This week's Torah portion includes the commandment regarding the prohibition against mixing wool and linen, known as "shaatnez".

The prohibition against shaatnez is explained in the context of [the mystical dimension of] the sin of Cain and Abel. In this context, the [mystical] essence of wool and linen and their place [in the spiritual hierarchy] is also explained.

Cain and Abel were the sons of Adam and Eve. After the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, Cain worked as a farmer and Abel as a shepherd. Cain brought G‑d an offering of his plants, and Abel an offering of his flocks, but G‑d accepted only Abel's offering. There are a number of explanations why this was so, but here the explanation focuses on the fact that Cain's offering was of flax.

It is known that our Sages said that if someone leases his field to another person for [under] seven years, [the latter] should not sow it with flaxseed. (Bava Metzia 109a) The reason for this, explained in the Talmud, is because flax depletes the power of the soil, and it takes seven years to replenish it.

Our Sages further called the flax plant a type of "tree", because it is written, "…and hide among the flax wood". (Joshua 2:6)

Mystically, [the power of the earth] the above statement refers to [is the inner power of] the sefira of malchut, as it is written, "…an offering to G‑d from the fruit of the earth". (Gen. 4:3)

The vegetable kingdom is allegorically the world of Yetzira….

One of the appellations of malchut is the "earth", since malchut is the lowest sefira and thus the "ground"-level of each world. Additionally, the divine energy of the higher sefirot is "sown" in the "ground" of malchut, yielding produce in the next subsequent world.

Know that all vegetation and trees are manifestations of malchut of Yetzira.

The four worlds (Atzilut, Beriya, Yetzira, and Asiya) correlate respectively to the four "kingdoms" of creatures: man, animal, vegetable, and mineral. Thus, the vegetable kingdom is rooted in the world of Yetzira. Thematically, this is because Yetzira is the world of the emotions, which "grow" and "mature" by virtue of the light of the intellect that shines on them.

Since the vegetable kingdom is allegorically the world of Yetzira, the ground in which the plant life grows is allegorized as the malchut of Yetzira.

[The power of the earth] is the spirit that tiferet leaves in her when he first makes her into a vessel. (Zohar II:101b)

The Sages say that "woman makes a covenant only with the one who turns her into a vessel" (Sanhedrin 22b), i.e. with her first husband, who deflowers her and makes her into a vessel to receive his semen. The Sages here allude to a psychological transformation that occurs within the woman when she first experiences marital relations, which will be partially elucidated in this passage, in which this "spirit" is identified as daat.

Tiferet here refers to Zeir Anpin in general, and malchut to Nukva.

Specifically, it is the name Ban [the name Havayah spelled out to have the numerical value of 52], and it is in her yesod. That is why it is called a "tree".

The inner energy of Nukva is represented by the name Ban.

Now Cain elevated the letters used to spell out this name Ban present in malchut up to tiferet, as "feminine water". The sin was that this name must remain always in malchut in order to raise "feminine water" so that [malchut] can receive the supernal light as "male water", both of them remaining within her.

Cain sought to make the female into a male….

"Male water" and "feminine water" are the Kabbalistic idiom for "arousal from above" and "arousal from below", respectively. As we have seen previously, the female principle innately yearns for union with the male principle, in order to combine the female drive for concretization of divine consciousness in the world with the male drive for ever more abstract and sublime levels of divine consciousness in oneself. Without rejuvenation from the male, the female loses inspiration and succumbs to the "gravitational" pull of the very material reality she initially seeks to conquer.

But Cain did not [simply] intend to raise "feminine water", but rather to remove it from [Nukva] entirely, returning it all the way to its source in Zeir Anpin itself.

Cain sought to make the female into a male, so to speak, forsaking its divine mission and destiny as the drive to concretize divine consciousness in the world and remaining in the abstract realm of Zeir Anpin, the emotions per se.

This is the mystical analogue of flaxseed that depletes the power of the earth for seven years. The "power of the earth" is the name Ban, which is the inner [divine] power of malchut. [Flaxseed] depletes the power of all the seven lower sefirot within her, alluded to here as seven years.

This is the [mystical] meaning of the verse, "And Cain brought from the fruits of the earth", meaning "[from the produce] that is termed 'the fruit of the earth' because it saps all the power of the earth", removing it from it and depleting it. Indeed, this is how our sages concluded that [Cain's offering] was flaxseed.

[Cain] offered this plant as an offering to G‑d, i.e. to Zeir Anpin, returning it to its source and leaving malchut bereft of the name Ban. This was Cain's sin.

The word for "G‑d" in this verse is the name Havayah, which generally refers to Zeir Anpin. Thus, Cain sought to elevate the flaxseed, the inner vitality of malchut, to Zeir Anpin, instead of keeping it in malchut so it could inspire Zeir Anpin to couple with it on its own level.

Abel [then] attempted to rectify Cain's error, and brought an offering of wool. The [mystical] explanation of this is as follows:

The source of the daat that Zeir Anpin imparts down to Nukva is in the supernal daat of the "beloved" mazal, as is known.

