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Israel-Gaza War 5784: Tetzaveh – All the Colors Will Bleed Into One

This week’s Torah portion is…colorful.

Tetzaveh continues describing the contents of the portable sanctuary, the mishkan. It also describes the garments that the cohanim, the priests, will wear as they serve in the mishkan. These garments will comprise the same three colors used in the screen for the mishkan entrance and the curtain separating the innermost sanctum from the rest of the mishkan: blue, purple, and crimson.

Then the Torah describes the ritual that will inaugurate both the mishkan and the priestly service. This ritual involves putting the blood of sacrificed animals on the altar and the extremities (thumbs, big toes, and earlobes) of the kohanim. This is something foreign and perhaps even repulsive to modern-day people, although one possible exception is when friends, usually male, cut themselves and commingle their blood to become “blood brothers.”

So even today, there is a remnant of an ancient mindset that saw blood as both binding and sacred. Perhaps this is because it is so linked with both life and death. Blood carries oxygen and other nutrients throughout our bodies, giving us life. Without blood, we cannot survive. The ancients may not have had our knowledge of bacteria and viruses, cancers and immune systems, but they knew that when you lost enough blood, you died.

Here the cohanim, through sharing sacrificial blood also poured on the altar, are bound in sacred service to Hashem, who will meet the children of Israel in the mishkan. What does that have to do with the three colors, blue, purple, and crimson, used in both curtains and priestly clothing?

Blue is the color of blood inside the body. When it leaves the body and is exposed to air, it turns red. Blue is living blood; red is blood leaving the body; if enough of it leaves us, we perish. ZAKA, the Israeli search and rescue organization, collects even the blood of accident and terror victims. It must be buried with the rest of the body, for it will be needed in the resurrection that Judaism believes will happen in days to come.

And purple? Purple results when blue and red are mixed together. When life and death combine. But how can these two opposite states coexist?

Judaism is big on separations and distinctions. At the end of the Sabbath, we remember that G-d distinguishes between the sacred and the mundane, between light and darkness. Many of the ritual laws enforce a separation between life, both real and symbolic, and death. Sex is forbidden during menstruation, for menstruation happens when there is no fertilized egg to become a life, while the purpose of sex is to create life. Cohanim may not handle dead bodies or enter a cemetery, save for a close relative, for the job of a cohen is to sanctify life.

In some mysterious way, for our ancestors, the sacrificial service worked to do this. The blood of sacrificial animals was seen as substituting for our own blood. The blue and crimson reminded us of both the separation between death and life, and the fact that the two coexisted, often with only a very thin veil between them.

But what about the purple, the blending of crimson and blue?

Judaism, despite its emphasis on separations, is not a dualistic religion. There is not, as in other religions, a power that is good and a power that is evil. Satan is not G-d’s enemy and separated from Him, but a member of his staff, as it were, a prosecuting attorney who has his place in the system, testing the faith of G-d’s followers (see: the Book of Job). Judaism believes that G-d created light and darkness, good and evil. It seems both are needed.

Our sages say that were it not for the evil inclination, no man would build a house, take a wife, beget a family, and engage in work. We need enough ambition and desire for material goods to work for them, but not to steal them. We need enough lust to marry and have children, but not to commit adultery or rape. We need enough anger to fight injustice and protect ourselves and others, but not to murder. We are not to try to eliminate our evil inclinations, but to sublimate them to a good end.

Islamic terrorists have claimed to love death like their enemies love life. Both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority teach their children from a young age that their highest aspiration is martyrdom while murdering Israelis. Israelis prize life and celebrate it. They are the first on the scene of a disaster to render aid, even in countries thousands of miles away. They pursue cutting-edge medicine to cure every conceivable illness. They treat everyone in their hospitals. Family members of Ismail Haniyeh, head of Hamas’ political bureau, are currently receiving care in an Israeli hospital.

The divide between Israel and its enemies is stark. On October 7th, in an explosion of rage, lust, and greed, both Hamas fighters and Gaza civilians looted, raped, kidnapped, and murdered. Red blood in the houses of kibbutzim and the cars of fleeing festival-goers testified to the death and destruction. We know that since then, hostages have died or been killed in captivity. We pray that many still have the blue blood that means life flowing in their veins.

And on October 7th, police officers, soldiers, kibbutz security teams, and ordinary civilians died fighting the terrorists, treating wounded, protecting others. They died that others might live. As in the ancient mishkan sacrifices, their blood substituted for others’ blood.

We want the IDF and our leaders to be angry enough to fight Hamas to utter defeat and to bring home the remaining hostages, but not angry enough to murder civilians, harm them, or loot their belongings. We want to fight for life to the very best of our ability, not for death.

Innocents died on October 7th, and die now in Gaza. The reality Israel must work with is that Hamas is embedded with civilians to an extent unmatched in any other war in history. Because we do not have G-dly powers to miraculously separate the innocent from the guilty, inevitably blue will mix with red. Innocent life will bleed and die. It is a tragedy and it is also part of the universe that G-d created. Maybe some day we will understand why.

For now, we can only accept that despite our best efforts, blue and red will sometimes bleed into each other. We are obligated, to the extent possible, to separate the two, to sanctify life and prevent death where we can. We eagerly wait for olam haba, the world to come, where death will not destroy life, where purple will become part of the sanctification of G-d’s name, a time beyond present understanding.

I have spoke with the tongue of angels
I have held the hand of a devil…
I believe in the Kingdom Come
Then all the colors will bleed into one…
—U2, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”

About the Author
I was born in Washington, DC, and raised in the suburbs, but now reside in the temperate rain forest of the Pacific Northwest. I am a retired editor and proud Zionist. I can be found at https://kosherkitty.wordpress.com/about/ and @KosherKitty1.
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