The Anatomy of a Mitzvah

For the week ending 9 June 2018 / 26 Sivan 5778

The Mystery of the Blue String

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
ArtscrollLibrary

Rabbi Meir used to say: What is so special about techeilet (blue/green dye) compared to all other dyes that caused it to be chosen for coloring tzitzit? It is because the color of techeilet is similar to the sea, and the sea is similar to the sky, and the sky is similar to (G-d’s) throne of glory, regarding which it is written, “And under His feet was like sapphire brickwork, and like the essence of Heaven in purity (Shemot 24:10). This verse indicates that the sky is like sapphire. And it is also written, “Like the appearance of sapphire stone is the likeness of the throne (Yechezkel 1:26). Thus, G-d’s throne of glory is also similar to sapphire.

Rashi explains that when one looks at the blue string on the tzitzit he will be reminded of G-d, Who sits on the throne of glory. Therefore, the Torah teaches us that by looking at the tzitzit one will come to remember all of the Torah’s commandments. The Sefer HaChinuch explains that the constant wearing of tzitzit, a symbol of G-d our King being fixed on our garments, is the greatest reminder that we are in this world to serve G-d. This can be compared to a person wearing a police or army uniform. In addition to the effect the uniform has on others, it also makes the person wearing it feel different. There is also a hint to the mitzvot in the numerical value of the Hebrew word “tzitzit,” which equals 613 together with its eight strings and five knots (600+8+5=613).

A Deeper Look

The above-quoted teaching from Rabbi Meir presents us with a difficulty. The water in the sea is not actually the color of techeilet. It is colorless. It appears to be techeilet (at least in part) because it reflects the color of the sky. That said, there seems to be an unnecessary step in the comparisons made above. Why look first to the sea and then to the sky, when one can simply look directly at the sky, which is the source for the comparison to techeilit?

The techeilet string alludes to the soul, a part of the Divine above, which was carved out from under G-d’s throne of glory. The white strings allude to the physical body, which, because of the first sin, covers over the light of the soul, instead of reflecting it. We look to the water in the sea because it is transparent and reflects the blue sky, to remind us that man’s body, before the first sin, was also transparent and reflected the light of the soul. The purpose of the 613 mitzvot, which the tzitzit remind us of, is to perfect the body to unify it together with the soul, as they were before the first sin.

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