כ״ד באלול ה׳תשע״א (September 23, 2011)

Hullin 89a-b – Recognizing the blue of tzitzit

Following the quote from Avraham that appeared on yesterday’s daf (=page), Rava on today’s daf suggests another set ofmitzvot whose source was a statement made by Avraham. Rava teaches that in the merit of Avraham saying “I will not take a thread or a shoe-strap” (see Bereishit 14:23), his descendants were worthy to receive two commandments – the thread of tekhelet (of tzitzit), and the strap of the tefillin.

 

In explaining “the thread of tekhelet” the Gemara brings the teaching of Rabbi Me’ir:

 

Why is tekhelet specified from all the other colors for this mitzvah? Because tekhelet resembles the color of the sea, and the sea resembles the color of the sky, and the sky resembles the color of a sapphire, and a sapphire resembles the color of the Throne of Glory, as it is said, ‘And there was under his feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone’ (Shemot 24:10), and it is also written, ‘The likeness of a throne as the appearance of a sapphire stone’ (Yehezkel 1:26).

 

It is difficult to precisely identify the color of tekhelet, as there is no clear tradition regarding its hue from , and over the years the words used for the colors themselves took on different meanings. Even the descriptions that we find in Rabbi Me’ir’s statement are unclear, since the shades of color found in the sea and in the sky change depending on the season and the time of day. Furthermore, there are other places where Rabbinic statements identify tekhelet as the color of grass or leek.

 

The rishonim offer a number of definitions for tekhelet:

  • Rashi suggests that it is a greenish color, perhaps turquoise
  • Rabbi Moshe haDarshan explains that it is the color of the sky approaching evening, which would suggest a purplish hue.

 

Similar positions are found among the researchers who have gone in different directions in identifying the hilazon, which is the source of tekhelet. If we look to the kala ilan, the “counterfeit tekhelet” as a way of determining the color, it would be indigo, a very dark blue color (see Masechet Menahot daf 40).