parshat Tetzaveh (exodus 27-30)
Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz on Clubhouse recorded on February 10th for a new episode of Madlik Disruptive Torah. We explore the Torah’s preeminent use of a hue of blue called Tekhelet in the construction of the Tabernacle and in the Priestly garb. This rare and dear dye; extracted from a non-kosher mollusk, was also used on the four-cornered tallit of every simple Jew.
Sefaria source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/383005
Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish text or tradition. Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz we host Madlik disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm. Eastern, and share it as a Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. Today we’ll explore the Torah’s preeminent use of a hue of blue, called Techelet in the construction of the tabernacle, and in the priestly garb. This rare and dear die extracted from a non-kosher mollusk was also used on the four corner tallit of every simple Jew. So get ready to decorate and take out your color strips as we ask, why blue and white? Well, welcome I think last week, I said stay-tuned for a fashion edition, maybe it’s going to be more like the Pantone Edition or the pick your color for your wall edition. But in any case, here we are, we’re starting to decorate our tabernacle.
Last week, we we had a lively discussion about why after saying build me a temple, God said the "veshachanti b'Tocham" and I will live in them. And over the week I've been thinking about it. And I started to think that you know, maybe it foreshadowed a time already when you built the temple, when you built the Mishkan, the tabernacle, that you wouldn't have it. And I think that foreshadowing thought is going to come through a little bit in our discussion of the emergence and history of this wonderful hue of blue, called "techelet", how it starts, and how from the way it starts, and its history, it foreshadows its later development. So we are in Exodus 26. And I am just going to pick those verses that mentioned our color and you'll see that I'm not really looking for a needle in a haystack. This the halo this blue is actually featured throughout and grows with importance. So in Exodus 26:1 it says "As for the tabernacle, make it of 10 strips of cloth, make these a fine twisted linen of blue, purple and crimson yards "techelt v'argamaon v'tolaat shani" and then in Exodus 26, it says "make loops of blue wool on the edge of the outermost cloth of the one set and do likewise on the edge of the outermost" so at first it's mentioned amongst another palette of different colors. And now all of a sudden, it's the edging color. In Exodus 26: 31 It says "you shall make a curtain of blue" "perochet techelet" Those of you who know about synagogue architecture know what a "perochet" is. It is the frontal canopy in front of the holiest place in the synagogue. So you shall make a curtain of blue purple and crimson yards and find twisted linen. it shall have a design of cheruvim worked into it. In 26: 36 It says "you shall make a screen for the entrance of the tent "petach ha'ochel" , "and it shall be blue, purple and crimson yarns". So blue is being featured regularly. And in fact if you look into the notes, I actually have some illustrations from a wonderful book called The Tabernacle, its structure and utensils. And the figure of elements of the perochet are actually the cheruvim themselves are in blue. In Exodus 28: 31 It says, "You are to make the tunic for the efod completely of this blue "Kalil Techelet" And of course, the "ephod" was almost a a royal garment a smock. It looked almost like an apron. So it was frontally, it's what you saw when you saw the high priest. In Exodus 28: 36. It says, "You shall make a frontlit" this "tzitz"s on the pure gold and this is of course what the Cohen wore on his forehead and it was made of gold and engrave on it the seal of God suspended on a cord of blue, a "petil techelet" so that it should remain on the headrest. So if you stop to actually visualize this use of blue, it is, I would say, the pre-eminent color. I'd love to know what you think, Rabbi, but certainly when you look frontally at the Cohen, it's the smock. It's what he's wearing. And it's that golden name of God that sits on his forehead is tied with these "Patil techelt". So are you struck as I am by this use of this? This blue?
Adam Mintz 05:34
Yes, I am. And obviously, the blue is also in the talit. So it goes beyond the priests. But there's no question that blue, this blue, this techelet is the most significant color, not only in the Cohen's clothing, but I would say in the entireTorah, if you were to ask me, what is the color of the Torah, I would tell you the color of the Torah is techelet.
