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Judaism: The Spies and the Tchellet Color

Distinguishing betweeen tchellet (the blue color of the fringes) and white.
Published: Thursday, May 30, 2013 7:38 AM


On the ninth day of Av the people of Israel made a choice that spiraled into one of the greatest tragedies in the history of the Jewish people;

They spread an evil report about the land which they had scouted, telling the children of Israel, ‘The land we passed through to explore is a land that consumes its inhabitants, and all the people we saw in it are men of stature. There we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, descended from the giants. In our eyes, we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we were in their eyes.( Numbers 13 : 30-33)

The sin of the spies was not another example of disobedience ,it reflected a much deeper malaise. It was so impactful that the date upon which it happened remained a day of sorrow and danger throughout Jewish history.

The Torah tells us that " all the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept that night." Our sages teach on that verse that this night was the 9th day of Av. Said G-d to them: You have wept without cause, therefore I will set aside this day for a weeping throughout the generations to come.(tractate Taanit 29b).The litany of disasters that occurred on the day throughout Jewish history is simply staggering.

Their weakness wasn’t physical, it was optical. It was a weakness of vision. It was a failure in believing in their Divine destiny. Without a clarity of vision regarding the destiny of the Jewish people, they begin to flounder and fail. The Gaon of Vilna, wrote that it is the "sin of the spies" that will plague the Jewish people throughout the generations until the last days. "Many will fall in this great sin of, 'They despised the cherished Land.' Also many guardians of the Torah will not know or understand that thy are caught in the 'sin of the Spies"....(Kol HaTor, Ch.5)

The Torah ends the Parsha with another set of laws that seem on the surface to be unrelated. Yet the verse describing the sending out of the spies and those describing the fringes ( Tzitzit) on the corners of the garment provide a textual clue that connects them to each other.

In the Torah portion regarding the putting on of the fringes ( Tzitzit) on to the garments , we read;

And it shall be unto you for a fringe, that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of HaShem, and do them; and that ye go not about ( Lo Taturu) after your own heart and your own eyes, after which ye use to go astray; that ye may remember and do all My commandments, and be holy unto your God." (Numbers 15:38-40)

When Moshe commands the people to go out to "spy" out the land we read "Hashem tells Moshe “ "Send out for yourself men who will scout (VeYaturu) the Land of Canaan, which I am giving to the children of Israel. ." (Numbers 13:2)

These two Biblical narratives are clearly connected wherein both use words that are connected to the Hebrew word, Latur. What is that connection meant to teach us?

Regarding the fringes we are told ”Speak to the children of Israel and you shall say to them that they shall make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments, throughout their generations, and they shall affix a thread of ( Tchellet) sky blue on the fringe of each corner. (ibid 15:38)

The Tchellet on the fringe was to symbolize the Throne of Glory. Our sages taught that "Techelet resembles the ocean; the ocean resembles the sky; the sky resembles the Throne of Glory" (Sotah 17a).While the prophet Ezekiel in describing the Throne of Glory says" And above the firmament that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a BLUE sapphire stone;(Ezekiel 1:36).

We need to further explore What the word "Glory (kavod) " mean? Ezekiel describes the Glory of G-d leaving the temple mount when the people of Israel go into exile." ..the cherubim lift up their wings, and the wheels were beside them; and the Glory of the G-d of Israel was over them above. And the Glory of Hashem went up from the midst of the city, and stood upon the mountain which is on the east side of the city.(11:22-23) .

Many have mistranslated the word Kavod (Glory) as the” Presence of G-d” . That cannot be, as G-d's Presence is never to leave the temple mount. "...whereof Hashem had said, In Jerusalem shall My name be for ever. (II Chronicles 33:4).Yet with the exile of His people, His Glory did.

Glory then is defined as the perceived Presence of G-d that appears when there are people around to declare His Glory or Kavod. When the people went into exile that perceived Presence of Hashem left with them. As a result during those thousands of years of exile that followed, the secret of which color blue was the original Tchellet was lost. With the return of the people of Israel back to the land that secret has returned.

What then does the commandment of the tzitzit have to do with the sin of the spies? What remedy can it reveal?

In the Mishnah we learn the following ruling: "From when may one recite the Shema in the morning? From when one can distinguish between tchelet and white."( Berakhot 1:2,) On the practical level, we are being taught the appropriate times for the Shema prayer.

On a deeper level, we are told much more.

Night and darkness represents the times of exile and tribulation in this world. In order to truly comprehend the beginning of daybreak and the beginnings of redemption, we need to be able to discern the difference between the Biblical blue color of Techelet from the white. We need to be able to discern the return Of Hashem's Glory. It is then that we truly will reconnect to the plan of destiny. It is only with that discernment that we will be able to stand against all the winds of war that surround us and withstand the winds of unworthiness whispering within us.

That lack of discernment led to the faulty vision of the spies. On the other hand the understanding of Hashem's plan of destiny constitutes the "other spirit " Calev was infused with as he cried out the declaration for all generations

"We should go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it."


(le-refuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved)