Posted on June 15, 2011
by Alex Hamilton, SWUSY 2011-12 Israel Awareness Vice President
So what does the Israeli Flag, the Thunder, the Sea, and tallitot have in common? They’re blue. Now when I was studying I came across the paragraph about making the Tallit. So I started wondering what does blue mean in Judaism. On the American flag the blue section or union is supposed to represent vigilance, perseverance, and justice. But after some of my research I realized that the blue in our tallitot aren’t reflective of anything even remotely American.
Now does anyone know the Hebrew word for blue? CaChol, that’s right. So if you will open up your siddurim to page 102 and tell me where in the paragraph that starts ,”vayomer hashem el Moshe Leymor” where is the word CaChol. Okay, that’s because it isn’t the regular blue. The blue isn’t actually blue, it’s the dye that was used called Tekhelet. The recipe for making Tekhelet came from an animal called chilazon, but sometime between the Byzantine and Islamic empires the recipe was lost. It is believed that the chilazon is the Murex truculus, a shellfish off the Lebanese coast. The same shellfish is also generally considered the same mollusk that produced the purple for the robes of the emperor of Rome. But recently it has been discovered how to change the naturally purple dye to blue. So hopefully we will be able to create the ancient recipe of Tekhelet once again.
But what does blue represent in Judaism. I looked up what blue in Judaism represents, I got that is the color of heaven, the color of HaShem’s throne, the color of the thread in many of our tzitzit, a feature on the tabernacle, and as a supernatural defense.
On the second day, HaShem created the two largest things, the sky and the sea, both are blue. So if you look to the sea, you see water and fish. The sea produces Tekhelet for one. The other is that water creates life. So blue would represent life and eternity. The one substance that HaShem didn’t create was water. Water was there, All HaShem did was separate the heavens and the sea. Maybe his blue throne was getting moldy. But furthermore, water is something that provides a sense of ecstasy. If one were to look at the water libation ceremony at the temple, one would really be dazzled. The idea was that on Sukkot to clean the alter. So after the alter was clean, there was a giant party, one that was said to rival all other parties.
Water is also the cause of much destruction and chaos. Think of the Flood and Moses striking the rock for water. But what is really a huge issue is the Leviathan. A giant ugly sea creature that is just awful. Sometimes the Leviathan is portrayed as a whale, and sometimes as a fire-breathing dragon. It is seen as a genius of the abyss that dwells at the center of the sea. He causes the rolling of the sea and it takes the water of the mighty Jordan River quench this dragon’s thirst. And according to Talmud, my friend on right Michael and my friend on the left Gabriel are gonna fight and overcome the Leviathan. Or something called a Behemoth is going to kill the Leviathan. Either way, he is going to end up for dinner as the entrée at the messianic banquet.
As for the sky, it is always blue in Israel. Everything spectacular is in the heavens; HaShem’s throne for example. HaShem rides upon clouds. Angels manifest themselves as clouds. The Pillar of Fire guided our ancestors very poorly as they wandered in the desert for forty years. The divine feminine presence at the Temple Mount, called Shekhina, hovered over the alter in a cloud of glory.
The other reason I am not so sure of, but if you go to the wonderful pilgrimage city of Sfat, one will see everything covered in blue. Handrails, doors, gutters. They are blue for two reasons, one is that blue is the color of the Messiah, which is fitting because Sfat is where he is supposed to appear. The other is because blue is anti-demonic. Jewish demonology is very long complex and not something I know much about, but Ashmodai the king of the demons and his evil consort, Lilith have found their way into the nightmares of the children of the past.
So the blue has a number of meanings in Judaism. And maybe the reason our Tallit is supposed to be blue is to remind us all at once of the moods of the sea, the breadth of the heavens, the Messiah, or the evil of the demons. That only HaShem can protect us with His signs of wonders, and that if we don’t put our faith in Him, then he might unleash the power of the seas on us, or send Ashmodai to haunt our dreams, or even to have a simple puddle of rain get our socks wet. Let this be a constant reminder of HaShem and his mighty power over everything.