The Symbolism of Color

At their core, the aspirations of different movements can be understood by the colors they choose. In some ways, the sea of blue at the Washington rally for Israel was indicative not just of support for a country – but of support for an ideal. A blue and white ideal.

So why do people choose the colors they choose? Sometimes the colors themselves aren’t so important. The Nazis used red and black because the Germany Empire and the North German Confederacy did. The German entities chose these colors to represent the Prussians (Black and White) and Hanseatic League (Red). Those color choices stretch back to the 13th century. The Nazis were just referencing that history – trying to draw on a mystical German history while embracing the idea of German Imperium.

Many other times the choices are explicitly about the colors themselves.

The American flag uses red for valor and hardiness (a subtle reference to blood), white for purity and innocence and blue for vigilance and justice. The blue is far darker than that used on Israel’s flag. It is a color of a night sky – embedded with stars.

The Soviets chose red and gold. In the hands of the radical left, the red harkens back to a Middle Ages tradition of a flying bloody flag to indicate that no quarter would be given during battle. It is a flag of blood and combat and revolt. The USSR continued an already long tradition of it serving that purpose. One can’t help but imagine that the old red Hanseatic flags – representing a league of mutual protection – served a similar role. Perhaps the gold hammer and sickle was meant to indicate material wealth for farmers and workers – as insane as that might seem today.

The Pan-Arab colors – used in the Palestinian flag among others – are red, green, black and white. One explanation is that these colors are derived from the colors of different caliphates – essentially harkening back to old empires as the Nazis did. A simpler and more poignant explanation comes from the 14th century poet Safi al-Din al-Hilli: “White are our acts, black our battles, green our fields, and red our swords.” Some secular Arab movements dropped the Green, as a color of Islam.

All this brings us back to that sea of blue. The Israeli flag use of light blue is not an accident. Austrian Ludwig August Frankl wrote a poem in 1860 explaining that the blue symbolized “the splendors of the firmament,” and the white represented “the radiance of the priesthood.” This ties to the traditional use of the color blue for Tzitzit, the fringes we wear. This is the sky-blue of the Torah (at least we believe it was sky blue). I believe sky blue is a color of purity because there is no death in the heavens (at least until Sputnik).

What we have then is the vision of peoples gathered together in colors. The sea of blue and white in D.C. is one that aspires to the purity of the heavens and the radiance of the priests. There is no red – no red of valor, no red of resistance, no red of blood. There is no gold of material wealth or black of war. There is just blue and white, purity and radiance.

Perhaps these colors are reflected by the nature of the rally itself.

There was no violence and no hate. There was only hope – hope for a better future without flags of blood and violence.

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