Ben-Tzion Spitz
Former Chief Rabbi of Uruguay

Biblical Fiction: The Case of the Missing Tekhelet

“Talman, did you hear what Aaron said to me?” Dorem beamed. “He said it was a perfect fit!”

Dorem, a tall and lanky older man, tenderly carried the apron-like garment through the makeshift marketplace. Dorem and Talman had just left Aaron’s tent and were making their way to the center of the Israelite camp, where the building effort for the sanctuary and the preparation of the priestly garbs were well underway.

“This Ephod,” Dorem motioned to the garment in his hands, “will be my crowning achievement. Imagine, to have crafted the garment to be worn by the High Priest of Israel! This garment may very well be handed down from generation to generation, until the end of time!”

Talman nodded in silent agreement as they made their way back to their work area. They entered a large, circular clearing with various men and women dying, weaving and sewing threads. In the very middle of the clearing was an assortment of supplies. Talman could hear the sawing of wood and the banging of metal in the distance.

Dorem gently placed the garment on his work table, and sat down on his stool.

“Talman, let us start working on the straps of the Ephod. Pass me the linen threads.”

Talman dutifully passed Dorem a long thread made of linen, still attached to a small spool.

“Now the scarlet wool and the purple thread.”

Talman passed him two more threads.

“Now the tekhelet – the blue thread.”

“Um, Dorem,” Talman coughed, “the tekhelet is not here.”

“What?!” Dorem exclaimed. “What do you mean it is not here?”

“It appears to be missing,” Talman mumbled.

“Where could it be? It was right there!” Dorem pointed at the floor near the other spools. “That was a very valuable spool – do you know how long it took the dyers to make that tekhelet thread? It is easily the most expensive thread. Someone must have stolen it!”

“Thief!” Dorem stood up and started yelling. “Thief! Someone has stolen my tekhelet! Quick Talman, look around the clearing. See if you can find who took it. Perhaps they are still nearby.”

Before Talman took a step, a grey-haired, fit-looking man approached Dorem with a quick but stately gait.

“What seems to be the problem, Dorem?” he asked.

“Oh, Prince Nethaniel,” Dorem stammered. “I would not want to trouble you with such a trivial matter, but someone has stolen our spool of tekhelet thread.”

“One of my duties as a judge is to solve such problems,” Nethaniel stated. “Are you sure that it was stolen?”

“Yes. It was right here when we left to fit the Ephod on Aaron. When my assistant Talman and I returned, it was gone.”

“I see,” Nethaniel held his sparsely-bearded chin. “Is it possible one of the many other artisans here in the clearing borrowed it?”

“It is possible,” Dorem answered. “There are several other people that also require tekhelet.”

“I would suggest that we visit them,” Nethaniel motioned. “Perhaps then we shall find clues to your missing tekhelet.”

“Let us go to Ramit first,” Dorem pointed to the left. “She is responsible for making Aaron’s robe, which is completely made out of tekhelet. She requires the most. She would be my first suspect.”

Dorem led Nethaniel and Talman to a white-haired, thin woman, bent over a loom.

“There it is!” Dorem pointed at a large, two feet tall spool of blue thread next to the loom.

“Dorem!” Ramit said, “What are you bothering me about?”

“You stole my tekhelet, woman, and I want it back!”

“Your tekhelet? What are you talking about? This is my tekhelet!”

“Excuse me,” Nethaniel interrupted. “Dorem, Ramit, do you mind if I ask a few questions?” They both shook their heads.

“Ramit, how long have you been working on this loom with this spool of tekhelet?”

“Honored prince,” Ramit bowed lightly. “I have been working on this loom with this tekhelet – my tekhelet –  continuously since day break. Dorem is clearly mistaken.”

Dorem started to argue but Nethaniel raised his arm to silence him.

“Talman,” Nethaniel turned to the young man. “In your opinion, is this the spool that you and Dorem worked with today?”

“No, sir,” Talman responded. “It is clearly a different spool. Our spool was about half the size of this one.”

“Ramit,” Nethaniel turned back to her. “I apologize for our intrusion. We shall stop bothering you and continue our investigation. Have a good day, and compliments on the beautiful work.”

Ramit rose to say farewell.

“Why thank you, honored prince. It is no bother at all.”

Nethaniel took Dorem by the arm and said to him quietly:

“Dorem, I would suggest you let me handle the discussions with suspects. It will not do to throw accusations around blindly. Am I understood?”

“Yes, sir,” Dorem looked at his feet. “I apologize for my outburst. It is just that we really need that tekhelet. It is valuable and also critical for finishing the Ephod.”

