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Vayikra/Leviticus 19:19 in your cattle, you shall not mate two kinds; your field you shall not sow two kinds; and a garment of two kinds of fibre shall not come upon you.
Prefaced by the words You shall observe My statutes" (Vayikra 19:19a) with the normal word order changed - here the verb follows rather than precedes its object - to emphasise the statutes rather than the observance, these three prohibitions come as something of a shock in the overall flow of the chapter, which otherwise intersect with the more well-known Ten Words (Shemot 20, D'varim 5) and other principles of human relationships. Suddenly, we are brought up short by three regulations that bring us down to the level of cattle, seeds and clothing. What isHaShem trying to do here? Two of the three prohibitions are repeated - with the third exchanged for another similar - in Moshe's recapitulation of the Torah to the generation about to enter the Land: "You shall not sow your vineyard with a second kind of seed, else the crop -- from the seed you have sown -- and the yield of the vineyard may not be used. You shall not plow with an ox and an ass together. You shall not wear cloth combining wool and linen" (D'varim 22:9-11, NJPS).
The (of two kinds, a mixture), repeated three times in our text, is difficult to translate.Targum Onkelos changes it to the Aramaic word (mixture) each time. The Septuagint chooses three different interpretations: cross-breeding, different and adulterated weaves. Grammatically, the word is in dual form, the Hebrew way of expressing exactly two of something, usually a pair such as eyes, ears or hands. Even Shoshan reports that it is only used four times in the Tanakh: these three in this verse and once in the parallel D'varim 22:9. The three instances here are essentially the same; the atnach accent in the second instance here forces the longer qametz vowel instead of the shorter patach, because it is in pause at the half-way point in the verse. Baruch Levine notes that the word "has been variously explained. It is most probably cognate with Ugaritic kl'at, 'both', said of both hands, and with Akkadian kilallan, 'both, a pair'. On this basis, Hebrew kil'ayim would mean 'two kinds (together)'." The word is used within the Qumran corpus, David Clines observes, to mean "unsuitable marriage partners" (4QDd 92).1
Given what we know of Israelite history and practice, from archaeology and the biblical text, we can say that these laws were not strictly or literally obeyed in ancient times. The Israelites used mules, planted low-growing ground crops between the vines in their vineyards and the priests wore garments of wool and linen woven together. Professor Calum Carmichael, whose default position is that the majority of the pre-exilic material in the Tanakh was written during or after the Babylonian exile and that many of the laws were composed then as correctives against undesirable conduct in the patriarchal and pre-history periods, sees these three prohibitions as figurative commentaries, offering rebuke to the patriarchs for allowing Israel to blend with the nations, or individuals such as Joseph and Jacob blending races and bringing 'foreign' seed into the Israelite nation.2
A number of the rabbinic commentators see the actions these prohibitions address as attempts by man to add to, change or reverse the order of creation. TheRashbam's approach is typical, saying: "Since in the story of creation G-d commanded that each kind of living thing should reproduce its own kind, here He commands that we too should treat the world the same way and avoid mixing things that are unlike - whether it is breeding animals, sowing a field, grafting trees, or even yoking animals of different kinds together." Ibn Ezra steps back to the first clause in the verse (not shown in our text) and speaks for G-d saying, "'Observe My laws' in this context means keeping things in their separate categories as I have made them, without mixing the various kinds together." Although Gersonides admits that "it is natural that various plants sometimes end up growing together," concluding that "there is no harm in this as long as the proportion of the intended crop is not greater than 1 in 24", the Bekhor Shor is adamant that doing these things is "thereby arrogating to yourself the position of Creator."
TheRamban attempts to provide a reasoning for this: "G-d has created in the world various species among all living things, both plants and moving creatures, and He gave them a power of reproduction enabling them to exist ... and He further endowed them with a power to bring forth only after their kind, and that they should never be changed, as it is said with reference to all of them at the time of Creation, 'after its kind' (B'resheet 1:11,21,24)." He notes that according to the Talmudic Sages, "Sowing a field with two kinds of seed is also a prohibition against grafting different kinds of trees or vegetables (b. Kiddushin 39a)." He uses mules as a demonstration - a cross of horse and donkey, close enough to be viable, yet themselves sterile and unable to reproduce - to prove the principle that "one who combines two different species thereby changes and defies the work of Creation, as if he is thinking that the Holy One, blessed be He, has not completely perfected the world and he desires to help creation along by adding to it new kinds of creatures." Gunther Plaut comments that "such notions of defying G-d are strange to us who live in the post-Darwinian age." We might ask whether the famed F1 hybrids created by agriculture for greater colour (in flowers) or heavier cropping (in fruit, vegetables and cereals) but whose seed is sterile doesn't seem to prove the Ramban's point. They cannot fulfil the Creation mandate and reproduce according to their kind.