Geoffrey Stern 06:00
So the official color of the Torah of the Israelites, of the Jewish people, becomes blue. And you've already begun our journey because you referenced thetalit. In numbers 15. It says and we say this every day as the third paragraph of the Shema. "And Hashem said to Moses as follows speak to the Israelite people and instruct them to make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garment, "v'asu lachemtzitzit al konfei bigdeyhem" throughout the ages. Let them attach a cord of blue to the fringe at each corner. "al tzitit hakanaf p'til techelet" there shall be for you a frimge, look at it and recall all the commandments of God and observe them so that you do not follow your heart and eyes in your lustful urge. Thus you shall be reminded to observe all My commandments, and to be holy to God, I got am your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God. I am God." So So that's almost Is it a fast forwarding? Is it a similar parallel to what we had last week where we're this direct connection between what happened institutionally in a tabernacle? And what happens to individual Jews? I was kind of struck by that. Do you think there's any anything there?
Adam Mintz 07:35
I wonder. And, you know, what's the connection? Well, first of all, let's say like this, there clearly is a connection between the talit and the clothing of the Cohen. Because they're both clothing, you have to remember, this is an important thing to remember, we wear the elite as a special garments, we wear it over our clothing. That's not what the Torah has in mind, when it talks about a talit. When the Torah talks about a talit, it means that they used to wear these kaftans. And the kaftans had four corners. And they used to put tzitzit on the bottom of the kaftans. So it actually was their clothing. So there actually is a much closer connection between the description of the techelt in the talit, and the clothing of the Cohen.
Geoffrey Stern 08:31
Absolutely. And forgive the pun, there's a thread that connects what happened in the tabernacle in terms of the the aesthetics and aesthetic choice of color for the edifice itself, for the wearing of the high priest. And the way that a simple any-Jew could wear. In in a sense, we're going over some familiar territory for those of you who have been with us, for the past year, we had a fashion episode where we talked about Korach who led a rebellion against God. And his argument, according to the rabbinic sources, was that he was wearing a tallit, she'kulo techelet. and according to the Midrash, he didn't just bring an argument, he actually showed up with a bunch of Kohanim. And they were wearing this garment that was fully techelet. What I was struck by as I read this, and I considered what the ephod actually was, was that was actually very close to the garb that we are describing right now. If you looked at the Cohen, the predominant color would be this techelet. So So in a sense, again, maybe foreshadowing a later time, but at the time that this was written, the Kohanim were set aside by wearing this blue. And if anything, the thread on the corners of the talit, kind of reflected the total effect, if you will, the total look, the total fashion. But you can't get away from the fact that there has to be a connection, this is the first time that techelet to my mind is actually mentioned in the Torah, and it's mentioned with regard to the tabernacle. And here, every Jew later on is commanded to simulate that in some regard. And I think that's kind of a powerful, a powerful message.
Adam Mintz 10:58
I would agree with that. Let's think about the techelet. Do you think the fact that it's blue is significant? Like it could be any color, and in Torah, this week, there are other colors? Why is blue such an important color? So I'll tell you what the Midrash says, The Midrash says that when you look at the blue, on the talit, you're supposed to think of the sea. When you think of the sea, then you're supposed the blue of the sea, then you're supposed to think of the blue of the heavens. And that reminds you of God. So the blue is actually a color that reminds you of God. It's a little indirect, but it reminds you of God. Isn't that interesting?
Geoffrey Stern 11:45
I think it is. And of course, if you add to that, that the techelet itself comes according tradition, from a dye, we'll get into the history of the dye in a few minutes. But from a mollusk, which is in the sea. So form follows function type of thing. You look at the blue, it inspires you to think both by way of its origins, and its color of the sea, then the sky, the firmament, and then God. And those are great associations. Those associations are in the Talmud, in the rabbinic literature. I think if you were to ask me reading the text itself, what the association is, I would put it into the context of everything else that's in our Parsha, which is very rare materials, beautifully selected stones that create this Orim v'Tumim, the very best, the hidur of the of the thing, and I would add, and this will come up in our discussion are very dear in the sense of very rare, very expensive, very exclusive by the laws of supply and demand, hard to come by. And so I think there's also if you look at, for instance, the word ephod, this this smock that I was describing, that was won by King David, and by King Solomon, these were royal garments. And to me the most, I would say, straightforward association, is in exclusivity, something that is of a very, very high value, hard to come by. Do you think there's any merit to that as opposed to the associative thinking of what it reminds one of?
