Shaya Cohen -


Connect – but Don’t Combine: Diversity as a Path to Holiness

You could take the best 5-course meal in the world and ruin it. All you have to do is put all the food in a blender, and blend it together. Everything that made that food appetizing – appearance, smell, texture, and taste become compromised when the component parts are puréed together.

This is because there is beauty in the differences between things. Thanks to the gaps between men and women, marriage is an opportunity for both to grow and change. The magic happens in the gap, in the space between them (just as G-d’s voice in the tabernacle came from between the angels).

So there is an intricate and living dance whenever disparate parts come close and operate together. It has to remain in flux in order for growth to occur. But at the same time, you cannot allow things to actually meld together, to lose the distinctions between them. That way lies confusion, failure, and ultimately, death.

I think this general idea explains a great deal in the Torah that deals with the question of mixing different things. In the Garden of Eden, G-d expels man because we threatened to become too much like G-d himself!

“And G-d said, “Now that humankind has become like any of us, knowing good and bad, what if one should stretch out a hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever!” So G-d cast [men] out from the garden of Eden,

At the Tower of Babel, G-d faces a similar problem: men who seek to be in heaven, instead of on earth. They, too, are repulsed. G-d wants people to connect with Him, but not to seek to be Him. That is why we are forbidden to make any images of something that already exists in nature: G-d does not want us to aspire to pervert nature or recreate G-d’s work. Instead, G-d wants us to elevate the world and create holiness in everything we say, make or do – as people, not as wannabe deities.

In the text, this principle seems to apply at all levels. We are commanded to not permanently fuse animal and vegetable products to wear wool and linen combined. We are forbidden to cross-breed animals or seeds. We keep things diverse, because the Torah tells us that bridging differences, not erasing them, is how we grow.

This continues through the text: We are forbidden to drink blood – because it infuses us with animal spirits (the primary reason most cultures give for consuming blood!). Men and women are commanded to remain distinct in garments and other trappings, because men and women should be different.

And we cannot be too close to G-d – even Moses cannot see G-d’s face. The rules of the tabernacle are tight and unyielding so as to enable a form of coexistence in which neither G-d nor man makes it impossible for the other to be present. The tabernacle is the ideal form of connection; it is a place of renewal, a place for periodic spiritual elevation and connection. The contrasts between man and G-d are preserved and on display so that we can learn from them, be inspired, and continue to seek holiness through the relationship.

When we bring things together, it must always be for aspirational purposes, not to blend them together. So, for example, we bring animal blood and grass together in Egypt, when we mark the doorposts: a symbol of understanding our purpose in this world of elevating the animal and plant kingdom upward, through our own homes and creative energies. But note that this is a symbol – not a permanent combination like wearing wool and linen (also animal and vegetable). The former is commanded, while the latter is forbidden.

This is a key part of that intricate dance of our lives: to walk the line between connection and combination. If everything is blended into a single mass of sludge, we have nothing. But if we do not connect, then we are nothing.

For energy to exist, there must be differences. Entropy is our enemy, so maintaining and even enhancing the distinctions between everything in our world is the real way in which diversity can be our strength.

[an @iwe, @susanquinn, @kidcoder, @blessedblacksmith and @eliyahumasinter work]

Comments are welcome!

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