Gordon Wenham uses the Ramban's argument, but takes it in a different direction: "The divisions within the animal kingdom mirrored those within the human world, between clean and unclean men, between Israel and the nations. In creation G-d separated between light and darkness, waters and waters. This ban on all mixtures, especially mixed breeding, shows man following in G-d's steps. He must keep separate what G-d created separate. As G-d separated Israel from among the nations to be His own possession, so they must maintain their holy identity by not inter-marrying with the nations (D'varim 7:3-6). Thus in the major and minor decisions of life, Israel was constantly reminded that she was different; that she was holy, set apart for G-d's service."3 According to this, the text is talking about steps of practical holiness. Mark Rooker reports other commentators suggesting that "the mixing of different materials typifies a co-mingling of the holy and the profane; other that since each plant or animal had its own life principle it as not to be mixed with another."4 John Hartley comments rather topically that "this law seeks to prevent the blurring of the variety of species and kinds that G-d created; that is, it seeks to preserve the diversity in the created world."5
Michael Flanders and Donald Swann wrote and performed a song called Misalliance in the 1950s, featuring an imagined romance between a honeysuckle, which "spirals clockwise to the sun", and a bindweed (or convulvulus) which climbs anti-clockwise. A passing bee remarks coldly about any offspring they might have: "Right, left, what a disgrace, or it may go straight up and fall flat on its face!"
Richard Elliott Friedman makes an interesting observation: "It is a curious juxtaposition: the commandment to love one's neighbour as oneself (Vayikra 19:18) directly followed by three commandments to maintain distinctions. It seems to be saying: distinctions among animals, plants and clothing are appropriate, but making distinctions in one's love of humankind is an offense." In the parable of the Sheep and the Goats, Yeshua addresses the sheep, saying, "For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me" (Matthew 25:35-36, NASB), cutting across class, gender and situations for outreach to those in need. In the story of the Good Samaritan, it is the hated other, the Samaritan, who crosses the boundary and "proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers' hands" (Luke 10:36, NASB).
We can learn from this text that, like the ancient priests of Israel, we are called to "teach My people the difference between the holy and the common, and show them how to distinguish between the unclean and the clean" (Ezekiel 44:23, ESV). Distinctions are important, regardless of our opinion in the matter! The prophets rail against those who blur or distort G-d's laws: "Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!" (Isaiah 5:20, NASB). Yeshua makes it clear that He expects no less of His followers today, "whoever disobeys the least of these mitzvot and teaches others to do so will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven" (Matthew 5:19, CJB). That said, Yeshua also elevated the command to "love your neighbor as yourself" (22:39, CJB) to the highest priority second only to loving G-d with all our hearts. He told the disciples, "This is My command: that you keep on loving each other just as I have loved you" (John 15:12, CJB) and then "loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to G-d" (Ephesians 5:2, ESV). We live in the tension of making G-d's distinctions practical and visible in our world, as part of our witness to His holiness - "You are to be holy because I am holy" (1 Peter 1:16, CJB) - while giving ourselves sacrificially for those who need to know and experience G-d's love through us. We cross boundaries to reach out to others, while refusing to cross them ourselves.
1. - David J. A. Clines (ed.) The Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2009), page 176.
2. - Calum M. Carmichael, Law, Legend and Incest in the Bible, (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997), pages 87-104.
3. - Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus, NICOT, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1979), page 269.
4. - Mark F. Rooker, Leviticus, The New American Commentary, (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2000), page 259.
5. - John E. Hartley, Leviticus, Word Biblical Commentary, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1992), page 318.
Further Study: Hosea 4:6; Micah 3:9-11; Luke 11:34-35
Application: Can you think of boundaries and distinctions that you are reluctant to name and enforce even though you know you should, while at the same time touching and blessing the other who has chosen to disregard those boundaries in their own lives? Check in with the Boundary Maker today and get an update on how He wants you to show His love in this world.
06May19 05:17 CJ: Very good. Interesting. Thank you. I had forgotten about F1 hybrids.
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© Jonathan Allen, 2019
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