We find a cause for the development of The Haskala, The Enlightenment, along with the Atheist movement, in the second portion of this week’s double parshios of Acharei Mos and Kedoshim. The Torah states, “You shall observe My statutes: You shall not crossbreed your livestock with different species. You shall not sow your field with a mixture of seeds, and a garment which has a mixture of shaatnez shall not come upon you” (Vayikra 19:19).
This pasuk discusses the prohibition of kilayim, forbidden mixtures. Rabbeinu Bachye shares a reason for these prohibitions: “According to the simple understanding the reason for the prohibition of forbidden mixtures is because all the things created in this world whether animal or vegetation has a power source or mazal (fortune) connected on high, and each thing was created in its own species, for this, The Mighty King made a foundation for them in the beginning of creation, so that each one would have their own unique species. So, someone who mixes, or grafts two species together changes and weakens the acts of creation which the Torah writes about them, ‘according to their species’ (Breishis 1:12, 21, 25), and he does the opposite of Hashem who wants to differentiate between each species. It is as if this person makes himself appear that he thinks what The Holy One Blessed Be He has created in this world isn’t enough and he wants to outsmart and add more species, new ones, within what the Eternal One has created. The prohibition of plowing an ox and donkey is for the same reason because it is the custom of farmers after plowing to bring the yoke [with the two animals] into one barn and it would lead into crossbreeding and giving birth to strange breeds resulting in the weakening of creation.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Tangelos, a mix of a tangerine and grapefruit, might lead to a juicier fruit, and the mule, which is the crossbreed of a horse and a donkey, results in a stronger animal. Yet while a mule, might have advantages, they are not able to reproduce on their own, and tangelos are a juicier fruit, yet they are self-sterile, hence they really are weakening the essence of creation; and by dabbling in this field one might create more harm than good. However, scientists who experiment in these sorts of things are trying to improve the world and make things more productive and better; so knowing what they are doing they obviously think the positive advantages outweigh the negative. If so, then what’s really the problem?
Furthermore, later in the perek, in pasuk 27 the Torah writes, “You shall not round off the corner of your head, and you shall not destroy the edge of your beard.” Rabbeinu Bachye explains that the reason behind destroying a beard from its roots is prohibited is along the same lines as forbidden mixtures. “According to the simple reasoning the reason for the prohibition is in order not to quash the sign that The Holy One Blessed Be He imprinted in the male gender in order to differentiate him from a female. One who does this (i.e., destroys the beard at its roots) is doing the opposite of Hashem, like one who plants forbidden mixtures, and everything that was made in creation, is written by it ‘according to their species.’” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
What could be wrong with a man destroying his beard? What is wrong with social justice and equality, or gender equality?
We see from here that Hashem had a reason for creating differences in the world and unique species which cannot be combined or blurred. But the real issue is the attitude that one can outsmart Hashem. ‘I can think of an idea, scientifically and morally, that Hashem didn’t come up with, and it will be bigger and better than how things were originally designed. And who cares about the side effects or drawbacks; those are minor and relatively non-existent or important.’
What people don’t realize is that there is nothing new under the sun. Hashem created the ability and potential for all these new species to be created and advancements to occur. He gave us the free will to choose to use our knowledge for the betterment or the destruction of the world, and the moral fabric of society at large. The Gemara in Sanhedrin 56b even says that non-Jews also have the prohibition of forbidden mixtures in the Noahide laws. It is within our power and decision making to use the tools and brains that Hashem bestowed in us to realize the gifts Hashem provides and to use them appropriately.
However, as we have seen with the advent of the industrial revolution and the advancement of technology, it is very easy to think we can “play god” or invent things which were thought to be impossible. Getting caught up in human advancement and not realizing the source for the gift of these abilities which would lead one to believe there is a moral fabric of how to use all the ingredients around them in this world, is what leads one to conclude he is an atheist. He thinks he just outsmarted G-D so G-D must not exist.
For this reason, Hashem created the laws of forbidden mixtures and the prohibition of uprooting the hair follicles of a beard. There are Higher moral standards so don’t mix them up!