Class Notes - Class #27

One unique aspect of Sefer haHinnuch is our author’s attempt to articulate a shoresh for each mitzvah.  We noted early in our study that this enterprise is controversial.  In the last two classes for this season we will explore mitzvot that have important implications for our author’s enterprise of trying to articulate a shoresh for each mitzvah.   Mitzvot #548 – 451 deal with various forbidden mixtures. 

            Mitzvah #245 applies in Israel and prohibits planting two species of plants grown for human food in close proximity to each other.  Mitzvah #548 is a sub-category; it forbids planting certain species of plants (the five familiar grains, plus “canabus” and “loof”) intermingled with grape vines.  Mitzvah #549 prohibits eating the produce of such a field; rather, the produce must be destroyed. 

D’oraita a farmer in Israel who has at least five grape vines planted together may not plant two of the other species between them.  The forbidden action is to scatter seeds for grapes and two of the other species together at the same time.  Planting only one other species with the grape vines is not prohibited.   Planting individual plants one at a time is not prohibited by this mitzvah even if those plants include grapes and two other species all next to each other.  That act may be prohibited by mitzvah #245, though.

Produce from an inappropriately planted plot must be destroyed.  This prohibition seems to be more severe than the general prohibition on planting different species of food plants together, since the produce of an improperly planted garden of grapes and two other species must be destroyed. 

D’rabanan, the rabbis forbade planting any other species intermingled with grape vines.  They also forbade planting other species around the edges of a vineyard.  They extended the prohibition for this mitzvah outside of Israel even though they did not extend mitzvah #245 to apply outside of Israel.  Although some authorities disagree, the author says that benefit of the produce of inappropriate plantings outside of Israel is forbidden. 

Our author plays out these principles in more detail.  In a vineyard of only five vines, the prohibition only applies if the vines are planted in a specific pattern.  Someone who violates this mitzvah by planting grapes and other species together is obligated to destroy them as soon as the plants take root. Someone who finds plants growing in a prohibited pattern on his or her property and is satisfied to have them growing that way must destroy them, but the obligation kicks in at a later stage of growth. The author raises the predictable line-drawing questions:  what happens when the forbidden planting pattern happens because two people planted different plants on two adjoining plots?  If plants of other species grow in the middle of a vineyard, how much of the vineyard must be destroyed?  How much distance must the farmer leave between a vineyard and other crops?   

Someone who violates mitzvah #548 also violates mitzvah #245 and is potentially punishable twice for one act of planting that violates both mitzvot.  And someone who eats the produce of an inappropriately planted plot is punishable even if the person gets no pleasure from eating.  The source for the prohibition of mitzvah #549, Deut. 22:9, uses the word “tikdosh.” The prohibition here is not on eating, so the normal rules of what constitutes eating do not apply.

Our author refers us to two earlier mitzvot of this genre where he discussed the shoresh for similar mitzvot.  Mitzvah #244 prohibits mating two different species of animals.  There, our author echoed the creation story in Genesis, which emphasizes God creating each individual type of animal.  Each species is perfectly suited to its purpose, and people should not try to interfere with God’s plan.   

But our author is unwilling to leave the shoresh focused on generalities.  Instead, he tries to explain specifically why intermingling these particular plants should be forbidden.  The author tried to explain the mitzvah not to crossbreed different species of animals and the mitzvah not to intermingle different species of plants as trying to keep the essence of different species from contaminating other species.  Here he suggests that grape vines have such a strong essence that it cannot be nullified by one other species, only by two strong species. 

But the author writes passionately about another shoresh.   The Torah tends to give us more mitzvot about important, dangerous matters.  Grapes are important because they are the source of wine, and wine can get people in serious trouble.  It might be better to avoid alcohol altogether, but the Torah allowed us to drink small amounts because small amounts are healthy.  A mitzvah that limits how we plant grape vines warns us of the dangers.  And the requirement that the produce of inappropriately planted grape vines must be destroyed vividly illustrates just how dangerous and seductive alcohol can be.

The source verse for mitzvah #550, Deut. 22:10, prohibits plowing with an ox and a donkey together.  The verse mentions plowing, but the prohibition applies to any other type of labor.  The verse mentions using an ox and donkey together, which is understood as prohibiting working with a “kosher” animal and a “non-kosher” animal, whether those animals are domesticated or wild.  D’rabanan, the rabbis extended that to prohibit working with any two different species of animals together.  The definition of a species is the same as the definition of a species for the prohibition on mating different species of animals.  It is fine for a person to personally work with along with an animal. 

This mitzvah is an exception to the general rule that someone who violates a negative mitzvah by speaking without any other action is not punishable.  Here, a person who gets two different species of animal to work together by speaking to the animals is punishable for breaking this mitzvah even if the person does no other action. 

Our author takes two different directions for articulating the shoresh of this mitzvah.  First, quoting Rambam, he suggests that someone who works with two species of animals together might later try to crossbreed those animals, forbidden by mitzvah #244.

