Rabbi Binyamin Krauss
Former Rosh Kollel in Perth
One of the mitzvot which appears in Parshat Ki Teitzei is the mitzvah of shaatnez:
“You shall not wear a mixture (shaatnez) of wool and linen together.” (Devarim 22:11)
What is unique about wool and linen? And why does this prohibition apply only to articles of clothing?
In his commentary on the Torah, R’ Shimshon Raphael Hirsch explains that one’s attire is neither random nor dependent solely on fashion and inventory. Rather, clothes are an expression of one’s character and a manifestation of one’s cultural identity, one’s relationship with others – after all, one dresses differently when meeting different people and in different situations – and one’s taste and personality. As the Gemara (BT Shabbat 113b) states:
“R’ Yochanan called his clothes ‘those which honor me.’”
We must use our clothing to express our humanity, which is able to differentiate between wool and linen. What separates these two fibers? Wool is a product of the animal kingdom; it comes from sheep. In contrast, linen comes from the plant kingdom. While the plant kingdom represents the nurturing part of the human soul which focuses on the body’s basic existence, the animal kingdom refers to movement and the five senses, which are the simplest expression of a person’s soul and spirit. One must not blur the clear distinction between these two portions of one’s soul. The nurturing – i.e. the “plant” – part must always be unmistakably subordinate to the essential – i.e. the “animal” – part. Moreover, R’ Hirsch observes that one who brings the essential foundation down to the plant or nurturing world is simultaneously – and to the same degree – disconnecting from HaKadosh Baruch Hu, to Whom one should be directing all of one’s essential abilities. Finally, one must demonstrate this distinction with one’s attire, which is an expression of one’s personality.
Nevertheless, in certain situations, the prohibition of shaatnez does not apply. When it comes to clothing used for a mitzvah and also “sanctified” clothes, the prohibition against mixing wool and linen is apparently irrelevant. Both the mitzvah of tzitzit and thebigdei kehunah (the garments worn by the kohanim) are expressions of man’s holiness. When a person is occupied with Torah andmitzvot – and thereby raising himself up in kedushah (holiness) – his essential abilities will not be brought down to his soul’s lowest levels. In fact, one who is focused on kedushah even has a mitzvah to combine these two principles. When they are united inkedushah, the connection itself brings them ever higher.
Similarly, in “Mesilat Yesharim” (Midat HaKedushah – 26), the Ramchal teaches that kedushah is second only to ru’ach hakodesh(literally, the “holy spirit”). When one has achieved this high level, all of his actions – including physical acts like eating and drinking – are transformed and are sanctified themselves. This is the difference between the kadosh (the holy or the sanctified) and the tahor (the pure). One who is tahor has no choice but to perform the physical acts, and therefore, he seeks to limit them. However, the physical acts of one who is kadosh are in and of themselves acts of kedushah and mitzvah.
The mitzvah of tzitzit, which is incumbent upon every single Jewish man, provides each and every one of them with the opportunity to share in the midah (trait) of kedushah, which sanctifies and purifies even the most physical acts. Even if someone has not yet achieved the level of kedushah, the mitzvah of tzitzit enables him to sense the kedushah which transforms the material to the kadosh.
Thus, R’ Hirsch’s beautiful explanation allows us to “peek behind the scenes” of the halachic rules. Suspending the prohibition ofshaatnez for the sake of the mitzvah of tzitzit is a classic example of the halachic principle: “Aseh docheh lo taaseh.” (“A positive commandment suspends a negative commandment.”) Yet, R’ Hirsch shows us that the prohibition’s suspension is neither a nullification nor an expression of contempt towards the prohibition. Rather, the kedushah generated by the positive mitzvahmeans that the prohibition’s objective – i.e. removing man from situations which are likely to harm him spiritually and distance him from HaKadosh Baruch Hu – is no longer relevant and therefore no longer applies.