The Colors of Royalty

In Parshat Tetzave, we learn about the special clothing that would be needed for Aharon and his sons, Nadav, Avihu, Elazar and Itamar and the future Kohanim (Priests) that would come after them.

The items of clothing as well as the materials and colors that were used- techelet (blue), argaman (purple) and tola’at hashani (crimson) remind us of the clothing of royalty from Biblical times and beyond.

One item that specifically stands out is the Meil (Robe of the Ephod) in Shmot 28:31:

Make the Meil (robe) of the Ephod (garment that Aharon wore on top of the tunic and robe) completely out of techelet (blue wool).

Techelet is extremely expensive as its dye comes from the Chilazon, a snail which many scientists today believe is the murex trunculus. To dye an entire robe with techelet would take a tremendous amount of snails and cost a fortune.

Rashi emphasizes that the Meil did not have any other kind of material aside from techelet mixed into it.

Rashbam explains that the Meil was specifically techelet (like the strings of the tzizit) and not argaman or tola’at hashani (which are not required to come from a specific snail) since we learn in the Talmud, Menachot 43b concerning the tzizit: The techelet is similar in color to the sea, and the sea is similar to the sky and the sky is similar to the Throne of Glory.

In the Talmud, Menachot 44a, the rabbis taught that the Chilazon’s body resembles the sea, its form resembles a fish, it emerges once in seventy years and with its blood (mucus) one dyes wool techelet (sky blue for tzizit). It is scarce and therefore it is expensive.

Both techelet and argaman continued to be the colors of royalty. According to the Ptil Tekhelet timeline, Caesar (100 BCE-44 CE) and Augustus (63 BCE-14 CE) restricted the use of dyes and Nero (37-68 CE) decreed that only the emperor had the exclusive right to wear blue and purple. Under Constantine (272-337 CE) the restrictions against using techelet were strictly enforced. An edict in 383 CE by Gratian,Valentinian and Theodosius made the manufacture of higher quality purple and blue a state monopoly.

We see from here that the respect for techelet went beyond the Jewish religion. Techelet was a universal color of royalty and it was therefore fitting that the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) would wear a Meil made exclusively of techelet when he entered the restricted area.

May we merit to see the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) speedily in our days and the return of the service of the Kohanim in their royal garments.