“Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘Throughout the generations to come you are to make tassels on the corners of your garments, with a blue cord on each tassel. You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the LORD, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by chasing after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes.’” — Numbers 15:38–39
The Torah portion for this week is Shelach, which means “send,” from Numbers 13:1–15:41, and the Haftorah is from Joshua 2:1–24.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “The sky is the daily bread of the eyes.” The sky inspires us, encouraging us to believe in possibilities that “the sky is the limit.” The sky is comforting, reminding us that from a higher perspective, our problems seem oh-so-very small. The sky reminds us that we are not alone, that there is a heaven above and God watching over us. The sky is food for the soul.
In this week’s reading, the Israelites are commanded to “make tassels on the corners of your garments, with a blue cord on each tassel.” Jews have fulfilled this commandment for thousands of years by wearing an undergarment called tzitzit. It is a white, four-cornered garment with specially tied tassels in each corner. A special blessing is made upon putting on the garment, and the tassels are kissed as we lovingly remember our relationship with God.
If you have ever seen tzitzit, you may have noticed that something is missing. Today, most tassels are white, even though the verse clearly states that a blue cord must be included. The reason for this is that this blue isn’t just any blue. It is a blue dye derived from a particular source, and over the 2,000 years of exile, the source for this blue, called tekhelet in Hebrew, had been lost.
Until now. The quest for the missing blue was resurrected in recent decades, and it has been found. A group of rabbis, archeologists, and chemists set out to rediscover this ancient hue. The source has been identified as the Murex Trunculus snail that can be found of the coast of Israel. The dyeing technique has been perfected, and the blue cord can be seen once again!
The rediscovery of the tekhelet has caused great joy among the Jews. But what’s the big deal anyway? Why aren’t white fringes enough to remind us of God? Why did one cord need to be blue?
The Jewish sages teach: “The tekhelet resembles the sea, and the sea resembles the sky, and the sky resembles God’s holy throne.” This is why the rabbis teach that “whoever wears tekhelet, it is as if he has greeted the Divine Presence.” Blue, and in particular this blue, was a reminder of God in heaven. Tekhelet is the much needed “daily bread of the eyes.” It keeps the soul aligned with the will of God.
We have the sky for that, too. When you are weary, look up. When you feel alone, look up. When you feel down, look up. Look up to God and He will shine His face down upon you!
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President