, we see techelet -- the end and target of all -- Shamayim, Sham-im, the blue heavens.

The Blue and the White

Only one of the strands of the tzitzit, however, is blue, the other three are white. What is the significance of the color white, and what is the significance of the blue and the white together?

If the end of all sight is the color blue, the beginning of all sight is white. Take the three primary colors, red green and blue, and paint them on a wheel. Spin the wheel and what will you see? White.

White is the root of all color, the background to all color, the color from which all color emerges. White is the place where color begins -- where seeing begins. When we write something, we write "black on white." White is the simplest of all colors.

Days Where You Can See For Miles

On the holy days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, there is a widespread custom to dress in white. Among other reasons, this is a remembrance of the garments of the kohen gadol who ministered in white on Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is the day when all the "contracts" of our liabilities are erased. It is the day when we are given a clean sheet -- a pure white page on which to write in the coming year all our thoughts and actions. Everything goes back to white. The Creator tells us that when we return to Him: "If your sins will be as scarlet, as snow I will whiten them."

White is the beginning of sight. Techelet is the end, the purpose of sight. When we have an unobstructed view of the world, when we see from white to techelet, we see the world and its purpose from beginning to end.

To See To The End

The Torah speaks of the commandment to wear tzitzit in the following manner: "And you will see them and you will remember all the mitzvot (commandments) of Hashem." The tzitzit contain three white strands and a thread of blue. White represents where we are now. The beginning. The background of all our actions and our point of departure. On this white is written all our responsibilities and obligations. The blue, the techelet, represents our aim, the object and endpoint of our existence.

The mitzvah of tzitzit is to see them. To see from the very root to the very end -- to see the entire scope of our lives and the extent of their potential.

In The Beginning

When we dress in white on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, we are expressing our desire to go back to the beginning. To start over with a clean sheet. To take the dross of our lives and cast it aside. When we look at the tzitzit, we remind ourselves from where we came -- the white background on which our lives are written -- to where we are going -- to the blue yonder of Shamayim, the place of all the "theres" -- and in front of Whom we will ultimately have to account, to the Supreme King of Kings, blessed is His Name.


1.
Today, we have lost the undisputed identity of the fish from which the techelet dye was made, and so most people only wear white. However, the original form of the commandment was that one of the four threads should be techelet.

    Sources:
  • Ramban - Bamidbar 15:38
  • Vilna Gaon and others

THE BLUE BEYOND

Somewhere
An endless summer afternoon
Wind caresses wheat.
Row upon row
Whisper to each other
The confiding hush of high summer
Sometimes
I can lift my eyes to pierce
An inscrutable sky
And see beyond the blue.
To the blue beyond


The publication of Seasons Of The Moon was made possible by the generosity of Jill Sinclair and Trevor Horn

SEASONS OF THE MOON is written by
Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair and edited by Rabbi Moshe Newman.
Designed and Produced by the Office of Communications - Rabbi Eliezer Shapiro, Director
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