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Shabbat Parashat Bamidbar 5783

Parashat Hashavua: The Significance of a Flag and a Tallit

Harav Yosef Carmel

The Zionist Movement chose its flag in 1897 at the 1st Zionist Congress in Basil, and the State of Israel adopted it in 1948. It contains two stripes around a star of David in light blue (techelet) over a white background. The flag was chosen due to its connection to Jewish tradition.

Let us contemplate the flag’s significance, especially its color and its two stripes. Techelet has a very special place in Jewish tradition. The midrash tells us that techelet (from tzitzit) is reminiscent of the sea, which is reminiscent of the sky, which is reminiscent of the Divine Throne (Bamidbar Rabba 4:13).

The sky actually has no color; it and the sea are clear. Judaism believes in one invisible G-d. Therefore, it is no surprise that techelet resembles the Divine Throne and the existence of the Divine Presence, which is not palpable or visible, in our specific lives and throughout the world. Techelet is also the most appropriate color for the period between the splitting of the sea and the revelation at Sinai. The two techelet stripes on the flag represent that all Jews make up one nation, which consists of people with different shades and opinions. When they all come together as they should, the color that normally looks like techelet is actually clear.

Techelet is also the color of an important mitzva object – the tallit garment with tzitzit on its corners. Most tallitot have stripes on them, which is the true reason behind the flag’s similar image. Even if the founders of the Zionist movement did not intend it, I believe it was in their subconscious thoughts. The entire Nation of Israel gather under the “wings of the Divine Presence” like children who gather under their father’s tallit during Birkat Kohanim.

[We will now greatly condense, due to this forum’s space limitations, Rav Carmel’s retelling of a story he took part in during the Yom Kippur War. We can call the story, “The Tallit that Saved.” We recommended seeing the full story, in Hebrew or English please contact our office at info@eretzhemdah.org.]

On Yom Kippur of 1973, we were among the first tanks in our reserve battalion to counterattack Egyptian forces near the Suez Canal. We were undermanned and missing important equipment and were shocked along the way by signs of the destruction of Israeli forces. As we got closer to the canal, we saw, at a distance, infantry forces, about which we had been warned, running toward us. We shot at them but missed. The forces ran out of sight. A little later, two soldiers came out from behind a sand dune with what appeared to be a white flag. We saw no reason for Egyptian forces to surrender at this juncture and, considering it an apparent ploy, prepared to possibly shoot. Looking through my equipment, I noticed that it was not a simple white flag but it had stripes on it and realized it was a tallit. I told our commander, who warned the forces not to shoot. It turns out that there was a group of more than 20 survivors of an evacuated post on the canal who were trying to reunite with Israeli forces. The idea of the tallit to signal their identity was that of a high school classmate of mine. We saved the group. Although many (including my tank commander) did not survive the war, the owner of the “tallit that saved” brings it to shul every Yom Kippur to recall the miracle.   
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