As we have seen previously, the word "mazal" refers in Kabbalah to a specific flow of divine energy, particular to thirteen such flows that constitute the "beard" of Arich Anpin. These are known generally as the Thirteen Attributes of Divine Mercy. The eighth and thirteenth are the super-rational source of Abba and Imma, the partzufim of chochma and bina.

[This mazal is called "beloved"] for through [this level of daat], Abba and Imma unite, and from this [union] additional power is supplied to Zeir Anpin, enabling it to couple with Nukva and impart some of this spirit to her, as is explained in our exposition of the liturgy of the Shema recited before going to sleep, whose purpose is to kill off destructive forces.

This purity of purpose neutralizes the power of the forces of evil….

The flow of divine consciousness from the super-rational will (Arich Anpin) into the intellect (Abba and Imma), enables them to couple and produce emotions (Zeir Anpin). In common experience, this means that when a person experiences a true will to do or understand or acquire something, this will produces ideas in his mind about how to do, understand, or acquire this thing. The will drives his mind to gain new insight (by motivating the person to exhibit the selflessness that predicates new insight) and capture that insight in his conscious mind, reconstructing his worldview in its wake and thereby producing an emotional response to it. The now super-charged emotions are potent, and can produce "seed", i.e. inspiration, to Nukva, the power of expression, in order to actualize the imperative originating in the will.

This purity of purpose neutralizes the power of the forces of evil, who seek to derail the new Divine energy for their own purposes, as we have seen previously. This is the theme of the nightly recital of the Shema before going to sleep, and in particular those sections added when it is anticipated that the couple will engage in marital relations.

It follows that [Abel] offered wool in order to restore the influx of supernal daat, so that it also reach Zeir Anpin, enabling it in turn to restore this strength that Cain removed from [Nukva], i.e. the spirit referred to above.

Therefore Abel offered some of the choicest of his flock. This is because, as we have explained, Cain's sin [caused a blemish] in malchut of Yetzira. So Abel had to elicit [divine energy] from the supernal daat of Arich Anpin of Yetzira. And it is known that all the power [of this level of daat] is present within yesod of Yetzira, for yesod is called "alive". Thus, the inner essence of daat is yesod.

As we have explained previously, yesod is called "alive" because the male sexual organ (to which yesod corresponds anatomically) exhibits growth and quasi-independent movement. This, in turn, is so because the mind, emotion, and body's power is concentrated here as it is prepared to be transferred to the feminine principle.

In order for the spirit of malchut to be replenished, malchut must receive from yesod. As we saw, the inner life force of malchut of Yetzira is, allegorically, the power of the earth to produce vegetation. In order for this to be replenished, it must receive from the next higher form of life up, i.e. from the animal kingdom. Therefore, Abel had to bring an animal offering. Yesod is called "alive", which is also the word for "animal" (both being translations of the word "chai").

This is the mystical essence of sheep, because the word for "sheep" [in Hebrew, "keves"] permutes to spell the word for "lie down" ["shachav"], indicating that it alludes to the supernal lying down. This is the mystical meaning of the verse, "…fill the world and subdue it [in Hebrew, "kivshua"]" (Gen. 1:28), and the allusion of the conquered one "who lies with her" (Deut. 22:29).

"Keves" is spelled: kaf-beit-sin.

"Shachav" is spelled: shin-kaf-beit.

teaser The "lying down" here is a euphemism for marital relations, as seen from the quote at the end of the paragraph.

The Hebrew root for the word "to subdue", "kavash", is related to the word for "sheep", "keves", because sheep are easily subdued and led. Here, however, the relation is seen in the opposite way: the sheep (yesod) is the male who "conquers" the female and "lies down" with her. Inasmuch as the Hebrew word for "world", "eretz", alludes to malchut, the phrase "fill the world and subdue it" evokes the interpretation: "fill the feminine principle [with male vital seed] in marital relations with her."

Know as well that just as there is a higher [facial] beard, there is a lower [pubic] "beard" around the sefira of yesod, and understand these great mysteries, because just as there are 13 tufts of the higher beard, so are there thirteen tufts of the lower beard around yesod. This is the mystical meaning of [the Sages' statement that] "Great is circumcision, for thirteen covenants were made concerning it" (Nedarim 31b).

In the Biblical passage in which G‑d commands Abraham to circumcise himself and all his present and future male offspring, the word for "covenant" ("brit") occurs thirteen times (see Gen. 17). Clearly, this redundancy is not necessary for the prose of the story, and exists only to allude to the fact expressed in the Sages' statement.

The inner meaning of the 13 "covenants" made concerning circumcision is that this rite evokes the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy, and brings the Jewish male child into this super-rational relationship with G‑d. [Jewish females are considered innately, automatically circumcised (Avoda Zara27a), and therefore no rite is necessary to initiate them into this covenant.] Thus, there is an innate connection between the upper beard, the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy, and the lower "beard", which surrounds the organ through which the individual is allowed to access the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy.

