What does blue make you think of? The colour that is, not the band!
In football, it could mean Chelsea, Manchester City, or Everton, amongst others. In politics, it would be the Tories. In technology it could mean most social media platforms. In nationalities, it could mean Scotland, Australia and of course Israel, to name but a few.
What does blue mean in Judaism? Obviously, the first thing that springs to mind is our homeland, with its blue flag. However, there must be a ‘blue’ that dates back further than that. In fact, if there is, this may well be where our national flag gets its blue from.
Let’s look for blue in the Torah. When one thinks synagogue and blue, the Tallit, the prayer shawl, is probably the first thing one thinks of. A Tallit has stripes on it. Many people wear a Tallit with blue stripes, others wear with black, whilst there are those that wear ones with multi-coloured stripes. Where do these stripes come from and what are their purpose? That the blue of the Tallit is derived from Israeli national colours seems unlikely, as there are Tellitot that are older than the state that also have blue stripes. Rather, the blue colours of the state seem to come from the Tallit. The question that follows is therefore, where did the Tallit get its blue stripes from?
At the end of this week’s Torah-portion, we read how the mitzva of Tzitzit was given to the Jewish people. The Torah teaches that G-d told Moses that any four-cornered piece of clothing requires Tzitzit-strings on each corner. What do the Tzitzit-strings actually comprise of? The Torah teaches that there are four strings doubled over (through the hole in the corner of the clothing), and tying together, thus we end up with eight strings. One of these strings, writes the Torah, must be dyed blue. This is the first time we meet the colour blue in Scripture, with regard to our daily life. (The other time is with regard to the clothing of the priests, especially the high-priest.) It seems to follow that the blue on a Tallit stemmed from these blue strings, coupled with the fact that we don’t put blue on our strings anymore, and the idea that one should have a nice Tallit.
To understand the meaning of blue in Judaism, we must understand this blue Tzitzit-string. Why do we put blue on our Tzitzit? The explanation given is that Tzitzit are supposed to remind us of our Father in Heaven. How do they do this? The blue of the Tzitzit-strings reminds us of the sea. The blue of the sea reminds us of the blue sky (think Mediterranean). The blue of the sky reminds us of the blue Heaven. This in turn reminds us the blue Heavenly ‘throne’ that G-d sits on, which in turn reminds us of G-d – if you haven’t already lost track of what’s going on.
Wait a minute, what IS going on? The Tzitzit-string is dyed blue. G-d’s ‘throne’ is blue. Why all the stages in between to lose us, why can’t the blue thread remind us directly of G-d Himself? The answer is simple, yet deep at the same time. What the Tzitzit are teaching us, is that we are constantly in G-d’s presence, as He is everywhere, always. The idea of wearing Tzitzit is the idea that we know and understand that G-d is constantly with us. This however, does not mean the same thing for everyone. How we understand that G-d is always with us, and how we run our lives according to that can be very different. However, one thing is clear, if G-d is there with us the whole time, we are constantly striving towards getting closer and understanding Him more. It’s like marriage, one is constantly working on understanding their spouse more and more, but at the end of the day, men and women are wired so differently, that one can never understand the opposite gender entirely. So too, with understanding what G-d wants from us, there are so many levels that we can attain in understanding and appreciating His constant presence with us. This is why we are not so worried about losing people on this roundabout way, from the Tzitzit to G-d, as we are worried of people thinking, “since I can’t see how Tzitzit should remind me about G-d, Judaism is not relevant to me.”
Hence, the colour blue is teaching us a very important and relevant message. Blue in Judaism means “take your time”. You are not expected to look at the blue Tzitzit-string and immediately think, “Oh, G-d’s watching over me.” Rather, by looking at the blue, you think that on whatever level you are, there is something that you can do to get closer to G-d. By doing that thing on your level, you are achieving your own level of perfection and greatness, which is what G-d wants. So, if when you look at the Tzitzit, you think of the beach, it is ok. You are not expected to see further, at the moment. However, when you have progressed, and you already know more, then you may be expected to already see the sky too, eventually reaching the highest level, where you get all the way to thinking of G-d, living one’s life with a constant understanding that G-d is there with you all day long.
So, what is the meaning of blue in Judaism? I’d suggest it is the most important colour. It means take your time, work at what you can work. This means something different for each and every one of us. It is no wonder therefore that the Luchot, the Tablets with the Ten Commandments, were made of blue sapphire. How is one expected to keep the Ten Commandments, which are effectively a table of contents for the entire Torah? In stages. Look at where you are now, work on what you can now, and only then can you move on to something bigger, something greater. We may never get a chance to achieve the ultimate level, however, we are not all expected to achieve the same lofty levels, rather each of us is in this world on his level, to achieve the best that he can achieve.
(Maybe that’s why blue is currently the colour-scheme of my blog, as this is something I truly believe in and stand for, individualism.)