“Do not fear. We shall find it. Who else needs it for their work?”

“Shalke. Shalke is working on the Hoshen – the breastplate. He might have taken it.”

“Lead the way then.”

Dorem led Nethaniel and Talman across the clearing. They passed the central storage area. Seamstresses were placing beautiful, long, white linen robes on top of the other supplies.

“There is Shalke,” Dorem pointed out.

“Thank you,” Nethaniel said. “Both of you; please come with me, and let me handle the questions.”

The group approached a short, middle-aged man sitting at a workbench, weaving threads into a rectangular pattern.

“Good day, Shalke,” Nethaniel addressed him.

Shalke stood up quickly from his bench and bowed deeply. “Good day, Prince Nethaniel. How might I be of service?”

“We are seeking the whereabouts of a spool of tekhelet thread that was being utilized by Dorem and Talman, who, as I am sure you know, are working on the Ephod.”

“Well as you can see,” Shalke pointed at his workbench, “I have only taken the amount of threads I calculated that I would need. I took it from the spool in the central storage area. Perhaps check with Malia; she also has need of tekhelet.”

“Thank you, Shalke,” Nethaniel bowed slightly. “By the way, where on the breastplate is the stone from my tribe to be placed?”

“Oh, the stone of the tribe of Yissachar is right here,” Shalke pointed at one of twelve slots on the breastplate. “Second down from the top, middle row. Your stone is the sapphire. It’s a beautiful stone, very much like the tekhelet in color.”

“Yes. Well, thank you for your assistance, and we wish you good luck with your fine work.”

“Thank you.”

Nethaniel led Dorem and Talman away from Shalke.

“What does Malia do?” Nethaniel asked them.

“Malia is working on the hem of Aaron’s robe,” Dorem answered. “That also needs tekhelet.”

“Then let us speak with Malia.”

“This way,” Dorem led them.

They passed the central storage area again. Nethaniel stopped and looked curiously at the linen robes.

“What beautiful workmanship,” Nethaniel commented. “These are pure linen? And what an interesting pattern. There are to be five of these? One for Aaron, and four for his sons?”

“Yes,” Dorem answered.

“Why did they leave them here?” Nethaniel asked.

“That was Betzalel’s instruction,” Dorem explained. “He wanted a centralized location for all the supplies and materials; a station for everyone to leave their completed portions for quick and easy review. I think it also motivates us to see the progress and hustle and bustle.”

“Brilliant!” Nethaniel exclaimed. “That boy is truly a wonder! I knew he was the right choice. Now tell me Dorem, did you really need the entire spool of tekhelet for your work on the Ephod?”

“Em,” Dorem mumbled. “Not really. But I am not a mathematical genius like Shalke; I couldn’t compute how much thread I would need and just cut it. That is why I needed the whole spool with me.”

“You mean your work did not require the use of a full spool?” Nethaniel asked.

“Um, Betzalel had suggested that the bulk materials stay in the central area, but I am so close; I thought that if anyone else came looking for thread, they could just take it from my station.”

“So you are telling me that you originally took a spool against Betzalel’s directives, placed it by your workstation, and now someone has taken it from you?”

“Yes,” Dorem looked down.

“Point out Malia’s station to me,” Nethaniel ordered.

“Right there, next to Ramit,” Dorem pointed.

“I do not see any spools by her.”

“No,” Dorem agreed. “But she does not really need so much material.”

“When you left to fit the Ephod on Aaron, did you clear your worktable?”

“Of course,” Dorem lifted his chin. “I always leave a clean and neat workspace.”

“So a casual observer might have determined that you had completed your work?” Nethaniel asked.


“Did you inform anyone before you left that you had not finished, or ask them to watch over your materials, including the precious tekhelet?”

“No. Why would I? I would never have suspected my brothers of stealing.”

“Is that so? At the first sign that something was amiss, you started yelling ‘Thief! Thief!’ for all to hear.”

“Well, what else could it be? It is not where I left it and none of the other artisans have it. Are you suggesting that I am at fault?”

“Yes. The case is clear to me now,” Nethaniel looked again at the linen robes.

“What have I done wrong? Where is the tekhelet?”

“Your first error was to deviate from Betzalel’s guidelines. Your second error was to leave your station before returning the spool of tekhelet to its proper place. Your third and most troubling error was to accuse your brothers of theft. You were then so desperate to reclaim your tekhelet that you could not even distinguish between the original spool and Ramit’s, which was twice its size.”

“I am sorry,” Dorem clasped his hands together. “I knew moving the spool was wrong and then I panicked when I did not see it again. But where is it? I must know!”

