I can’t imagine doing what my son Yair recently did. Bungee jumping off a bridge over an Ecuadorian gorge hundreds of feet deep is incomprehensible to me. I could barely muster the courage to accompany my younger son, Gilad, on “Treetop Adventures” near Turtleback Zoo in New Jersey. Balancing on a rickety bridge just a few feet above the soft ground (and securely holstered) seemed as daunting to me as walking a tightrope across the Grand Canyon. My fear of heights was outstripped only by my fear of being forever labeled a wimpy dad. But in order to accomplish anything in life, you have to be willing sometimes to take a leap of faith that is not justifiable by rational arguments.
And so, when I received a call from my old friend Joel Guberman one cold and rainy winter night asking if I wanted to join him and another friend, Ari Greenspan, to go scuba diving to help some rabbi find snails that had once produced the biblical blue color, tekhelet, I might well have politely declined. Waking up at two o’clock on a Friday morning to travel to the coastal town of Acco, then diving into a frigid, choppy sea in search of some mollusk whose gland contained a dye used in antiquity, could easily have been forgone. But the three of us decided to take the plunge – quite literally. And our lives have never been the same.
That day on the beach marked the beginning of a twenty-plus year adventure that is still unfolding today. Working together with Rabbi Eliyahu Tevger, we have dedicated much of our time and efforts to researching the lost biblical commandment to wear a cord of blue along with the white threads on the tzitzit. What started as a curiosity soon became a passion, then an obsession, and has in many ways shaped my very identity. My wife and I describe the journey in depth in our recent book, The Rarest Blue.
Long before our involvement in the story, Rabbi Soloveitchik discussed the symbolism of the colors of the tzitzit strings attached to the hem of one’s clothes. White, he suggested, represents what is clear and understandable, that which we can grasp and control, all that is logical. Blue, the color of the infinite sky and vast ocean, represents the unfathomable, the mysterious, the depths which are beyond our reach and beyond our control. Life is made up of both white and blue. There are times when things are clear and make sense, when everything seems to be going according to plan. But we have all experienced “blue periods” as well, when the events in our lives don’t seem to make much sense or to be going along the path we would have expected or hoped for, and we are confused and unsure.
The blue and white of the Israeli flag highlights this imagery. On the one hand, the State of Israel is the expression of the Jewish people’s desire to take control of their destiny – to prepare a logical path forward in terms of realpolitik – with budgets and foreign policies, defense spending and economic planning. This is the white of the flag. But the blue stripes, which remind us of the stripes of the tallit, underscore the inexplicable in our existence, the uncertainty that runs through all of Jewish history, and reminds us that the path that has brought us here defies logical explanation.
Our lives will inevitably encounter patches of blue. We will find opportunities to travel an unexpected, unfamiliar path with an uncertain outcome. How will we respond when faced with a new, unsure prospect? Will we decline, preferring the familiar and reasonably predictable, or will we take a chance and jump right in? Sometimes you can overthink an option, ever so carefully weighing the odds of success against the risks of failure. But over-deliberation can lead to a paralysis that can be mistaken for caution, and that in the end may lead to missed opportunities and regret. Maybe bungee jumping is not the best example, but life is too short to forgo possibilities just because the odds are that you might not succeed.