The Keys to Life

The Positive and Negative Aspects of the Colors

One must not think, G-d forbid, that there are good and positive Spheres of Kindness, alongside evil and negative Spheres of Judgment;[1] they all originate from one absolute source of good. In fact, it is the opposite: the channel of Justice represents the ultimate truth, which is why the world was originally supposed to be created under this attribute. But instead, G-d combined the attribute of mercy, which comes from kindness, together with that of judgment originating from justice, and that is how He created His world. But according to man’s limited vision, the actions of the Spheres of Justice in our world only seem to be harsh, when in truth, everything is for the benefit of man—as our sages state in the Talmud, “All that the Merciful One does, He does for the good.”[2]

The same is true with regard to colors. Every color represents a good and effective root, provided that the person does not use it in a negative way. For example, the evil inclination, represented by black, is alluded to in the following statement in the Torah: “Very good.”[3] The one who uses it as an instrument in the service of G-d, by distancing himself from it, protecting himself against it, and overcoming all its temptations, is deemed “very good.” After all, if not for the evil inclination, the person would remain in the same situation without being able to elevate his soul or refine his character.

As we’ve said, black only absorbs light but does not give anything in return; therefore it gives off a negative impression. However, much to our amazement, tefillin have to be dyed black![4] However, this can be understood by referring to the teachings of the mystics.[5] Through the parshiyot (Torah portions) contained inside the tefillin chambers, and the straps that are wrapped around the hand and head, dangling from the neck to the chest, a person can connect to the Eternal Light when wearing the tefillin. This occurs as the tefillin absorb and infuse the abundance of the higher illumination and its radiance into the body through the soul of the person who’s wearing them.

We know that the correct use of black, which absorbs light more than any other color, causes it to function spiritually in a very powerful way that benefits man. This idea is so significant that we were instructed to use the color black exclusively for the tefillin chambers, the straps, and the letters of the parshiyot.[6] Therefore, anyone who inscribes the letters of the parshiyot in any other color, even gold, renders them unfit, despite his good intentions.[7] This resembles a person trying to conduct electricity by using an expensive substance that cannot perform that function. This is also the reason the letters of the Torah are written in black ink, and a person who looks at the letters when the Torah scroll is lifted before or after the Torah readings will draw onto himself a supreme enlightenment, as explained in the words of the Arizal.[8]

There’s another element in this matter. The right strap of the head tefillin is longer than the left one. This is because kindness (the channel of the right-sided spheres) and judgments (the left-sided channel) that come down to the world will descend in such a manner that kindness will come in great abundance while judgments will be limited; this is reflected by the idea that the left hand rejects while the right hand embraces.[9] This is one small example of the inherent depth contained in each and every halachah.

Every force in the world must be connected to the service of G-d, since that is its purpose. As it states in the Mishnah, “And you shall love Hashem your G-d in all your hearts.”[10] “In all your hearts” means with both your inclinations—good and evil. Even if an act such as taking or absorbing seems negative, it can be channeled in a positive way by absorbing illumination and holiness from the Eternal Light that endlessly sustains us.

Moreover, the Zohar says that the physical world is made in such a way that the structure of every element in nature, or even the difference that exists between two structures that are seemingly similar, is made in accordance with the spiritual specification unique to each element.[11] For example, in a study conducted on human eyesight, differences were discovered between men and women in their ability to see.[12] Women proved to have better eyesight than men. This factor gives the woman the ability to properly observe the mitzvah of family purity.

While men can only differentiate between seven colors, most women can make a distinction between ten.[13] Even color blindness is more common in men. A comprehensive study found that the number of men suffering from color blindness is almost double than that of women.[14] It has also been proven that this type of blindness (among other things) impairs the ability to identify blood that’s mixed with other bodily fluids (the most common form of color blindness is described as the inability to distinguish between red and green or identify them properly).[15]

As we know, the laws pertaining to family purity require a keen sense in distinguishing between colors.[16] These laws pertain mostly to the woman. Therefore, she’s the one who has received this ability to distinguish between the colors, and is generally better than the man at determining quantity and quality.


Notes and Sources

[1] In the same vein, one should not mistakenly think that the root of the female is justice and is therefore negative—in the way that Catholicism forbids its priests, bishops, and popes to marry a woman. Rather, as explained in a number of places in this book, the perfection of man is achieved by the union of a man and a woman living together according to the instructions of the Creator.

[2] Berachot 60a. See Pesikta Rabbati, ch. 40.

[3] Bereishit Rabbah 9: “‘Behold, it was good’ refers to the Good Desire. ‘And behold, it was very good’ refers to the Evil Desire.”

[4] “The tefillin must be square and black. This is the law that Moshe received at Sinai” (Jerusalem Talmud, Megillah 32b, ch. 4 halachah 9). See also Babylonian Talmud, Menachot 35a.

[5] Refer to the Ben Ish Chai (Rabbi Yosef Chaim), Shanah Rishonah, Vayera, Chayei Sarah.

[6] Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 32:3.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Shaar HaKavanot, Pri Etz Chaim, Drushei Sefer Torah, ch. 1, “It was my teacher’s custom to kiss the sefer Torah and walk behind it until they’d open up the scroll and display it to the public, at which point he would concentrate on staring at the actual letters. He would say that by staring at the letters closely enough for one to be able to read them clearly, a person is in fact drawing a great light onto himself.” Refer to Kaf HaChaim, Orach Chaim, siman 134, halachah 1, seif katan 10. Refer to The Way of G-d, part 4, ch. 2, regarding the illumination and influence related to the words of the holy Torah.

[9] Sotah 47a.

[10] Berachot 9:1.

[11] Zohar, Terumah 161a, “He looked inside the Torah and created the world.”

[12] One of the most important and recent studies in this area was K. A. Jameson, Highnote, S. M., and Wasserman, L. M., “Richer Color Experience in Observers with Multiple Photopigment Opsin Genes,” Psychonomic Bulletin and Review 8, no. 2 (2001): 244–261.

[13] If these studies were indeed accurate, it would be appropriate to indicate the explanation above in the section on the spheres that the ten spheres are divided into three primary spheres and seven lower spheres. A woman, who is spiritually more corrected than a man and is therefore exempt from many mitzvot (see “The Status of a Woman in Judaism”), can see ten colors, out of which there are three colors that the man lacks the ability to see.

[14] Researcher George Wald recognized this fact and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1967 for his research in this area. His lecture can be read at

[15] M. J. Reiss et al., “Impact of Color Blindness on Recognition of Blood in Body Fluids,” Archives of Internal Medicine 161, no. 3 (2001): 461–465.

[16] Refer to the Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 177. 

Adapted from “The Keys to Life” by Rabbi Zamir Cohen


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