Why We Are
By Rabbi Label Lam
HASHEM said to Moshe saying: “Speak to the Children of Israel and say
to them that they shall make for themselves Tzistzis on the corners of their
garments, throughout their generations. And they shall place upon the
Tzistzis of each corner a thread of (techeles) blue wool. It shall
constitute Tzitzis for you that you may see it and remember all the
Commandments of HASHEM and perform them; and not explore after your heart
and after your eyes after which you stray. So you may remember and perform
all My Commandments, and be holy to your G-d. I am HASHEM your G-d, who has
removed you from the Land of Egypt to be a G-d unto you; I am HASHEM.
Those Tzitzis- threads on that four cornered poncho like garment are sure
packed with loads of meaning, since the stated purpose is that they are
intended to remind us of all the Mitzvos of HASHEM. It is coded in a
symbolic language, though. How do we begin to unravel the idiom of those
With a particular focus on the single thread of blue on each corner Rabbi
Samson Raphael Hirsch ztl refers to this “eighth thread” as “representing
the power of Judaism as it is dipped into “Techeles” (a certain sky blue
dye). He claims that the source of its name “Techeles” is etymologically
related to the word “cala” meaning end.. Rav Hirsch says that the blue
reminds us of the limits of human ken to comprehend the true depth of the
supernatural realm. The word “Techeles” might also be subtly alerting us to
the ultimate end, the “tachlis” -the goal of our existence. How so?
Years ago when I was visiting Jewish prisoners on a regular basis, we had a
custom, a sort of orientation for the newcomers It was also an entertaining
and strong review for the others guys.. We would ask the unfortunate
uninitiated the very same question that The Almighty asked of Adam, the
first man when he made his first grave misstep.
“Man, where are you?!” Where do you now live?” Inevitably the poor guy
would have to admit to himself the sad reality, “Green Haven Maximum
Security Prison”. I would always echo back emphatically, “No, man, where do
you live?” A little lost, now and searching for a more expansive context the
next guess might be, “New York State?” A resounding “No man, where do you
live” would follow. The circumference would then widen and answers like,
“America” or “good ship mother earth” would push the conversation to what
seemed like its logical limits until the answer was revealed.
“No! If you want, you to acknowledge it, you live in front of HASHEM, as
King David says, “I place HASHEM before me always”. The Baal Shem Tov said
that where a person’s thoughts are, there is where they are entirely. If you
want to be here in prison then here you are! However if you want to be in
front of HASHEM always, then, although your body is anchored here, like a
foot in a shoe, your mind and spirit can soar beyond prison walls.
I remember vividly being stuck at Newark Liberty Airport in a snow storm
for 24 hours of chaos as flight after flight was canceled and postponed. An
oriental gentleman ranting loudly and with great frustration was overheard
on his cell phone shouting, “I don’t know where I am! I don’t know who I am!
I don’t know why I am?
Tzittzis, especially the 8th thread representing eternity, and being blue
stirs within us, as the Talmud suggests, a reminder of the blue sky which
then triggers thoughts of the throne of ultimate judgment installing within
a deep awe.
Now that the blue thread is lacking from our Tzitzis, all we have is a
giant blue sky. We might then imagine it is the big blue of the eye of G-d
gazing at us, reminding us of where we are, who we are, and why we are!
DvarTorah, Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Label Lam and Torah.org.