Adam Mintz 13:49
Good, I think that there is absolutely something to be said for that. Now, it's interesting when you think about supply and demand, Geoffrey, where did they get this mouse from? In the desert? How do they have the color of techelet in the desert?
Geoffrey Stern 14:07
Well, you know, I wasn't in your synagogue last week, so I didn't hear your sermon. But if I recall, you were going to talk about how many of the materials by tradition, rabbinic tradition for the Mishkan were brought with the Jews down into Egypt and I and I added to that, that there was a much talk about when the Jews left Egypt, they were given riches that worked for them and against them when it came to the golden calf. They all seem to have jewelry to contribute, but it is an issue and you know, those who would question how this could have been done in the in the desert, either you believe in miracles or you don't so I do think it's a good question. And obviously part of that is a mollusk comes from the sea and here they are in a desert that makes it a little bit more challenging,
Adam Mintz 15:00
Right that's why I asked specifically here is because the mollusk comes from the sea. And here they are in the desert,
Geoffrey Stern 15:07
No question about it. And again, I think that whether it's the tabernacle, the Mishkan or the temple, you know, one can can make many cases that there is a foreshadowing of what would become a Mishkan or what was to be a Mishkann. But I think that, you know, it comes down to, to belief and perspective. But I think if you get over that, there is no question that the the Kohanim in the tradition of giving honor to God and building cathedrals, and a beautiful edifices, were decked out in the best, and that there's no question that techelet to me, has a level of royal blue to it. And that comes out, I think, a little bit in in coax argument as well, where he's looking for authority, he's looking for exclusive power grabbing, so to speak. So I think from that perspective, it becomes fascinating. If one traces the history of the use of techelet directly from being used by a Cohen Gadol or high priest, and then ultimately, being part of, it even with a thread of a pushiter yid, so to speak of the simple Jew
Adam Mintz 16:35
That reminded me, you said royal blue, and I thought to myself, Where does royal blue come from? And let me read you from Wikipedia. Royal Blue is a deep and vivid shade of blue. It is said to have been created by clothiers in road, Somerset, a consortium of who won a competition to make a dress for Queen Charlotte concert of King Charles the third. So isn't that interesting? I mean, even in England, there was significance to blue as being the royal color.
Geoffrey Stern 17:13
But absolutely, and in some of the readings that I've gone through this week, you know, there was talk about during the Roman period already, only the Caesar was allowed even to wear it. So one cannot help. But think of Exodus 19, "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation", that ultimately, this seamless transition from the Cohen wearing techelet, the tabernacle, the temple of God, being really accented heavily in techelet and then the simple Jew having that techelet, it seems to me overwhelming that the message is that you are a kingdom of priests in us in a sense. And that to me is you know, is very similar, like I said, from the beginning to the message that we might have taken last week, which is God says build the temple, but I'm going to live in each one of you.
Adam Mintz 18:13
Right, I think that's beautiful. And of course, that relates to the fact that it's not only the Cohen, but it's also in the tallit. So we are a kingdom of priests. And therefore it starts with the priests. And then it goes to each and every one of us. It's such a nice idea, right? In fact, it flows so beautifully.
Geoffrey Stern 18:32
It flows and you could say it's hermeneutics and Parshanut and giving drash. But the truth is, that the temple the tabernacle did not last. Techelet as a part of a temple and part of a priestly culture did not last. The remnant of it was in that thread. And so it's less of a commentary but yes, I know when you look at it, you're supposed to remember the sea and the firmament and then God, but you can't help but also remember the rich history of it in the Torah itself, and that that history carries on in each Jew. And I don't think that's hermeneutics. I think that's actually what it really mean. It was a material a material signification in a sense, and that is kind of fascinating.