But our author adds a more emotionally charged shoresh.  (Note our author’s introduction to this, carefully respectful of Rambam.)  The author reminds us of his opinion, with which others disagree, that the Torah requires Jews to avoid causing unnecessary pain to animals.  Animals are more comfortable with other animals of their own species.  That’s why wild animals tend to stay with other animals of the same species. “Birds of a feather flock together.”  But animals are often uncomfortable in the company of animals of other species, especially if they are put into close contact by being forced to work together.  This discussion reflects the kind of compassion we have come to expect from our author. 

And, as we have seen before, our author extends the notion of the shoresh to other situations.  We ought not to work different species of animals together because it makes the animals anxious and uncomfortable.  Similarly, we should avoid appointing people to work together if those people are of such different opinion or temperament that they will make each other uncomfortable.

Mitzvah #551 prohibits Jews from wearing garments of mixed wool and linen.  That prohibits Jews from wearing a wool garment with even one thread of linen, or a linen garment with even one thread of wool. A garment triggers this prohibition if the wool and linen are attached in any way, by weaving, knotting or sewing.  Someone who wears such a garment violates this mitzvah.

Making wool or linen cloth is a difficult job.  Processing flax into fiber takes several steps over a long period of time.  Once the wool is sheared or the linen is processed, it needs to be washed.  After that it needs to be 1.  Carded (combing to remove debris and get the fibers lined up in the same direction), 2. Spun (spinning the small fibers together to form one continuous fiber), and 3. Twisted so the fiber holds its shape over the long term.  According to some authorities the d’oratia prohibition of this mitzvah only applies after those processes are complete and then the wool and linen fibers are combined into a garment.    D’rabanan, though, Jews are prohibited from wearing garments of mixed wool and linen where the fibers have gone through only one of those three steps.  Wearing felt made of mixed wool and linen fibers is prohibited since the fibers are carded although they are not spun or twisted. Other authorities think that this mitzvah is violated d’oraita if someone wears a garment with mixed wool and linen where only one of those three processes was completed.  According to those authorities wearing felt made of mixed wool and linen would be prohibited d’oraita. Some rabbis understood “wearing” as applying to soft garments, so they permitted wearing hard felt hats even if the hats were made out of mixed wool and linen.

This mitzvah prohibits wearing garments with wool and linen elements, so care needs to be exercised when someone is handling or dealing with mixed wool and linen objects if someone might end up wearing one of those objects inadvertently.  Our author discusses several cases of piles of mattresses, each made of mixed wool and linen.  D’oraita sitting on a pile of those mattresses would be fine, since the person is sitting on them and not wearing them.  D’rabanan, though, if those mattresses have fringes or strings that might fold over to enwrap the person, or if the mattresses themselves might fold over to enwrap the person, the person ought not sit on the pile.

A Jew who violates this mitzvah is punishable with malkot.  A violation is defined by the act of putting on a garment.  Someone who puts a mixed wool and linen garment on and off is punishable for each act of putting on the garment. Someone who wears a mixed wool and linen garment all day is punishable once.  But there is a case where someone wearing the garment all day long may be punishable more than once; if that person is warned several times during the day the person is punishable for each separate occasion where the person continues to wear the garment after each warning.

The author provides two approaches for a shoresh to this mitzvah.  He refers to the need to keep certain items separate from each other to avoid blending their natures, which he discussed in mitzvah #62.  He cites Rambam for the notion that priests of idol worship often wore such clothing.  The author says priests in Egypt still do so.  By our author’s time most Egyptians were probably Moslems, so it is not clear what the author had in mind.  In cultures where the common materials for clothing were wool and linen, and where making clothing materials was very labor intensive, garments with elements of wool and linen must have been common.

In the course of his work our author provides a shoresh for each mitzvah, some insight into how each mitzvah might be a benefit to society and/or to the person observing the mitzvah.  Some mitzvot fit with our notions of general morality, so we find it easy to explain prohibitions on theft or murder.  Some mitzvot help encourage a peaceful, settled society, for example mitzvot that mandate an effective court system or mitzvot that teach us to treat other people carefully and kindly.  Mitzvot about sacrifices and the Temple mandate an institution designed to help us feel the presence of God among us.

It is not easy to articulate a shoresh for the mitzvot we read for this class.  They seem arbitrary.  We have trouble seeing any useful benefit to people who observe these mitzvot.  Our author tries valiantly to find a rational benefit from each.  It is not surprising his responses are not entirely convincing. 

What our author says about these mitzvot follows familiar patterns.  He speculates about a relation between these mitzvot and idol worship.  He relates them to the notion he used earlier that God’s creations have unique natures and that God does not want us to do things that might inappropriately “mix” those natures.  That reason is not very accessible to modern students. 

The author has frequently taught that some mitzvot serve as examples to us of character traits we should try to develop in ourselves. Our author explains a distinct mitzvah limiting how grapevines may be planted as a warning about the dangers of wine.  He sees the mitzvah not to work two different species of animals together as an example that requires us to show compassion for animals’ comfort in one specific situation, and our author expects us to generalize from that so that we are compassionate to animals and compassionate to other people.  In the mitzvah/essays we will read for the next class our author will discuss his understanding of the general notion of the shoresh of each mitzvah.  We will have to see how his general discussion fits with what he has actually been saying.