“You are not to sow two kinds of seed between your rows of vines; if you do, both the two harvested crops and the yield from the vines must be forfeited. You are not to plough with an ox and a donkey together. You are not to wear clothing woven with two kinds of thread, wool and linen together.” On the surface these commandments appear to be very strange. After all, mixed cropping has been demonstrated since antiquity to increase agricultural productivity. Indeed, the mixing of crops can also have the potential benefit of spreading the risk of crop failure in case of shortage of water, since different plants may require less water than others. Also, because pests and diseases attack specific plants and not others, an entire field which has been mixed cropped is not at risk in the case of these dangers. Other benefits might well be adduced for ploughing with different species of animals and of the mixing of fibres. Given that this is so we might find ourselves wondering about their wisdom. Some might say these commandments demonstrate the backward nature of religious belief and mock those who take them seriously. But there is a purpose to these commandments which we ignore at our peril.
Separation is a key Biblical principle which makes its presence felt as early as the first few verses of the Creation account. Thus Hashem is said to have created light and then He divided “the light from the darkness”. “God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. So there was evening, and there was morning, one day.” Next, we witness the “dome in the middle of the water” being created so as to divide “the water from the water.” Hashem gathered the water under the sky into one place, and called for dry land to appear. Thus the land was separated from the water. After this Hashem created “lights in the dome of the sky to divide the day from the night.” Plants, animals and then human beings were then created, each according to their own kind – separate and distinct from each other. And then, finally, after His task of creating had been completed we read that Hashem “rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. God blessed the seventh day and separated it as holy.”
It is apparent then that the concept of separation is at the heart of the Creation account and this being so, it is little wonder that is carried on throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. Thus these commandments, both in our portion and elsewhere, are a daily reminder of this concept. Indeed, the imperative to be separate finds weekly celebration in our Shabbat liturgy. This day is delineated from the six working days by special practices. On Erev Shabbat we prepare a special meal, light the Shabbat candles, say kiddush, break the challah together, sing songs and rejoice. On Shabbat we come to shul and avoid work altogether, not buying or selling as we do on the other days of the week, for as Hashem said, ““Remember the day, Shabbat, to set it apart for God. You have six days to labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Shabbat for ADONAI your God. On it, you are not to do any kind of work — not you, your son or your daughter, not your male or female slave, not your livestock, and not the foreigner staying with you inside the gates to your property. For in six days, ADONAI made heaven and earth, the sea and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. This is why ADONAI blessed the day, Shabbat, and separated it for himself.” (Shemot 20:8–11). At the end of Shabbat we gather round the table, drink from our kiddush cup, smell the spices, light the braided candle and then recite the following prayer, “Blessed are you, Lord our God, king of the universe, who makes a distinction between the sacred and the secular, between light and darkness, between Israel and the other nations, between the seventh day and the six working days. Blessed are you, Lord, who makes a distinction between the sacred and the secular.” This prayer not only reminds us of the distinctions which God established in the order of Creation when all things came into being, but of His ensuing work in bringing the Jewish people into being and setting us apart as His people.
Separation is the essence of holiness. It is only by our being set apart from and by being different from the nations of the world that we are a holy people, and this, fundamentally, is the purpose of our commandments. By keeping these commandments, however strange they might ostensibly appear, we are differentiated and set apart for G-d’s purposes. Indeed, it is only as this takes place that G-d can truly use us for His greater purpose. For as Moshe once said, “Look, I have taught you laws and rulings, just as Adonai my G-d ordered me, so that you can behave accordingly in the land where you are going in order to take possession of it. Therefore, observe them; and follow them; for then all peoples will see you as having wisdom and understanding. When they hear of all these laws, they will say, ‘This great nation is surely a wise and understanding people.’” (Devarim 4:5-6). What an amazing thought! The Torah which separates us from the nations is actually purposed to draw them into Hashem’s bosom! G-d’s grace to the unsaved nations thus operates through the vehicle of His Torah as His people keep it, and this being so it is little wonder that Yeshua said: “Whoever disobeys the least of these mitzvot and teaches others to do so will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But whoever obeys them and so teaches will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Mattityahu 5:19). What this means is that even the much misunderstood and maligned commandments in our parashah to do with the mixing of seed, animals and fibres have a important role to play in our personal holiness and ultimately also in reaching the world with G-d’s good news. Those who do them and thus separate themselves will find both G-d’s blessing in the own lives and the power to witness to others. Baruch HaShem!