In the beginning of Parshat Trumah, Shmot Chapter 25, God tells Moshe: “Speak to B’nei Yisrael and have them take for me a trumah (donation) offering: gold, silver and copper, techelet, argaman (purple), tolaat (crimson), fine linen and goats hair, red-dyed ram’s skins, tachish skins and acacia wood, oil for the lamp, spices for anointing oil and for the incense of aromatic spices, onyx stones and filling stones for the ephod and breastplate.
What Color is Techelet? Why Is It as Important as Gold, Silver and Copper?
According to Rashi, techelet is wool that is dyed with the greenish blue blood (mucus) of the chilazon (a marine mollusk). The Gemara in Menachot 44a states that the color of the chilazon’s body is similar to the sea and his anatomy is similar to a fish. This is a rare mollusk that lives in the section of the Mediterranean Sea between Haifa and Tyre (Lebanon) and swarms out of the water onto land once every seventy years. Since the chilazon’s appearance is so rare, techelet is expensive.
The curtains and the parochet (veil) for the mishkan (tabernacle) were made with techelet, argaman and tolaat as well as the ephod (apron), breastplate and coat that the kohen wore.
Techelet and argaman were the universal colors of royalty as we read in Megillat Ester 8:15: “And Mordechai left the king’s presence with royal raiment, techelet and white and a huge golden crown and a wrap of linen and argaman and the city of Shushan shouted and rejoiced.”
Techelet on the Tzizit – and on the Flag
Why did God specifically choose techelet as the thread on the tzizit, hakanaf p’til techelet, that we refer to every day in the Shma?
The Gemara in Menachot 43b answers that the blue color of techelet reminds us of the blue of the sea and the sea reminds us of the sky and the sky reminds us of God.
Over time, we have lost the tradition of which marine mollusk the chilazon is. However, the Jewish people never forgot the importance of techelet and what it symbolizes. Many tallitot were decorated with blue stripes in memory of the techelet. Recently, there have been attempts to recreate techelet for use in tzizit. Near Jerusalem, there is a factory that makes tzizit with blue strings using the dye from the snail murex trunculus which they believe is the chilazon. Some have taken it upon themselves to wear these tzizit.
Ludwig Austin Frankl (1810-1894) an Austrian Jewish poet believed that based on the tallit, blue and white should be the Jewish nation’s colors. When it was time to come up with a flag, David Wolffsohn (1856-1914) said that the tallit, blue and white should be the backdrop.
May we merit the opportunity to reveal the true chilazon so that the mitzvah of tzizit can be performed in the manner prescribed in the Torah.
Rabbanit Sharona Margolin Halickman was the first Congregational Intern and Madricha Ruchanit at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, NY. After making aliya in 2004, Sharona founded Torat Reva Yerushalayim, a non-profit organization based in Jerusalem that provides Torah study groups for students of all ages and backgrounds. Rabbanit Halickman is a member of Beit Hillel.
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