Our Gemara on the top of Amud Aleph discusses the mitzvah of Tzitzis. Using an idea from Sefer Haikkarim, Yismach Moshe offers a psychological and symbolic explanation for this mitzvah.
Sefer Haikkarim (III:15) provides a philosophical backstory to the rivalry of Kayin and Hevel. Both left with the task of making their way in the world, Kayin works the land, while Hevel chooses to herd animals. Naturally, each brings sacrifices from their chosen trade and occupation. Since Kayin brought inferior produce and Hevel superior produce, Hevel’s sacrifice was accepted and Kayin’s offerings were refused.
Was Kayin and Hevel’s choice of trade a mere preference, or something deeper? Rav Albo says that Kayin saw himself as equal to the animals; this is why he could not see himself as herding cattle and choose agriculture instead. Hevel believed that humans are not above animals per se, in that they too may not eat animals, but understood the human’s role as caretaker. This is why he brought sacrifices from the animals as a tribute to God, but he did not partake of it.
Here is where Rav Albo adds to the story: While Kayin’s Philosophy was defective, so was Hevel’s. Hevel died because his philosophy was deceptive and closer to the truth, but still incorrect. (This alone is an interesting idea. Hevel was fated to die moreso than Kayin because his “religion” was close enough to the truth as to lead people astray. Kayin’s ideas were so far off, that it was not necessary to eliminate him.) Hevel’s defective philosophy was that he still did not believe that humans cou;d transcend to become substantially spiritual, and were still, essentially, animals. The only difference between humans and animals is that humans have dominion, which is why they can offer animals as sacrifice but not eat them. God’s message to Kayin was, “You can do more than this” – (Bereishis 4:7) “If you will choose good, then you will be accepted.” Meaning, that humans can transcend beyond mere animals who happen to walk on two feet. This is why only the third brother, Sheis, is described as “in his image” (Bereishis 5:3), which is in the image of God, as only Sheis had the correct idea.
Furthermore, Kayin rationalizes that he can kill Hevel, as after all, in the end a human is no worse or better than an animal. This is the potentially slippery slope of so-called compassionate ideas in society that are not founded in wisdom and tradition. The same folks who champion animal rights might also champion the right to an abortion, based on the mythical idea of mother’s right and choice over the living fetus instead of medical necessity. A person starts out like Kayin, nobly caring for animals and defending their rights as equals, and ends up committing murder. As Midrash Tehilim (7:20) warns: “One who is compassionate when it is appropriate to be cruel, ends up being cruel when he is supposed to be compassionate.”
Wool comes from animals and represents Hevel’s shepherding, while linen is a plant product, representing Kayin’s agriculture. Yismach Moshe (Bereishis 8) explains that the forbidden mixtures of wool and linen commemorate and warn us about Kayin and Hevel’s incorrect philosophies.
This is why I believe that Shaatnez is permitted in the Mitzvah of Tzitzis (and Yismach Moshe was hinting at). Tzitzis represents Torah (Bamidbar 15:39: “You shall see them and remember all the mitzvos…”, Only through Torah can the ideas of Kayin and Hevel be implemented with proper checks and balances. We can be humble and realize that “Man is (potentially) no greater than beast” (Koheles 3:19), and we can limit our consumption of meat for survival and not gluttony (Devarim 12:20.) Yet, this realization is tempered with the paradoxical truth that humans also can transcend animalistic tendencies and become something greater than a mere animal with frontal lobes.