While the overwhelming majority of Parshas Sh’lach (read last week in Israel and this week outside Israel) is about the sin of the spies, the last five verses deal with the mitzvah of Tzitzis and the famous blue thread called “t’cheiles”: “Speak to the children of Israel…that they shall make for themselves tzitzis on the corners of their garments…and they shall place upon the tzitzis of each corner a thread of t’cheiles (blue wool)…”
Believe it or not, I have been wearing t’cheiles for over 30 years. In those days, you could count the number of 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 Shabbos, 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 percent of the people had t’cheiles on their talis. 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 tzitzis had t’cheiles as part of his tzitzis. 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 tzitzis 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 concluded that the 2,000-year wait was over – t’cheiles 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 t’cheiles-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, the Arizal, Rashi, the Vilna Gaon, the Baal Shem Tov, Rav Kook, and the Chofetz Chaim – didn’t have the opportunity to wear t’cheiles. But we do. So why hasn’t the Torah world embraced this miracle?
Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz, in his sefer HaKoneh 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 g’dolim. What they say, we do, and on this issue – for various reasons – they have not been convinced of the authenticity of today’s t’cheiles and therefore do not wear it themselves. In Rabbi Lebowitz’s words (translated from the Hebrew): “Since g’dolei Yisrael do not wear this t’cheiles, it is proper for the nation to act as they do” (page 89).
With all due respect, I couldn’t disagree more. If the g’dolim ruled that one was forbidden to wear today’s t’cheiles, 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 t’cheiles; 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 that it’s 100 percent true. The debate over today’s t’cheiles 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 g’dolim do not support the State of Israel. They do not say Hallel on Yom HaAtzmaut, they do not sing HaTikvah, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find even one Israeli flag in the entire city of Bnei Brak. Their position on “the Medinah” is the same as on t’cheiles. They are not opposed (excluding Satmar) but certainly don’t endorse. They have representatives in the Knesset with whom they meet regularly, but they would never consider themselves Zionists.
To me and my fellow Religious Zionists, the events of 1948 were 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 as we fought for every inch 3,300 years ago, we have to fight for it now. In those days, 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 t’cheiles were revealed.
How can we not embrace these events? How can we go through life as if nothing happened? The last 75 years have been a revolution; from the establishment of the modern State to the discovery of a 2,000-year-old secret called t’cheiles. 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 our gratitude to our Father and King? My suggestion is to start with something simple, yet very powerful: Join the t’cheiles revolution – get those blue strings on today!
Am Yisrael Chai!