“Dorem, you will often find that the things you seek are often right under your nose.” Nethaniel grabbed one of the linen robes and lifted it up. Underneath it was a spool of tekhelet thread, about a foot in height.

“My tekhelet!” Dorem exclaimed and rushed to pick it up.

“No,” Nethaniel put up his hand. “It is not your tekhelet. It is the tekhelet of the children of Israel, a small part of which has been entrusted to you for this holy work. You must revise your viewpoint if you are to successfully complete this work. And you must measure out the amount of thread you need over here, in the central station. I am sure Talman is fully capable of helping you with this task.”

“Yes, Prince Nethaniel,” Dorem bowed repeatedly. “You are wise and just. It was foolish of me to consider it my personal property or project. I am truly sorry and I shall make amends to Ramit for yelling at her and to all those in the clearing for yelling ‘Thief!’ But how did you know? How did you know it was right here?”

“Because of your irresponsibility. Once I understood that you had deviated from the norm, and compounded your error by leaving communal material by your station, I surmised that someone else, most probably Malia, must have also had need of the tekhelet while you were away. Malia did not find it in the central storage area where it should have been. She then searched the entire clearing, finding it by your station. Malia then took the amount of thread that she needed and returned the tekhelet back to its proper place so that others in need would find it. Subsequently, someone placed the linen robes on top of the spool, which hid them from plain sight. So the guilty party to your accusations is none other than yourself.”

“I am shamed,” Dorem’s shoulders dropped. “My laziness has caused me loss of time and embarrassment.”

“Do not be sad or upset. Learn from this. Be more considerate of both others and communal property. You have important work to do. I consider this case closed. And I look forward to seeing what I am sure will be a beautiful Ephod, together with the other priestly garments, on our brother Aaron, soon to be High Priest!”

* * * * * *

Biblical Sources:

Exodus 28:1-8; 15-21; 31-33

1 And bring thou near unto thee Aaron thy brother, and his sons with him, from among the children of Israel, that they may minister unto Me in the priest’s office, even Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron’s sons. 2 And thou shalt make holy garments for Aaron thy brother, for splendor and for beauty. 3 And thou shalt speak unto all that are wise-hearted, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, that they make Aaron’s garments to sanctify him, that he may minister unto Me in the priest’s office. 4 And these are the garments which they shall make: a breastplate, and an ephod, and a robe, and a tunic of chequer work, a mitre, and a girdle; and they shall make holy garments for Aaron thy brother, and his sons, that he may minister unto Me in the priest’s office. 5 And they shall take the gold, and the tekhelet, and the purple, and the scarlet, and the fine linen.

6 And they shall make the ephod of gold, of tekhelet, and purple, scarlet, and fine twined linen, the work of the skilful workman. 7 It shall have two shoulder-pieces joined to the two ends thereof, that it may be joined together. 8 And the skillfully woven band, which is upon it, wherewith to gird it on, shall be like the work thereof and of the same piece: of gold, of tekhelet, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen.

15 And thou shalt make a breastplate of judgment, the work of the skilful workman; like the work of the ephod thou shalt make it: of gold, of tekhelet, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen, shalt thou make it. 16 Four-square it shall be and double: a span shall be the length thereof, and a span the breadth thereof. 17 And thou shalt set in it settings of stones, four rows of stones: a row of carnelian, topaz, and smaragd shall be the first row; 18 and the second row a carbuncle, a sapphire, and an emerald; 19 and the third row a jacinth, an agate, and an amethyst; 20 and the fourth row a beryl, and an onyx, and a jasper; they shall be enclosed in gold in their settings. 21 And the stones shall be according to the names of the children of Israel, twelve, according to their names; like the engravings of a signet, every one according to his name, they shall be for the twelve tribes.

31 And thou shalt make the robe of the ephod all of tekhelet. 32 And it shall have a hole for the head in the midst thereof; it shall have a binding of woven work round about the hole of it, as it were the hole of a coat of mail that it be not rent. 33 And upon the skirts of it thou shalt make pomegranates of tekhelet, and of purple, and of scarlet, round about the skirts thereof; and bells of gold between them round about.

About the Author
Ben-Tzion Spitz is the former Chief Rabbi of Uruguay. He is the author of six books of Biblical Fiction and hundreds of articles and stories dealing with biblical themes. He is the publisher of Torah.Works, a website dedicated to the exploration of classic Jewish texts, as well as TweetYomi, which publishes daily Torah tweets on Parsha, Mishna, Daf, Rambam, Halacha, Tanya and Emuna. Ben-Tzion is a graduate of Yeshiva University and received his Master’s in Mechanical Engineering from Columbia University.