November 21, 2013

Purposefully Blue

The peculiar blue [תכלת, tekhelet] thread used in tzitzit [ritual fringes] (Numbers 15:37-41) also appears prominently in the construction of Tabernacle (Exodus 25ff). It is used in the inner curtains and the loops that connect them; it also appears throughout the priestly vestments.

Why this blue?

It has been taught: R. Meir used to say: Why is blue [תכלת] specified from all the varieties of colours? Because blue resembles [the colour of] the sea, and the sea resembles [the colour of] heaven, and heaven resembles [the colour of] the Throne of Glory, as it is said: And they saw the God of Israel and there was under His feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone [לבנת הספיר], and as it were the very heaven for clearness (Exod. 24:10) and it is written: The likeness of a throne as the appearance of a sapphire stone [אֶבֶן-סַפִּיר] (Ezek 1:26).
— Sotah 17a (also: Menachot 43b and Chullin 89a)

Kedushat Levi links the above passage about blue, תכלת, to the stages of a creative act, beginning and ending with its purpose [תכלית]:

[A project from thought to completion] has undergone four distinct stages. 1) original mental image of the project; 2) clarification of the details, etc. 3) translating thought into deed. 4) carrying out the intention which originally prompted the project. [Punctuation follows translation.] When the original mental image of the project is seen reflected after its successful completion, the person inhabiting this building will experience a sense of satisfaction and joy.
— Kedushat Levi, p. 475 (see Source Materials for full citation)


Blue/God/Purpose

R. Levi Yitzchak goes on to note that the only difference in the spelling of the two words — תכלת (tekhelet, blue) and תכלית (takhlit, purpose) — is the “yod.” He then links God’s four-letter name — yod-heh-vav-heh — with these four stages of creation:

  • yod-heh “alludes to G’d’s thought processes”
  • vav “refers to the stage when plans are drawn up”
  • the final heh “alludes to the stage of actual building”

The way I understand this backward progression is as follows:

  • we see, or imagine, tekhelet*
  • the blue reminds us of the sea, representing the world of action**
  • recalling that the sea is blue only in reflection of the sky puts us in mind of Heaven, “where plans are drawn up”
  • Heaven is but a reminder of the “Throne of Glory” and “God’s thought processes”

*Some Jews include a thread of tekhelet in their tzitzit today; many believe the dye is no longer available and use only white threads for fringes. And, of course, many individuals do not use a prayer shawl at all. Still, Rabbi Meir’s series of images can be mind-expanding to consider.

**Perhaps the world of action put tzitzit, with or without tekhelet, into our hands come morning. Regardless, however, we are in the world of action. Rabbi Meir saw from thread to the mind of God and back. How often do we look beyond?


As part of NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month), a cousin of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), “A Song Every Day” plans thirty daily posts with some connection to the number 30. The inside of the Tabernacle and the goat-hair carpets over it are both 30-cubits in length.

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Bamidbar, God, mysticism, NaBloPoMo, Shemot

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