Alter Rebbe Blues
Continuing with the Optical Illusions theme from last week… Here’s a similar picture of the Alter Rebbe this time. The directions are the same: stare at the dot in the middle of the picture. Try not to blink or move your gaze anywhere. After about 20 seconds, the picture will change from blue to black and white, but if you focused well then you should see the Alter Rebbe in an eerily lifelike color! (While I don’t normally recommend sitting close to your screen, if you’re having problems seeing the color, it might help.) Try it out and then read on after the illusion for some interesting Kabbalah on the color blue!
So I explained last week why the color blue is being used for these illusions… Essentially it’s the “negative” of skin tone, so that’s what gives the after image the correct coloring. But the color blue has some pretty interesting associations in Judaism also (besides making the Alter Rebbe look incredibly like a smurf, lehavdil).
There are a few obvious references to the color blue within the Torah itself. The most common association has to do with “techeles,” the color blue that is supposed to be woven into a tzitzis and tallis. We don’t know the exact color blue in today’s age, so we’re waiting for Moshiach to come so Elijah the Prophet will tell us where to find the color again. Another reference to the color blue is in regards to the Temple times… we find that both the curtains of the Mishkan (the portable Temple in the desert) and the clothes of the Kohen Gadol (the High Priest) were woven with this same color blue. Another far less known reference to blue is made in the Torah’s account of a vision that was seen by the Elders of the people of Israel when they were in the desert, just prior to the Ten Commandments. You can read it in the text if you’d like, but it basically mentions that the Elders saw a vision of G-d and under His feet there was something that appeared to be a sapphire brick. The significance of this vision is talked about by people with far more experience in Torah and Kabbalah than I have, but it seems on the most basic level to be a symbol of the bricks that the children of Israel were making while enslaved in Egypt. I wonder if the sapphire is what gives the water and sky its blue color, Kabbalistcally speaking?
Interestingly, all three of these different references to the color blue are found within the gematria of the Hebrew word for this special blue, “techeles.” There are three words with the same numerical value: “shematem” (“you would hearken” – Gen 42:22), “vekidashtem” (“and sanctify them” - Ex 19:20), and “tinakesh” (“you shall be ensnared” - Deut 12:30). These three words respectively refer to each of the three instances of blue mentioned above… Shematem refers to tzitzis, a wearable reminder to “hearken” to all of G-d’s commandments. Vekidashtem refers to the Mishkan and the Kohen Gadol, extreme examples of holiness that represent the “sanctification” of the Jewish people. But tinakesh? Why does “ensnared” come in conjunction with two other holy ideas? And how does that refer to the vision of the Divine??
We find an interesting warning in the Zohar Chadash about the color blue: “All colors in visions are a good omen except for the color blue. It is the low color, and much ardent prayer must be exercised to avoid it.” (68:4) This holy color becomes dangerous somehow when we begin talking about the spiritual realms. We even see that in the vision of the Elders, the sapphire was under G-d’s foot, at the lowest place in the vision.
Considering that the most appropriate example of G-dliness manifested in our physical world is light (with light always being synonymous with the revelation of G-dliness), I think it’s worth it to take a look at the electromagnetic spectrum. This is a perfect example of science lending clues to the spiritual. Look at the visible light spectrum. On the right side, with the greater wave lengths, you’ll find red lights. Keep going to the right and there are the harmless waves that we use for radio communication. But go the opposite direction and you’ll find that the blues are on the left, with the “lower” wave length value. Keep heading to the left and look at what comes up as you go farther in that direction… Harmful UV rays, dangerous X-rays, and eventually deadly gamma rays. If light is a reflection (no pun intended) of the spiritual world, than it’s no wonder that the color blue is called the “low” or “sick” color, and should be avoided in visions and the like.
Fortunately, optical illusions definitely aren’t the type of visions that the Zohar Chadash is referring to, so go ahead and keep staring!