Since tekhelet makes an appearance within the Scripture passages which Jews around the world will be reading this week, we repeat here an examination we presented a year ago of a phenomenon in which this dye, revered as precious and most holy from ancient times, is, after almost 2000 years, reappearing in modern Israel.
THE RETURN OF TEKHELET
“Speak to the children of Israel: Tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a blue thread in the tassels of the corners. And you shall have the tassel, that you may look upon it and remember all the commandments of the LORD and do them, and that you may not follow the harlotry to which your own heart and your own eyes are inclined, and that you may remember and do all My commandments, and be holy for your God.”
(Numbers 15:38-40; From this week’s “TORAH PORTION”—See Below)
The “blue” thread in these tassels or fringes (Hebrew: tzitzit) was not mere coloring, but tekhelet—a sky-blue pigment derived from the secretions of a specific species of snail. This rare and costly dye was among the treasures given to the children of Israel when they left Egypt. When the LORD gave building instructions for the mishkan (tabernacle) in which He would dwell (Exodus 25:4), this was among the offerings received from the people for its preparation. Tekhelet was to be woven skillfully into the curtains, the screen and the veil (Ch. 26), and into the holy garments of the High Priest who ministered before it (28:5, 15, 28, 31, 33, 37).
When the camp moved out (as described in last week’s Parashah, the Table of Showbread, the Menorah, and the Golden Altar of the Holy Place were covered first in a cloth dyed with tekhelet, then lastly with skins before being carried away (Numbers 4:7-11). But the Ark of the Covenant –where the manifest presence of YHVH dwelt between the Cherubim—was covered by Aaron and his sons, first with the veil, then with skins and lastly, with “a cloth entirely of tekhelet” (Numbers 4:5-6). When the Israel was on the move, what was visible out front on the shoulders of the priests was not the Ark with the Cherubim (no one was allowed to see that; even the High Priest filled the Holy of Holies with smoke when he visited behind the veil once a year on Yom Kippur). As Israel marched across the desert, what was visible, proclaiming the dwelling among men of the Presence of YHVH, was the “form” of the Holy Ark beneath a covering of sky-blue.
So why were the sons of Israel commanded to wear fringes on the corners of their garments, with a thread of tekhelet among them? We cannot say with certainty, the Scriptures are silent. The context here seems to be the human dilemma of an inherited nature to sin, the “harlotry to which our hearts and our own eyes are inclined” (15:39). Might the sky blue thread among the fringes point to our inability, even with our best efforts to overcome that nature on our own? Might looking at this thread have served as a reminder of man’s need to look beyond to the Presence (signified here by the techelet-covered Mercy Seat) for victory? Perhaps even the sky-blue of the color itself pointed towards the habitat of the One whose mercies are in the heavens where He has placed His throne (Psalm 36:5; 57:10; 103:19).
“Unto You I lift up my eyes, O You who dwell in the heavens!” (Psalm 123:1). Yeshua Himself, whose eyes were continually upon the Father and who only did what His Father told him, chose obediently to wear the fringes during His time on earth. It was these tzitzit which the woman with the issue of blood (Mark 5:25, Luke 8:43) touched and “power went out of Him” and healed her.
For many centuries the exact identity of the mollusk from which this dye was made has been lost; by some it was even thought to have become extinct. For this reason religious Jews long ago ceased placing a blue thread among the fringes which they wear. But with the returning of Israel to Zion, it has been re-discovered! Around 100 years ago, scientific research began pointing towards a probable identity for the creature from which the dye had been extracted, but there were complications in producing the color. Later discoveries appear to have now made that identity certain—it is the Murex Trunculus snail. Large mounds of these snails have been discovered by archaeologists at ancient dying sites on Israel’s northeast coast. Another discovery was made: cloth treated with the dye taken directly from the Murex snail will be dark and not possess a uniformity of color. The only way for it to become “sky blue” is for the wool, after it has been dyed, to be exposed to ultra-violet rays, especially of sunlight! In 2013 a 2000-year-old fragment of cloth, which had been discovered over 50 years earlier in a cave near the Dead Sea, was confirmed in laboratory tests to bear within it traces of the dye from this snail. This fragment was also the first discovered to bear the true sky-blue colour required.
Today, many religious Jews, believing this at last to be the genuine tekhelet, have begun wearing a string dyed with it in their tzitzit again. Over the past 25 years, it has become available to purchase. Although the snails from which it is extracted have been discovered in Israel near Eilat, the species is now protected, and quantities necessary for making the dye are being imported from Greece, Croatia, and Spain.
During the past century, as prophesied, the LORD has begun returning descendants of His chosen Hebrew people to their ancient homeland. With this return, other restorations have also taken place—the ancient long-dead spoken language has come back to life; among some Israeli farmers, the ancient practice of shmita (allowing land to go fallow on the seventh year) is being restored. And so, as we see also the return of tekhelet and of its use on the fringes of garments, we cannot but wonder, “What does this mean?” “What might it signify?” All is not yet clear. We must ask the Father of Lights for illumination (James 1:17, 5).
One thing we observe and find remarkable—the re-discovery of tekhelet and the re-introduction of its use on the tassels of Jewish garments seem to coincide with the re-awakening of a Messianic Body within Israel!
Even as the sky-blue thread of Numbers 15:38-40 pointed a young Israel towards the Presence of God in her midst, might not the return of that thread in our own day point towards that same Presence, dwelling this time, not separately in a tent, but within His people themselves, to grant them victory in defeating the inclination of their hearts and eyes towards sin! That Body of Messianic Jews is still only a small thread in Israel (even as are the relatively few Jews who have begun to wear tekhelet)—but that remnant thread is growing!
PLEASE PRAY: That Israelis would be convicted of their need to obey God, but also by the Holy Spirit that they become aware of their natural “inclination” against doing so. Pray that they would seek salvation in the One out of whom comes power to be Children of God (John 1:12), to please and draw near to their Father. Pray for revelation that, as with tekhelet, His heavenly Presence can be only clearly revealed in the Light of the Son!
“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them” (Ezekiel 36:25-27).