Judaism: Tehkhelet Shows the Difference
Rabbi Nachman KahanaRabbi Nachman Kahana is an Orthodox Rabbinic Scholar, Rav of Chazon Yechezkel Synagogue – Young Israel of the Old City of Jerusalem, Founder and Director of the Center for Kohanim, and Author of the 14-volume “Mei Menuchot” series on Tosefot, “With All Your Might: The Torah of Eretz Yisrael in the Weekly Parashah”, as well as weekly parasha commentary available where he blogs at http://NachmanKahana.com
Our parasha (Torah reading for this week) relates (Shemot 24,10):
ויראו את א-להי ישראל ותחת רגליו כמעשה לבנת הספיר וכעצם השמים לטהר
And they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was like a sapir (the gemstone lapis lazuli) as bright blue as the sky
And the Yerushalmi (Berachot chapter 1) quotes R. Meir who said regarding the blue (techelet) of the tzitzit:
שהת והכסא דומה לספיר דכתיב [יחזקאל י א] ואראה והנה על הרקיע אשר על ראש הכרוב כלת דומה לים והים דומה לעשבים ועשבים דומין לרקיע ורקיע דומה לכסא הכבוד כאבן ספיר
The (color of) techelet is as the ocean, and the ocean is as the green grass, and the grass is as the sky, and the sky is like the color of the holy throne, and the holy throne is like the gemstone (lapis lazuli) as it says (Yechezkel 10,1) ‘I looked and I saw above the raki’a (emptiness of space) the likeness of a throne of sapir that was over the heads of the kruvim (angels)
What are the rabbis teaching us with the idea that tzitzit initiate a chain reaction of sight and thought leading up to the Holy Throne and the kruvim?
Tzitzit are plain woolen fringes hanging at the bottom of a four-cornered garment, but they guide us through five ascending stages – ocean, grass, sky, Holy Throne and kruvim?
The function of tzitzit is to raise man’s eyes and perspective from the routine and mundane to perceive the exalted spiritual essence of the Creator. In Hebrew slang, the simpleton is called “rosh katan” (a small head) and the intelligent, enterprising person is called “rosh gadol (large head)”.
Hashem gave the Torah to those who are called rosh gadol, and He expects His chosen nation to strive to be rosh gadol.
As the Jewish People Go, So Goes the Holy Torah
A kabalistic concept states that when the Jewish people are in galut (exile), the Shechina (Holy Presence of Hashem) also is in galut. I do not understand this concept, but it obviously refers to a time when the Jewish nation in galut is in an inferior, discredited, disparaged and diminished state in relation to what we were in Eretz Yisrael. One need not be an astute student of history to know that this was our fate during the 2000 years of our galut experience, until we the Jewish people were able to raise up our eyes in pride with the establishment of the state of Israel after the horrific Shoah.
As the Jewish people go, so goes the holy Torah. When the Jews are honored and venerated, so is the holy Torah. When we are degraded, then our Torah and its way of life are disparaged and mocked.
Solving Modern Complex Halakhic Issues
The Talmud is divided into six sections: Zera’im (agricultural laws), Mo’ed (holidays), Nashim (personal status – marriage, divorce etc.), Nezi’kim (torts and financial matters), Kodshim (the Temple service) and Taharot (purity and impurity).
During the 2000 years of Exile, galut, the realities of our existence impelled the talmidei chachamim (scholars) of Am Yisrael to diminish themselves into a status less than “rosh gadol”.
Three of the six sections of the Talmud – Moed, Nashim and Nezi’kim – were studied, analyzed and contemplated, but the remaining three – Zera’im, Kodshim and Taharot – were relegated to the sole domain of individual sages, gedolim.
With the establishment of the state and the new realities of our national renaissance, our talmidei chachamim have rescued the Shechina from its sorry state in the imprisoned and strangling galut. Here in Eretz Yisrael, the Talmud is studied in its entirety, bringing the three neglected sections back to life.
Our religious farmers – and there are many – till the soil, plant and harvest and set aside teruma and ma’asrot (tithes), according to the Halakhot of the section of Zera’im. There is a renaissance in our yeshivas regarding the study of Kodshim with its accompanying initiatives – the increased interest in the Temple Mount and the future Temple, Bet Hamikdash – and the laws of tuma and tahara (ritual purity) are studied in a much wider time frame.
Our rabbis have to deal with issues which were never brought to the table in any beit din, Jewish law court, or yeshiva in galut:
· How to manage a modern army according to Halakha: aircraft, submarines, electronic warfare, ad infinitum.
· The vast world of medicine, including human cloning and embryonic stem-cell research.
· Shmita and the need to keep our farmers solvent during the year of rest from work. The prohibition against exporting sanctified Shmita produce.
· The great problem of conversion.
· Prevention of prohibited marriages.
· The halakhic status of laws passed by the Knesset.
· Implications of the presence of the majority of halakhic Jews now in the land.
· Treatment of minorities including religions defined as avoda zara (idol worship).
· Drafting of yeshiva students for military service in this time of milchemet mitzva (in this case, a life and death struggle).
· Incorporation of Halakha into the Israeli legal system.
· The prohibition against giving hallowed lands to gentiles.
Although the list is endless, our poskim, decisors, are, nevertheless, solving the problems one by one.
The state has brought about techiyat hamaitim (resurrection, revival), of the formerly neglected other half of our Talmud.
We are enjoying our return to being “rosh gadol”.
The Techelet is Missing
Agudas Yisrael of America is sponsoring three days of Torah learning this week at the Ramada Hotel in Yerushalayim. I attended and noticed that there were more than 200 participants from the US, who had given up a lot to come here to breathe in the holy atmosphere of Yerushalayim. Kol Hakavod, terrific.
What surprised and disappointed me, however, was that the sugya (subject) of the sessions (as determined by the organizers) was “intent when reciting a berakha and the precedence of various berakhot”.
I asked myself, without belittling anyone in any way, God forbid, the importance of learning the details of berakhot – is this the burning halakhic issue which the Jewish nation must deal with today? Isn’t the above list of topics gripping the Jewish State more important? And what about the octopus of anti-Semitism whose strangling tentacles are growing all over the world, or the unstoppable wave of intermarriage which has reached over 70% in the United States?
As I was wrestling with this question, my problem was suddenly resolved. There was no one in the large ballroom of the hotel with tekhelet on his tzitizit. It was clear that these good and sincere Jews of the galut have no one and no object to raise their sights to the higher realms of our miraculous return to Hashem’s Holy Land.
You can take the Jew out of the galut, but it is often impossible to take the galut out of the Jew.