Adam Mintz 19:29
You know, it's also interesting that for centuries, the techelet was lost, you know that right? We didn't have techelet. About 25 years ago, there were two people students of Rabbi Riskin in Efrat, who actually went diving in the sea off of Haifa, and they found what they claim to be Techelet. And today you can actually buy a tallit with techelet.
Geoffrey Stern 20:00
So, you again, you, you're pushing us forward rabbi, I love it. We're going forward in the history of this. I wouldn't say idea but a color. And yes, the Talmud does say that in the Midrash, Tanchuma it says that when there was real blue, but now we only have white because the blue has been hidden Shehatechelet nignaz,. I always thought that it was obviously something that was extinct. And I always loved the concept of we are guardians of God's world. And if we don't take care of it, not only can we lose a species, we can lose a commandment. I mean, that's a big deal. When one of the 613 commandments, you can't fulfill it anymore. So so I always think there's a lesson there. And I was at the the I was at the aquarium and like any aquarium in any museum in Israel doing Hol Hamoed Hasidim come and everybody comes. And I said, you have to have a whole area of this on techelet, because it's some it's an aspect of Judaism that is connected to the world that we are the guardians of. So there's a whole separate mission there. But again, it's it's related. Because just as the temple was lost, just as the Mishkan was lost, just as the Kohanim were last so the mollusk was lost. And I almost regret the fact that we quote unquote, have refound it, because looking at the simple white tallit, it reminds you as much of what is there as what is not there. And I think that's a beautiful message as well. But you're correct, that this is an area where science impacts Judaism, discovery, academics, it's it's fascinating. It's a beautiful, beautiful narrative of an arc of history, so to speak. One other aspect of how it quote unquote, was hidden, was that because it was very expensive. On the one hand, it's a wonderful lesson, that even though it's expensive, even though it's quote, unquote, royal blue, every Jew can have it. But at the end of the day, when the rubber hits the road, it's expensive. And what that meant was it created a situation for fake techelet. I mentioned this a little bit when we discuss Korach. But Yigal Yadin in a book on Bar Kochba was excavating a cave, and he found balls of wool that were blue. And he says, Wow, this is amazing. Not only have I found tephilin, but I also found techelet and it was clear that the Zealots were keeping all of these commandments. And then he sent it to a lab. And the lab came back. And this is all in his footnotes. This is a general and archaeologist, but He's tying it all into the Talmud. He says it was clear that this was not techelet. It was false techelet and that probably the Zealots were duped along with many other Jews in buying this from incorrect sources. And in the source sheet, I have places in the Talmud where it talks about this. But ultimately, it is very possible that the rabbi's, in order to stop corruption and to snuff out these black markets for fake techelet, said, there's no mitzvah. And that's an amazing lesson to take from this color. And again, it's the absence of the color that teaches this. But it is an amazing lesson.
Adam Mintz 23:58
That is an amazing lesson. That's right. I mean, let's just take a step back, the fact that the Talmud knows about fake Techelet so that kind of points to your idea that it was expensive. And it was special, right? Because you only make you only make replicas of things that are worth it, right? You only make replicas of things from Tiffany's right things that are really worth it. So, so techelet, obviously was something that was very, very special. And it's also interesting that it shows how important that was how important people you know that people could be duped you know, people aren't duped for just anything people are duped for things they want. And what they wanted was techelet because that was the royal color.
Geoffrey Stern 24:46
Yes. So that is definitely a fascinating aspect. So I want to get back to the verses that we talked about at the beginning when we were describing the fashion so to speak, and it says V'asita Tzitz" That you should make this frontlet. And then it talked about a petil techelet a chord of blue. And those two words also are pregnant with with fascinating meaning in history. So tzitz can mean wings. In Jeremiah, it says, tnu tzitz lmoav, give wings to Moab. And of course those who know about that the Hebrew for the commandment of the Tzitziot, it's on kenaf, the corners, but kanafayim is wings as well.
Adam Mintz 25:35
But what does it mean in this week's parsha?
Geoffrey Stern 25:45
So in this week's Parsha, it means vasita tzits zahav tahor, you shall make a frontlet Everett Fox says, "a flower or a gleaming, perhaps alluding to it shining quality, or its shape of some kind" on his forehead. Very similar to maybe where tephilin is.
Adam Mintz 26:09
I always thought that the tzitz was a funny thing. Can you imagine wearing a gold flower on your forehead?
Geoffrey Stern 26:18
Well, I mean, again, it's very similar to tephilin. And it's very similar to the headdress and the helmet that the Egyptians and maybe Sumerians wore with the Egyptians it has this snake coming out. But maybe it's the third eye. The forehead seems to be a place where there was embellishments, Kamiot, magical things. So yes, to us, it's probably strange. But I think too, it's a frontlet. It's, it's, you know, it's not your license plate in the back. It's it's the way you go forward.
Adam Mintz 27:01
If you look at the picture, the picture of the tzitz seems to be very narrow. So it may be it's like ephilin. Maybe they have the same idea that he you know, it's kind of just the more elaborate type of tephilin made out of gold.
Geoffrey Stern 27:18
No, no, no argument there, for sure. But since has another meaning as well, in Numbers 17. It says "the next day Moses entered the tent of the pact and there with a staff of our end of the house of Lavie had sprouted, it had brought forth sprouts produced blossoms and born almonds." So this was a particular situation. But there it talks about "Vayatzetz tzitz" produced blossoms. So we have the first image is one of soaring of wings of something that's shiny and translucent. And then we have this other aspect of tzitz as a blossom of life. And these, of course, you can't ignore the connection between tzitz and tzitziot. As a sprout from the four corners of the garment. So we're playing with language, again, how that commandment of tzitziot for the the civilian Jew, if you will, connected with many of these concepts that we see regarding the priestly garments. And that, to me is fascinating and kind of exciting.
Adam Mintz 28:43
That is really exciting. It's interesting, because you start with something as kind of mundane as the color doesn't sound like it's gonna be interesting. But there's so much richness in trying to figure out the color that it really brings the whole thing to life. And it really adds a different element. Usually when you learn Tezaveh, you talk about the different articles of clothing, the things themselves, but thinking about the colors is really so much more striking, because that's actually what people saw. What they wee struck by.
Geoffrey Stern 29:14
Well absolutely, We're getting towards the end of our half hour. And the subject of tonight was why blue and white. And we've talked a lot about the blue. We've even talked about the white where the rabbis said once the Blue was hidden, it's all white. But I as you know, and you could probably sense when I quoted Yigal Yadin, the general and the archaeologist who knew his Talmud, somehow the Zionists as secular as they were, understood this message, all the messages that we've talked about tonight, and when they picked the colors for the flag of Israel, which really If you think about it looks like that talit... it has those blue stripes on it you call them a tzitz. When Rabbi Hertzog made the prayer for the State of Israel. And in it he played with that this idea that we say three times a day when we when we pray, and we talk about umatzmiach yeshoua... that deliverance should sprout. I just love that word that you know deliverance, you can say could explode, it could come out but that deliverance should sprout, is amazing to me. And of course, he said Reshit tzemiachat geulatanu. He took the same concept. So we really, we've taken the history of a simple color and traced it through the ancient texts all the way to modern day Israel. And it's an inspiration hopefully to us all. May you glow in the shine of the techelit this Shabbat and join us next week. What do we have next week Rabbi?
Adam Mintz 31:17
Next week we have the sin of the golden calf there's so much next week wow, You know the breaking of the of the tablets and the sin of the golden calf. We're gonna be busy all week preparing for next week.
Geoffrey Stern 31:28
I can't wait Sabbats alone to everybody and have a great Shabbat and see you all next week.
Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/383005
Listen to last week’s episode: WHEN GOD gets small