Mixed Fibers

Ye shall keep my statutes. Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee.

Leviticus 19:19

Linen and woollen – The command forbids wearing clothing mixed with wool and linen. Period. If our desire is to live in obedience, then I’d assume this is the minimal one should do to keep this law. Sounds fairly easy at this level.

Looking at the word in Hebrew, sha`atnez ( שַׁעַטְנֵז ), it seems to take on more than just wool and linen. The Complete Word Study Dictionary of the Old Testament defines the word as “A masculine noun referring to mixed material; material of more than one kind.”

In my life, I’ve expanded the interpretation to include not wearing any mixed fibers – at all. This is much more difficult in practice. Clothing today is often made as such; 50% cotton, 30% polyester, 20% something else. I’ve turned away from purchasing items because they weren’t pure fibers. Often times I’ll only buy 100% cotton shirts, pants, etc. The choices one has in clothing greatly diminishes with this interpretation.

I’ve also heard that this commandment might allude to the separation of animal (wool) and plant (linen) fibers. Maybe there’s a concept here to be explored. I don’t have the answer. All I know is that law literally forbids wool and linen. That’s it. But why? Why is there such a law?

Rabbeinu Bahya has an interesting comment.

Our lives have been regulated concerning ploughing, seeding, harvesting, weaving fibres and even wearing mixtures of clothing containing certain mixtures of fibres. We are not allowed to eat all kinds of animals, etc., etc. By observing all these laws we truly “blanket” all our activities so that they represent obedience to G’d’s commandments.

Rabbeinu Bahya, Vayikra 19:19:1-4

Is God involved in every detail of your life? That’s really what Bahya is suggesting here. I’ve spoken to many that complain about the burden of the law. They delight in the fact that sacrifices can’t be brought anymore and remark about how difficult that must have been.

But God wants to be your everything. His law is his way of becoming every part of your life. May we delight in the small moments when we remind ourselves of His word. When we check the ingredients on a can of food to make sure there’s no lard. Or when we look at the tag of clothing to see what material it’s made of. Or when we refrain from shopping on the Sabbath only to cause our Sunday to fill with more errands. Let us rejoice!

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