At the end of this week’s portion, we read the commandment to place tzitzit (knotted fringes) on our four-cornered garments. Today, we tie these to the four corners of our tallit. They are meant as reminders not to stray from the commandments.
The portion instructs us to place a blue thread, tekhelet, on each tzitzit. The midrash explains: “The blue reminds us of the sea, which in turn reminds us of the sky, which in turn reminds us of God’s throne in Heaven.”
Historically, for quite some time until fairly recently, tekhelet has not been a part of our tzitzit. The tekhelet dye had to be derived from a particular snail, and the tradition as to which snail it was and how the dye was to be prepared was forgotten. Even in Talmudic times when the tradition was still known, not everyone was able to afford tekhelet. The Talmud declared that tzitzit are kosher even without the blue string. Recently, through archeological research, many include tekhelet in their tzitzit again, but this renewed practice has yet to become universal.
In the absence of tekhelet, where are we to get the reminder of God’s holy throne? How will wearing tzitzit remind us to observe God’s commandments?
It is convenient to have reminders. But we have a responsibility to remind ourselves of our holy values without relying on external props. The mere performance of tzitzit should be enough to remember the other commandments as well.
And we can always meditate on the wondrous connection we have with nature and with our Creator just by stepping outside and appreciating our beautiful surroundings.