Shaya Cohen -


What is the Big Deal About a Black Hair?

“Democracy Dies in Darkness” is more than a cute phrase. Corruption thrives when things are hidden, when they are unseen. Darkness is when confusion, underhanded dealing, stolen elections and embezzlement all thrive.

The solution is found through transparency and light. Rumors are expunged when they are examined in the light of day. But in the darkness, rumors and uncertainty and loss of faith instead proliferate, undermine, and ultimately corrupt.

There is even a very obscure Torah source that supports this very contention. In the midst of some of the most esoteric parts of Leviticus, there are two mentions of black (shachar) hair, and only two other uses of the same word in the Torah. First, the black hair:

But if the priest finds that the scall affection does not appear to go deeper than the skin, yet there is no black (shachar) hair in it, the priest shall isolate the person with the scall affection for seven days.

In this case, the absence of a grown black (shachar) hair means the person is not yet cured of their malady.

But if the scall has remained unchanged in color, and black (shachar) hair has grown in it, the scall is healed; the person is spiritually ready. The priest shall pronounce that person spiritually ready.

In this case, the presence of the grown black (shachar) hair means that the person is spiritually cured. They are once again ready to enter the assembly, and approach the tabernacle. Which means that the presence of black hair is good, and the absence of black hair is bad.

The question asks itself: why? What possible symbolic meaning is found in a black hair that suggests that a person with a spiritual malady is now in the clear?

An answer can be found by doing nothing more than looking at other examples of where the word for “black” (shachar) is found in the text of the Torah. There are, as it turns out, only two of them – and the contexts appear to be wildly different than that of the spiritual malady! Here they are:

1: The angels tell Lot he needs to leave because the city will be destroyed. The townspeople are struck with blindness, so they cannot see either. Lot fails to convince his sons-in-law that he is serious; darkness (shachar) is a time of confusion. Lot dithers up until the very last moment – which is when the darkness (shachar) lifts (usually translated as “dawn breaking.”) The word for “darkness” is the same one, shachar,  as “black” in the black hair! Which means that the lifting of darkness brings clarity.

2: Jacob wrestles with the “man” at night, until darkness (shachar) lifts – and his opponent says, “release me, because darkness (shachar) is lifting.” His opponent, apparently, can only be engaged with Jacob when it is dark.

What does it mean? For both Lot and Jacob, the lifting of the darkness (and the coming of day) represents the end of confusion and uncertainty. With dawn comes clarity and certain knowledge. Sodom will be destroyed. Jacob will move forward as Isaac’s spiritual heir. Sodom, the place where people treat each other poorly, will be ended. The rivalry and dangerous situation between two brothers, Jacob and Esau will be resolved.

So too the spiritual malady that comes specifically from treating others poorly (spanning the gamut from gossip to murder) is clarified with the growth of the black hair – just like the lifting of the darkness at the dawn. When darkness lifts, evil is vanquished.

[an @iwe, @susanquinn, @blessedblacksmith and @eliyahumasinter work]

2 replies on “What is the Big Deal About a Black Hair?”

This is beautiful! My only question is, when darkness is lifted by Lot and Jacob, the clarity there is being alluded to by the darkness going away. In Leviticus, the lifting of darkness speaking of an appearance of darkness, not a disappearance.

Because it is not the presence of the black hair – it is the fact that it grew. The growing of the black hair is like the lifting of the darkness. Both involve black going UP.

Comments are welcome!

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