It is a small thing, the shell I hold in my hand. I wonder for the thousandth time how a miracle can be contained in such an insignificant and humble object.
Waves lap over my feet, caressing them with sand, and the warm breeze has already dried my shoulders, leaving a stiff rime of salt. But before dropping the shell into my woven bag, I gaze at it again, as if in hope that my intense scrutiny will reveal its mystery, and maybe the heart of Hashem, who created such an enigma.
Beyond the shore, other shell divers disappear in the azure waves, returning to the surface for air again and again and filling their bags with the precious shellfish. I plunge into the sea, enfolded in its watery embrace. Deeper and deeper I dive, to the place where the prize must be pried away from the rocks quickly, before my lungs falter.
My bag is soon full and I return to shore to empty it. Some of the other divers have paused to eat their bread, and I join them. My son was not among them yet. A hard worker, is my son, and will not rest until his work is complete.
My bread is hard but satisfying, and while I eat, I again ponder the seeming simplicity of my labour and its fruit, yet it was the fulfillment of the law given to us by Hashem, King of the Universe.
For enclosed within the unremarkable shell, was a treasure, a single drop, the life-blood of the small creature. The shell would be broken, shattered, to reveal the miniscule droplet. Hundreds, no thousands, would be harvested, to create the tekhelet, the blue dye for the fringes on the tallit, prayer shawl. The Talmud has commanded it to be so.
The secret of the Chilazon.
More valuable than gold, rarer than diamonds, it is an everlasting reminder of Hashem. Blue, deep blue. The sapphire sea, sweeping beyond the horizon into infinity, reflecting the canopy of cerulean sky, stretching into the heavens, a small portion of the magnitude of Hashem, the Creator of All, every grain of sand, each pearl of dew.
Although my simple mind cannot unravel the mysteries of the tallit, I know the knots and strands of the fringe number the commands given in the Talmud, so the shawl is a reminder to guard our hearts and eyes, to remain always covered by His wings, close to Hashem and His eternal goodness.
Shouting prods me from my pondering. Several men splash into the waves, their cries of “Zevulon, Zevulon” bringing me to my feet.
Zevulon, my son.
I run to the shore, where several men speak hysterically, gesturing wildly, like a flock of excited gulls. Zevulon has not surfaced.
The waves, they say, the strong tide. Perhaps, he was tired, his bag heavy. The details matter little, though, only Zevulon.
The younger, stronger men descend beneath the frothy crest. I can do nothing but stand and wait. And pray. Beneath the immense blueness of the sky, the thin strands of cloud flowing like snowy tassles, I pray. Protect Zevulon, please. Help the men find him, B’ezrat Hashem. God willing.
I hold my breath. I am well practiced from many years of diving for the shellfish, and I will my breath to Zevulon, urging him to wait, to rest in the depths of the ocean, as if in the depths of Hashem’s mercy.
It is an eternity. The water gently strokes my ankles.
The men return from the heaving ocean, diamonds of seawater sparkling on their shiny heads, rivulets of molten sunlight coursing down their backs.
They shake their heads.
I am pierced through. My only son, the joy of my heart.
For a moment, the sky seethes, dark roiling clouds of despair coiling around the sun, while inky waves churn angrily. I am overcome. And yet, like a comforting hand, a softness tears apart the storm, dissolving the swirling shadows. I breathe again, and I am calmed.
How costly is the blue dye, that sons might die for it. But also that I may know the rich extravagance and deep secrets of the Almighty, that He hides His presence in tiny shellfish, to remind us of the love that reaches beyond the heavens and peace that is more unfathomable than the bluest sea.
God is One.
I am under the mantle of Hashem.
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