Thursday, February 15, 2007

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The Most Mysterious Color

by Reb Gutman Locks of the Old City, Jerusalem, Israel at Mystical Paths

The color blue is indeed a most unusual color. It was used extensively in the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and even on the High Priest’s clothing. Its most familiar use was as the color of one of the fringes of our four-cornered garments. And most mystically, in this week’s portion of the Torah, it was in the vision of Hashem that Moshe and the elders saw. “Under His feet was the likeness of sapphire (deep blue) brickwork, and it was like the essence of the heaven in purity.” [i]

Blue is also commonly found painted on the gravestones of righteous people in the mystical city of Tzfat. Also some homes there are painted blue.

All of this suggests that there must be a special holiness to this color. So it seems strange that there is also an entirely different reputation to this color too. The gematria (numerical equivalent) [ii] of the word “blue” (techelet) [iii] is the same as the gematria of the word “you would hearken.” (shematem) [iv] It is also the gematria of “and sanctify them” (vekidashtam) [v] and “you shall be ensnared.” (tinakesh) [vi]

Why should the numerical value be the same for both “holiness” and “being ensnared”?

There is a good lesson about gematria here. If words found in the Torah have the same numerical value, there must be a good reason for it. This is true even when words that have opposite meanings share the same numerical value. When this happens, you must look deeper and most often broader, until you find the overall relationship between them.

In the case of blue, we find that even though it is found in so many holy places, when it comes to dreams and visions, we are strictly warned, “All colors in visions are a good omen except for the color blue. It is the low color, and much ardent prayer must be exercised to avoid it.” [vii]

The reason why some people paint blue on gravestones and their homes is because they see this to be “protection from the evil eye.” Whether or not, or how, such things exist is not the subject at hand, but those who do concern themselves with such things say, “Blue is the color of the sea, and fish live in the sea, and fish never close their eyes. So this color must provide protection from the ‘evil eye.’ (This also is why fish are a common motif in jewelry and artwork.)

The reason why blue is used on the fringe (tzitzit) is to help remind us to do the commandments. Blue reminds us of the ocean and of the sky. These are two elements that we cannot live without. But they are also two elements that we cannot live in. Picture yourself in the middle of the ocean without a boat, or in the middle of the sky without an airplane. What would you immediately think? “God help me!” Blue certainly can be a reminder to do His commandments.

Yet blue is called the lower or sick color in visions. How can this apparent contradiction be explained? How can blue be holy in so many places and also be called low and sick?

Use sunlight as an analogy. The human eye cannot see the actual light, but when we bend the light through a prism we see the spectrum of its colors. If you would point with one finger to the red light and with another finger to the blue light, how many lights would you be pointing to? If you said two, you were wrong. There is only one light there. There is one light and seven colors.

In visions and the most mystical dealings we always seek the revelation of G-d, which is formless, and singular. The sunlight in our illustration represents this formless, universal, singular perspective. The colors in this example represent the particulars within the universal since they are many. Blue is the lowest color on the spectrum. All colors (particulars) take our attention away from the light (the universal.) Since blue is the lowest color, it is portrayed as the furthest away from the universal. It is interesting that idols in India are frequently painted blue.

This color was also seen in the glorious vision that Moshe and the elders were shown. “ . . . under His feet was the likeness of sapphire (deep blue) brickwork and it was like the essence of the heaven in purity.” [viii] Even in most holy visions, blue is the lower color.

Now we can see the reason those words share the same numerical value. “You will hearken” when you see the blue fringe. “You will sanctify” when you use this color on the High Priest’s garment and other holy places, and “you will be ensnared” if you focus on this color in meditation and visions.

-- Eating and Drinking --

“They gazed at God and they ate and drank.” [ix] At the end of this week’s portion of the Torah, we read of the great vision that the elders saw when they “ascended.” The Torah tells us that they actually saw a vision of God. Then it says that they ate and drank.

There is an argument among the commentators as to what exactly happened there. Rashi claims that the elders sinned tremendously by eating and drinking at such a time. Onkelos saw their eating and drinking as a metaphor for their great joy. Ramban writes that after seeing the vision they celebrated by having a feast.

There is more to learn from this episode. There will be a time in the future, in the World to Come,[x] when life will be so spiritual that there will not even be eating and drinking. The Torah here is showing us that as high a vision as the elders saw, still, they were within the realm of being able to eat and drink. Later, when the greater time comes, all life will be even higher than the elders were when they saw that vision. Life will be so entirely spiritual that we will even be beyond the realm of eating and drinking.

[i] Ex 24:10
[ii] Gematria. See Spice of Torah-Gematria Judaica Press
[iii] Ex 24:6
[iv] Gen 42:22
[v] Ex 19:20
[vi] Duet 12:30
[vii] Zohar Chadash 68:4, Gemora Berakoth 57b
[viii] Ex 24:10
[ix] Ex 24:11
[x] Berachos 17a

Posted at Mystical Paths. Read it elsewhere? Stop by the source.

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