Techelet–Genuine Sincerity in Faith”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

Much of the narrative of parashat Bamidbar concerns the details and logistics of setting up the Tabernacle and establishing the positions of the twelve tribes in the camp of Israel. The roles of the various tribes are described with a special emphasis on the roles of the Levites and the Priests.

Chapter 4 of Numbers is devoted in its entirety to a census of three Levite families, Kehath, Gershon and Merari and a delineation of their Tabernacle responsibilities. The Kehathites were charged with the responsibilities for the most sacred parts of the Tabernacle. In next week’s parasha, parashat Naso, the roles of the remaining Levitic families, Gershon and Merari, are enumerated.

A new census of the Levites is conducted in order to determine the precise number of eligible Levites who would be available to perform the physically demanding work of caring for the Tabernacle and its components. This time, the Levites were counted from ages thirty to fifty years, the working ages of the Levites.

The Torah in Numbers 4:4 states, “Zoht ah’vo’daht b’nai Kehot b’ohel moed, kodesh ha’kaw’da’shim,” This is the work of the sons of Kehath in the Tent of Meeting: the most holy. The Torah declares that when the signal is given for the camp of Israel to travel, Aaron and his sons must enter the Tabernacle to prepare the holy furnishings for the impending journey. To prepare the most sacred of the furnishings, the Ark, the priests must take down the Perochet, the partition curtain that divides the Holy from the Holy of Holies, and cover the Ark of Testimony with this curtain. On top of the Perochet, the priests are to place a Tachash, a beautiful hide covering, and then spread upon the Tachash a cloth of Techelet, entirely made of turquoise blue wool. Finally, the priests are to adjust the Ark’s staves.

The Torah then describes in detail the procedure for covering the remaining Tabernacle furnishings: the table of showbread, the Menorah candelabra, the golden altar and the earthen altar.

Nachmanides (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, 1194-1270, Spanish Torah commentator) notes that the procedure for covering the Ark is significantly different from the procedure for covering the other Temple furnishings. The Ark was first covered with the Perochet (the curtain that divided the Tabernacle chambers), then the Tachash hide covering was placed over the Perochet, and only then was everything covered with the Techelet, the turquoise blue wool cloth. The other utensils were first covered with Techelet, and only then with the Tachash hide covering.

The sages of the Talmud (Hulin 89a) tell us that Techelet, turquoise/blue, is the color of the sea, which resembles the color of the sky, which resembles the color of sapphire, which resembles the color of the Throne of Glory.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (1895-1986, Rosh Yeshiva of Mesivta Tifereth Jerusalem in New York City, and leading halachic decisor of his time) explains that the Techelet and the Tachash represent different concepts. Techelet represents pure and unadulterated faith in G-d, reminding the people of G-d’s Throne of Glory in heaven. Based on Rashi’s comment on the word Tachash found in Exodus 25:5, Rabbi Feinstein describes the Tachash hide as unusually beautiful, representing the enhancement of mitzvot, by clothing them in physical beauty.

The Ark, explains Rabbi Feinstein, which contains the Torah, represents the call to unquestioned faith. Therefore, the cover that is to be seen publicly by the people, the uppermost cover of the Ark, must be Techelet, the color of the heavens, representing G-d’s Throne of Glory.

The other vessels of the Tabernacle are first covered with Techelet, and only then, with the beautiful and enchanting hide skins of Tachash, so that people will find them inviting and attractive.

Rabbi Feinstein further explains that the Torah, must be rooted in faith in the Giver, in G-d and His Torah. The fundamental inspiration for all the observance must be unadulterated, spiritual faith in G-d. It is only when the essence of faith is firm, spiritual and real, that Jews may go about building their relationships with the other “furnishings” and other aspects of faith. However, without full devotion to the Ark, the main component of commitment to true faith, no amount of enhancement will bring spiritual strivers to appreciate the other elements of faith that are represented by the table of the showbread, the Menorah, the golden altar and the earthen altar.

This profound lesson is a most meaningful one for contemporary times. Contemporary faith is often promoted and marketed, utilizing the latest gimmicks and product enhancements. The Kabbalah Center, the latest flavor of the day in Judaism today, attempts to attract the masses through doses of ancient mysticism. Other faiths use prayer cloths, icons, soothsayers, horoscopes, etc. For many, these superficial gimmicks lead to superficial faith, which ultimately vanishes as the novelty wears off.

However, if the true passion of faith is properly implanted, all the other elements of faith will fall into place. Ultimately, it is the sky blue, rather than the mesmerizing and dazzling colors of the Tachash hides, that verifies the authenticity of our faith. It is this color that believers must see before their eyes at all times, confirming the authenticity of their faith, marking the giving of the Torah at Sinai.

We hope and pray that the forthcoming festival of Shavuot will be a time when all our people feel the presence of G-d in their lives, as we relive the ancient revelation of the Torah to our People more than three thousand years ago.

May you be blessed.

Please note:

The wonderful festival of Shavuot, commemorating the giving of the Torah at Sinai 3324 years ago, is observed this year on Saturday evening, May 26th, and continues through Monday night, May 28th, 2012.

Chag Shavuot Samayach. Have a happy and festive Shavuot.