I have already told you [elsewhere] that Zeir Anpin is formed out of the netzach-hod-yesod of Arich Anpin, and that the [facial] beard of Zeir Anpin is formed out of the lower beard of [yesod of] Arich Anpin. This is the mystical meaning of the verse, "From the strait I called out to G‑d" (Psalms 118:5), for the Zohar (III:295a, in the Idra) refers this verse to the beard of Zeir Anpin, which issued from the mystical correlate of the wool of the sheep, i.e. the supernal yesod of Arich Anpin. Thus, the word "wool" [in Hebrew, "tzemer"] permutes to spell the word for "strait" ["meitzar"], this being the mystical significance of "From the strait I called out…."

"Tzemer" is spelled: tzadik-mem-reish; meitzar: mem-tzadik-reish.

From this you can also understand what I have told you, namely, that the yesod of Arich Anpin couples with itself, and out of [this coupling] issues Zeir Anpin, and for that reason it is called "from the strait". Understand this.

There is no explicit female counterpart to the partzuf of Arich Anpin, as there is for the partzufim of Abba and Zeir Anpin. Instead, the feminine aspect is implicit. Thus, the yesod of Arich Anpin contains both male and female elements, and therefore the "coupling" at this level is intrinsic. Since the respective male-female aspects of Arich Anpin are not fully articulated, it is called a "strait", a constricted version of this duality.

This is also the mystical significance of the shofar, which alludes to the verse, "From the strait I called out to G‑d; [He answered me in the broad places of G‑d]" (Psalms 118:5), for, as is known, it is narrow on one side and wide on the other.

To explain: The coupling that produces Zeir Anpin is in the yesod of Arich Anpin, but [when it first issues, Zeir Anpin] only manifests a small vav, which comprises only three [sefirot], for [the other] three are folded within the [manifest] three. This is the mystical significance of the sound that issues from the shofar, which comprises only three [elements] - fire, air, and water.

Zeir Anpin corresponds to the vav of the name Havayah, as we have explained previously, and the numerical value of the vav is 6, alluding to the six sefirot from chesed to yesod that metamorphose into the partzuf of Zeir Anpin. But a small vav alludes to the initial iteration of the emotions, i.e. the first three, principle emotions, in which the ancillary three emotions exist only implicitly.

As Zeir Anpin matures, he ascends in spiritual level and approaches Arich Anpin….

...we can deduce things about the spiritual worlds by observing the material world….

This verse is used here (and throughout Kabbalistic literature) to mean that since the phenomena of our material world are derived from their spiritual antecedents, we can deduce things about the spiritual worlds by observing the material world (within given limits and parameters, of course). Here, the physiological behavior of our body hair as we age alludes to spiritual truths in the supernal worlds.

It follows that Abel's offering aroused the supernal daat, and this increased the power of daat of Zeir Anpin, and allowed the spirit of the name Ban [Havayah spelled to have the numerical value of 52] to return to malchut, i.e. to her yesod.

This is the mystical meaning of the verse, "And G‑d turned to Abel and his offering, but to Cain and his offering He did not turn". (Gen. 4:4-5) To explain: This "wool" descended from the supernal daat to Zeir Anpin, which is [permeated by] the name Mah [Havayah spelled out with the letter alef, equaling 45]. The combined numerical values of 45 and the word "wool" [in Hebrew, "tzemer"] is 375, the same as that of the word "turned" ["sha'ah"]. Thus, "…to Cain and his offering He did not turn." But He did turn to Abel, for he brought it down into malchut.

Zeir Anpin is associated with the name Mah (= 45).

"Tzemer" is spelled: tzadik-mem-reish = 90 + 40 + 200 = 330.

330 + 45 = 375.

"Sha'ah" is spelled: shin-ayin-hei = 300 + 70 + 5 = 375.

This indicates that G‑d's turning to (i.e. taking notice of and accepting) the offering was because it drew the "wool" (= 330, i.e. the yesod of Arich Anpin) into Zeir Anpin (45). G‑d did not turn to Cain's offering because he withdrew the wool from Zeir Anpin, i.e. he subverted the process by which divine consciousness and energy is transmitted into malchut.

Thus, it is written, "If you mend your ways, it will be forgiven." (Gen. 4:7) Meaning, "So far, you elevated the name Ban of malchut, which is its "feminine water", and you uprooted them from their proper place. But if you mend your ways, it will be forgiven. That is, you can 'carry' and elevate 'feminine waters', as is proper."

The word for "it will be forgiven" is "se'eit", which literally means "it will be carried, born, lifted". The imagery is that of G‑d carrying the weight of the sin and atoning for it, or of Him bearing the consequence of the sin, rather than it being born by the sinner. Here, the literal imagery of the word is "it will be lifted up" - i.e. G‑d tells Cain that he can, indeed, reconstitute the divine order by repenting of his misconceived plans, submitting to G‑d's vision of how male and female should function together, and thus allow the female to raise and elevate her yearning, her "feminine water", to the male, initiating the process of their coupling and ensuring the proper continuation of their continued existence and fulfillment of their divine mission together.

From all this we can understand the prohibition against shaatnez, and why it is permitted in performing the commandment of tzitzit. (See Pri Etz Chaim, Sha'ar HaTzitzit)

[Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Sha'ar HaMitzvot and Ta'amei HaMitzvot, parashat Kedoshim; subsequently published in "Apples From the Orchard" - now available from Kabbala Online Shop]