I’m only one day post-op and not quite able to focus enough to write an entirely new musing this year. So please forgive this redux from 5763 about shatnes in a modern context.
Random Musing Before Shabbat – Kedoshim 5763
Oil and Water?
What is it, this compulsion we have to try and do things that G”d (or nature, if that’s how you choose to see it) does not permit to occur naturally. Is it just curiosity, stubbornness, or perhaps hubris?
Oil and water won’t mix. We can create an emulsification or suspension, but we can never get the oil and water to actually mix together. Their separate identities will always be there. Still we try.
Were we to succeed in changing this natural order, however, we would no longer be able to clean our clothes, or dishes, or linens, and other things. For it is the very fact that certain substances and water won’t fully mix together that enable most cleaning agents to work their “magic.”
Our scientific studies of nature and the way this universe was constructed have led us to the ability to combine all sorts of things that won’t combine naturally. We routinely cross-pollinate plants and create hybrids. We do the same with animals. Many of these hybrids we have created have greatly benefited humankind. (Whether, in the long term, they have all benefited our entire planet is yet to be determined. G”d and nature don’t work on our time scale.)
So why should we, knowing the great benefit we derive from hybridization, listen to the Torah when it instructs us in this parasha to not make kilayim — hybrids — combinations of two things that would not normally be combined ? Why should we not plant two different kinds of seed in the same ground?
Not that any of us have had recent experience yoking an ox and a cow together as a team to pull a plow — nevertheless, simply from the sheer physical differences between them, one can see why it might not be a good idea, why they might not work well as a team, unless moving in a straight line wasn’t important all the time.
There most definitely are plant species that should not occupy the same field. Similarly, there are plant species that might benefit from being planted in the same field. Perhaps the former but not the latter is what the Torah is referring to?
Plants that can be cross-pollinated to produce better plants, or healthier plants, or insect-resistant plants, or higher-yield plants — while the rabbis of the Talmud may disagree, I don’t see those as kilayim.
It’s a radical way to view things, but consider this–if G”d had not intended for us to be able to creating useful hybrids of plants and animals, then perhaps we wouldn’t be able to. Those things that we are able to create — perhaps they are not true kilayim. Maybe at one point we couldn’t combine them, but now we can.
The rabbis teach us that G”d created everything just as it is–who are we to meddle with the natural order of things? Yet, if G”d created everything as it is, then G”d created us with the ability to create these hybrids. It seems to follow that creating such hybrids is as G”d intended, for G”d has given us the ability to gain knowledge and learn to do so. One can explain this simply as free will, and, as we all know, free will can be used for purposes both good and evil. So it is certainly arguable that our creation of kilayim when we cross-breed or create hybrids is a defiant act of free will, rather than a part of the natural order. We can and do combine things that wouldn’t normally be together for nefarious ends.
G”d has clearly demonstrated that G”d could and might interfere if and when we do things we really aren’t supposed to do. We learn this from the very beginning-both with the expulsion of Adam and Chava from Gan Eden, and in the story of Migdal Bavel, the Tower of Babel. Admittedly, there hasn’t been such obvious interference since then, but perhaps the interference comes in more subtle ways. Nevertheless the fact remains – G”d created us, we create hybrids from things that might not normally mix. Ergo, these hybrids are just as much part of the natural order as we are!
Now, I’m not sure I fully buy that argument, still, it makes one think.
There remain some things that, try as hard as we may, we cannot turn into kilayim. There remain things we cannot combine. Oil and water, for one example. Then there are things that we can combine together, but shouldn’t. Like the things that come together to make a nuclear weapon work. Or the things that come together that make anthrax easy to disperse. People and money. There’s that free will again.
However, the fact that there are things we cannot combine shows that there are limits even on free will. On TV, in the movies, and in the pages of books we can dream about things contemporary physics says are impossible,like faster-than-light travel, or “molecular transporters.” (Of course, with physics, the answer is often “just wait a decade or two and we’ll re-invent the field yet again.)
Since we have this free will, how do we know what to mix and what not to mix? The Torah offers some specific examples, although they make little sense to us in these times. So what is it that the Torah is teaching us? Simply that there are some things that probably shouldn’t be mixed.
The rabbis take a fairly narrow view of creating kilayim. They, in fact devote an entire tractate of the Talmud to it. G”d forgive me for my hubris, but I think the rabbis may have missed the point. The Torah wasn’t trying to be that specific.
The greatest danger from accepting the traditional view about the concept of kilayim might be to think of Israelis and Palestinians as kilayim. G”d forbid that we aren’t able to ever find a way for them to mix and live together in harmony.
What I learn from what the Torah has to say about kilayim is that there are some things which may never be able to be mixed together, and others which, even if they can, should not. However, the Torah does not say that everything that at one time did not seem natural to mix together should always remain so. To help us use our free will to determine what “unnatural” combinations might not be kilayim, the Torah offers insight. Not only in the specific passage in Leviticus 19;19, but by using the entire Torah and all the other learned writings of our people, and working and learning to understand what it is that G”d does not intend for us to combine and make into kilayim.
And here’s an interesting question: By bringing together my view of kilayim and the traditional view in the same musing, am I attempting to create yet another kilayim?
My head is spinning as I contemplate that one. It ought to keep me occupied for all of Shabbat. So with that I’ll stop and wish you and yours a
©2011, 2003 by Adrian A. Durlester
Some previous Musings on this parasha:
Akharei Mot-Shabbat Hagadol 5771 – Ultimate Tzimtzum
Aharei Mot-Kedoshim 5770 – Redux 5762 – Dis tinct Unities and United Dis junctions
Aharei Mot-Kedoshim 5769-Schroedinger’s Cat 5769 (Redux 5761 w/new comments)
Akharei Mot/Shabbat HaGadol 5768 – Why Wait for Elijah?
Akharei Mot-Kedoshim 5767 – Insults Don’t Weigh Anything?
Aharei Mot-Kedoshim 5766-Redux 5761 & 5762
Acharei Mot-Kedoshim 5764-Whither Zion?
Acharei Mot-Kedoshim 5762 – Dis tinct Unities and United Dis junctions
Acharei Mot-Kedoshim 5761 – Schroedinger’s Cat & Torah
Akharei Mot 5765-The Ways of Egypt and Canaan (revised)
Acharei Mot 5763–Immoral Relativisms?
Acharei Mot 5760-The Ways of Egypt & Canaan