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I've Got the Blues


A while ago, I read an article which shared an interesting, albeit unscientific, study that Crayola did in 1993 – it asked US children to name their favorite crayon color. Most chose a fairly standard blue, but there were three other shades of blue in the top ten list. 

In 2000, Crayola repeated this experiment. Again, classic blue ranked in the top spot while six other shades of blue appeared in the top ten. 

Why is blue such a popular color? The article suggests based on several studies by Karen Schloss, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, that “blue’s reign has continued uninterrupted since the earliest recorded color studies, which took place in the 1800s [because] most of our experience with the color are likely to be positive, like idyllic oceans or clear skies…”

This week’s parasha concludes with the mitzvah of tzitzit, which requires placing white and bluish (techelet) strings on four cornered garments. Unfortunately, over the course of our challenging history, the method to manufacture techelet was forgotten.   

Luckily, the Mishnah in Menachot (38a) rules that white strings, even when not mixed with blue strings, are sufficient to fulfill the mitzvah of tzitzit. As a result, for more than a thousand years, Jews have faithfully attached white strings to their (under)garments and tallitot in keeping with this teaching.

Some years ago, the Biblical techelet was rediscovered and its mass-production from Murex Trunculus snails has brought renewed attention to the meaning of the blue strings.

The Talmud (Menachot 43b) explains the significance of blue as follows:       

It is taught in a baraita that Rabbi Meir would say: What is different about techelet from all other types of colors such that it was chosen for the mitzvah of ritual fringes? It is because techelet is similar in its color to the sea, and the sea is similar to the sky, and the sky is similar to the Throne of Glory, as it is stated:...

However, if the purpose of the tzitzit is simply to refocus its wearer on the Divine, then let the entire tassel be dyed blue! Why have white mixed in with the techelet?

Possibly, the contrast of white and blue sends a powerful message.

Rav Soloveitchik suggested that the white represents that which is clear and rational, the blue that which is mysterious and transcendent. (Man of Faith in the Modern World, pp 29-30). In a simpler way, white can be understood to symbolize that which is ordinary. White is neutral, waiting for a color, a tone, to be expressed upon it.

On the other hand, the rich blue of techelet stands for that which has been elevated and brought closer to G-d. After noticing the blue strings amongst the white, one is challenged to cast their glance at their surroundings to find the “blue” in the canvas of our everyday existence. Every morning we wake to what pretends to be an unsanctified world, crowded with obligations, tasks and even constant annoyances. Can we learn to see that same world as a candy store of opportunities to create holiness in a mundane world?

White (or blue) strings alone, remind us that we must obey the commandments. Blue strings amidst a sea of white remind us that opportunities to do those mitzvot are embedded within our ordinary lives.