While the overwhelming majority of parshat Shelach (read last week in Israel and this week outside Israel) is about the sin of the spies, the last 5 verses deal with the mitzvah of Tzitzit and the famous blue thread called “Techeilet”: “Speak to the children of Israel… that they shall make for themselves tzitzit on the corners of their garments… and they shall place upon the tzitzit of each corner a thread of Techeilet (blue wool)…”
Believe it or not, I have been wearing Techeilet for over 30 years. In those days, you could count the number of the blue string wearers on one hand, but today – Baruch HaShem! – things are much different. I am currently in New York and am proud to say that this past Shabbat, the Rabbi of the shul we davened in was a member of the blue team! As I looked around the large shul, I was pleasantly surprised that about 25% of the people had Techeilet on their Tallit. Things are moving in the right direction… or so I thought, until I davened in a different shul and found myself the only one with the colorful string.
A quick background is necessary. For about 1,400 years every Jew who wore tzitzit had techeilet as part of his tzitzit. However, at the time of the destruction of the second Temple, the secret formula of making the blue-dye was lost. For 2,000 years our tzitzit became white-only and only recently was the unique snail found from which the blue-dye is produced. Major Talmudic scholars investigated this matter thoroughly and came to the conclusion that the 2,000 year wait was over… techeilet had been found! People like me jumped on the opportunity to fulfill this commandment properly and, slowly but surely, more and more people started purchasing the unique blue woolen string and becoming techeilet wearers – exactly as commanded by HaShem Himself.
However, as stated above, while new people are “joining the blue team” every day, the overwhelming majority of Torah observant Jews are still on “the white team”. Why is that? Don’t they recognize the gift that our Father has given us? For 2,000 years, the greatest Rabbis including the Rambam, Arizal, Rashi, Vilna Gaon, Ba’al Shem Tov, Rav Kook and the Chafetz Chaim didn’t have the opportunity to wear techeilet… but we do… so why hasn’t the Torah world embraced this miracle?
Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz, in his sefer “Ha’Koneh Olamo” has an entire chapter dedicated to answering this question (chapter 5). To summarize, he writes that the Jewish nation follows the direction of the Gedolim. What they say, we do, and on this issue – for various reasons – they have not been convinced of the authenticity of today’s techeilet and therefore do not wear it themselves. In Rabbi Lebowitz’s words (translated from the Hebrew); “Since Gedolei Yisrael do not wear this techeilet, it is proper for the nation to act as they do.” (page 89)
With all due respect, I couldn’t disagree more. If the Gedolim ruled that one was forbidden to wear today’s techeilet, then there would be a solid reason why not to… but they have not said that. As a matter of fact, Rav Hershel Schachter wears techeilet… what better proof do you need than that?
So what’s the real issue at play over here? My answer may shock you, but I am convinced its 100% true. The debate over today’s techeilet is the same argument as the role of Medinat Yisrael – the modern State of Israel – in the world of Torah ideology. Mask it any way you like but the bottom line is this: Today’s Gedolim do not support the State of Israel. They do not say Hallel on Yom Ha’Atzmaut, do not sing Ha’Tikva and you’ll be hard pressed to find even one Israeli flag in the entire city of Bnei Brak (Ponevezh Yeshiva on Yom Ha’atzmaut being a notable exception). Their position on “the Medina” is the same as on Techeilet. They are not opposed (excluding Satmar) but certainly don’t endorse. They have representatives in the Knesset whom they meet with regularly but they would never consider themselves Zionists.
To me, and my fellow Religious Zionists, the events of 1948 was the greatest gift our King bestowed upon His people in 2,000 years. Our nation has returned to the very land given to us by HaShem! Yes, it would be difficult – exactly as it was when Joshua entered the land with the 12 Tribes. They had to fight and conquer the land. They had to build, plant and turn swamps into cities. Nothing was ever given to us on “a silver platter” and just like we fought for every inch 3,300 years ago… we have to fight for it now. Then it was the Cana’anim and the Yevusim and today it is Hamas and Iran. Yet, things are not all about war. With this land came unprecedented Torah study – more Torah in today’s Israel than ever before in history! Ancient scrolls were found, the exact boundaries of the Temple Mount were discovered, and secrets such as Techeilet were revealed.
How can we not embrace these events? How can we go through life as if nothing happened? The last 75 years has been a revolution; from the establishment of the modern State to the discovery of a 2,000 year old secret called “Techeilet”. I urge you to recognize these miracles and thank HaShem daily for allowing you to live in such a generation. How can we publicly show us gratitude to our Father and King? My suggestion is by starting with something simple, yet very powerful: Join the Techeilet revolution – get those blue strings on today!
Am Yisrael Chai!