Bible’s Hidden Messages
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim
Bible’s prohibition of wearing wool and linen—shatnez—presents three very strong problems. It first appears in Leviticus 19:19:
You shall observe My laws. You shall not let your cattle mate with a different kind; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed; and a mixed garment of shatnez you shall not raise upon yourself.
And a few weeks back we read Deuteronomy 22:9-11:
You shall not sow your vineyard with a second kind of seed, unless the crop become prohibited from the seed you have sown with the yield of the vineyard. You shall not plow with an ox and an ass together. You shall not wear shatnez combining wool and linen.
Why are newly-produced crossbred animals and vegetation—the new mixed species—not prohibited in use, which is the case with other products of sin, such as a worshipped idol? The latter is prohibited in all benefit, but crossbred animals and vegetation can be used. More primary, what in cross breeding is corrupt that God prohibits it?
Another question regards the form of the prohibition of shatnez. Wool and linen are animal and vegetation respectively. These two categories of creation cannot intermingle. Only animals can cross breed with other animals, and only vegetation can be crossbred only with other vegetation. Therefore, this very combination of wool and linen does not present any potential of crossbreeding...and certainly in a garment when both species are detached from their life source!
Which brings us to the fourth question as to why this prohibition is expressed in wearing garments. What does “wearing” per se of two species have to do with the core prohibition of course breeding? Meaning, instead, why doesn’t Torah prohibit using crossbred vegetation in dyes, or feeding new crossbred fruit species to animals, or other uses? Why is the prohibition “wearing”?
What is the nature or purpose of a garment? Man relates to garments as they are adornments of the self, as the saying goes, “The suit makes the man.” The Temple’s vessels had both skin coverings and garments of beautiful colors (Num. chap. 4). “Coverings” of heavy skin protected the vessels from the desert’s elements, while “garments” of varied color embellish the vessels’ importance, now clothed by the garment, just as a king is adorned by his crown.
The prohibition to “wear” shatnez points to the underlying corruption of crossbreeding: man’s attempt to make his mark on nature...a type of self-glorification achieved through “success”: controlling natural law to the degree of generating a new species. God hints to this underlying corrupt egoistical motivation with a prohibition to “wear” garments made of mixed species. Adorning oneself with garments that are mixed (even uncorrupted wool and linen) subtly carries the message that man must not adorn himself through disturbing God’s perfect creation. There are plenty of fruits, vegetable, grains and animals for man’s life; even if he lived 1000 years…he needs no more. But man has a tendency to manipulate nature, to compete with God, to be a creator like Him. The snake tricked Eve into eating the forbidden fruit by saying, “You will be like divine beings,” which Rashi interprets as “creators of worlds” (Gen. 3:5). Rashi reveals a human desire to be a creator. Why does man desire creation? Man unconsciously knows he is a mere creation. But if he can manipulate and create on his own, man can shed his insecurity, mostly tied to his mortality. By creating new species, man feels he is now “in control.” Therefore, God warns us not to shed our dependent, mortal natures; we cannot play God and create new species. What God made was and remains perfect, and our manipulation would deny that, and also seeks to shed our feeble mortal nature.
Although wool and linen cannot interbreed in life, and certainly in detached states, adorning (clothing) ourselves with anything mixed is a corrupt expression of priding ourselves by mixing creations, an attempt at controlling the universe. Wool and linen—animal and vegetable—are the only species that can interbreed. Minerals cannot. Thus, shatnez contains only animal and vegetable.
Rabbi Reuven Mann asked why man is allowed to harness nature and create satellites for example. Is this not also a sinful expression of manipulation and controlling nature? But Rabbi Mann also answered that no new species is created when harnessing nature’s elements and using them in their natural states. Just as God created clothing from animal skins for Adam and Eve, and He instructed Noah to create an ark from trees, man too can follow His lead and utilize Earth’s natural resources. For God said, “fill the earth and master it” (Gen. 1:28).
Once again, Torah is astonishing in its design. Through prohibiting a seemingly unrelated act of wearing shatnez as a defense against cross breeding, God reveals our psychological nature so we may learn what are destructive inclinations and ambitions. We learn that we are to accept our mortality and our status as creations, and reserve the greatness of creation for God alone. With this mindset, we don’t fight creation, we don’t inflate our egos, but we properly accept creation, admire it and study the world to draw closer to God by understanding greater truths.
In this way, in discovery, we enjoy life completely, as God designed us to do.