Sunday, November 18, 2012

Threads of Shabos

A friend told me about a story she heard from a once-Orthodox man, that when he was a child, the end of shabos, Saturday, was determined not by a clock but by the moment when one could no longer distinguish a red thread from a green thread in the evening light.  Now I think he said “someone”, no doubt meaning the same someone every week, who went out from the synagogue every few minutes, and held up the threads in the waning light, and when he himself could no longer distinguish green from red, he went back inside and announced that shabos was over.   The beauty in this story belongs to this privileged man, because the perception of color is profoundly affected by one’s mood, by one’s emotions.  And I imagine that he didn’t need to go outside too many times, because at that moment in his devotion when the feeling came on him that shabos was drifting away, he went outside and could not tell the green from the red.

Green and red are complements on the color wheel, that is, they sit opposite each other.  Here’s the traditional color wheel  concept (in a very lovely rendition by Jill Morton) for pigments (though not for computer graphics):  the three primary colors, red, blue, and yellow, can’t be derived by mixing other colors, something like primary numbers, and theoretically you only need these three.  You make secondary colors, green, orange, and purple, by mixing the two primaries next to them, and with judicious mixing you can have all the colors you could ever want.

When two complements are side by side in an image, or in your dress, or in nature, they enhance each other.  They maximize the contrast.  So you put your tomatoes in a green box to make them look very red, and you hold up a red and a green thread in diminishing light to be absolutely certain that shabos has quietly slipped away for the week.

1 comment:

  1. This is beautiful ... I want to carry that red and green thread in my heart from now on, so I will always know when the dusk has come. Lovely.