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Posted on July 5, 2024 (5784) By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

They stood before Moshe with two hundred and fifty men from the Bnei Yisrael, leaders of the assembly, those summoned for meeting, men of renown.[1]

That was quite an impressive group! According to the Tanchuma,[2] they were all important legal figures, presiding over the lower courts. Visually, they were even more impressive, since Korach had them all dress up for the confrontation with Moshe and Aharon. Specifically, they all wore garments of techeles to bait Moshe. They asked him for a ruling: Do these garments require tzitzis, like any other four-cornered garment? Moshe responded affirmatively, which led to laughter on their part. “If a single strand of techeles exempts a garment of a different material, surely one that is made completely of techeles requires nothing more!”

It was surely impressive as theater – but less so for its internal logic. A conventional garment indeed requires no more than one strand of techeles, but that says nothing about all the strands of white, non-techeles, which surely are required! (And as chief justices of courts, they had to be familiar with this law.) What connection did they see between the techeles of their garments and the obligation to add white strands to the corners? We could have expected them to argue that their garments required no additional techeles strand to accompany the others. Why, however, did they argue that no tzitzis of any color were required?

Here is an explanation. Imagine two acquaintances who are parting company. They exchange mementos of their friendship with each other. How they memorialize the time they spent with each other depends on the strength of their relationship. If they are ordinary friends, each will gift to the other something that will remind the recipient of the giver. This will ensure that he will not be forgotten. If, on the other hand, the bond between them is so strong that there is no chance that one will forget the other, each will present to the other something that bears some similarity to him. (Today, we would offer a photo.) When either one looks at the memento, his thoughts will be awash with fond memories. Those warm feelings are at least a partial substitute for the physical presence of his good friend – the next, best thing to being together.

The Torah writes that when one looks upon tzitzis, he remembers all of Hashem’s mitzvos. Remembering implies that something could otherwise be forgotten. Tzitzis therefore speak to the person who needs a reminder of his relationship with HKBH. His relationship is such that he needs to better focus, and be brought back to his recognition of Hashem. The efficacy of any such reminder is enhanced when it is something out of the ordinary – like tzitzis dangling from the corner of a garment.

Chazal comment on the color of techeles. Its blue hue is similar to that of the sea. The sea’s coloration is similar to that of the sky; the sky to the Heavenly throne. This is addressed to the person who does not need a reminder of the existence of Hashem. To the contrary, he is so bound to Him, that he wants desperately to feel himself in His presence. Through this chain of connections, techeles acts as a surrogate. It reminds the person of who Hashem is, through its similarity to His throne.

The person who needs a reminder of Hashem and His mitzvos is well-served by the tzitzis surrounding him on all sides. The person who is entirely love-struck by Hashem needs the techeles specifically to act, as it were, as Hashem’s avatar.

Korach et al confronted Moshe and asked whether a garment of techeles required tzitzis. Moshe appropriately responded that it did. They mocked the answer. “All of us stood at Sinai. We are all holy, and therefore bound inextricably with Hashem. We need no reminder of our relationship; it is firmly a part of ourselves. What we can use is techeles, to make ourselves feel His presence. If a single strand of techeles can do that, certainly an entire garment can do it. The tzitzis themselves are irrelevant to us.

They were, of course wrong. Wrong about the way halacha works, and wrong about their own madregah.

  1. Bamidbar 16:2
  2. Cited by Rashi