Dafei Tang
Dafei Tang

Kedoshim – The Secret of Shaatnez

In this week’s Parasha, the law of shaatnez was ordained:

וּבֶגֶד כִּלְאַיִם שַׁעַטְנֵז, לֹא יַעֲלֶה עָלֶיךָ …neither shall there come upon thee a garment of two kinds of stuff mingled together. (Lev 19:9)


The “stuff mingled”, i.e. shaatnez, is further clarified as wool and flax in Deu 22:11.

The Rabbis have found a connection of the shaatnez with the cosmic struggle between the first twins in the opening chapter of history, that of Cain and Abel, that had resulted in the first murder case. “…for the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering, but unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect…” (Gen 4:4-5).

What do Cain and Abel represent and what is the deeper connection with the prohibition of shaatnez?

Cain קַיִן means acquisition, which is the primary task of man in this world of materialism. On the other hand, Abel הָבֶל means vanity, or vapor denoting emptiness void of material content, which suggests a diametrically opposed worldview from that of his elder brother.

The fraternal conflict therefore represents the struggle of this world of physicality with the higher world of spirituality within the deepest consciousness of man.

Cain’s profession of farming is intrinsically connected to the land as the prime acquisition and possession that instills one with a sense of permanency and security, that which is tangible of this world, aka Olam HaZeh, whereas Abel being the shepherd of sheep severed this attachment to the land attesting the transient of earthly pursuit in hope of a better one, the world to come, aka Olam HaBa.

As to their dispute that had led to the death of Abel, there are three rabbinical opinions, and the common denominator is that of the division of possession between the twins. In the first opinion Cain laid claim to all that is immoveable, with the land as the prime estate, leaving the moveable property to Abel. The dispute arose when Abel accused Cain of having his garment which was moveable, whereas the elder accused the younger of standing on his land, which was immoveable.

The second opinion has to do with where the Temple would be built, and the third opinion is about fighting over the extra sister that Abel had as wife, for Cain had one sister as his wife, but Abel had two sisters as his wives.

As someone once has observed, these are the three reasons for starting a world war: territory, religion and woman.

But it can go deeper, to the consciousness of man in search of relationship with God. The first dispute is the relationship between man and man where property possession has historically been the key point of contention, the second dispute is the relationship between man and God in debating who is the chosen one, the third dispute is about man himself, for the other half of man’s soul is his wife.

The common theme between the first two disputes is exemplified in the later construction of the tabernacle and the Temple. The tabernacle is moveable in the wilderness, while the Temple is fixed to the land of Israel. In terms of primary building materials, the skins and hairs from the animal kingdom in the tabernacle are what differentiate the cedar trees from the plant kingdom in the Temple, again a reflection of the primordial conflict between wool and flax.

Tabernacle in Hebrew is Mishkan מִשְׁכַּן which means “dwelling”, i.e. the dwelling of God on earth, by which “the whole earth is full of his glory “;

מְלֹא כָל-הָאָרֶץ, כְּבוֹדוֹ the whole earth is full of His glory (Isa 6:3)


While the moving tabernacle corresponds to the other-wordiness of Abel, paradoxically the whole “earth” is full of his glory by means of the tabernacle.

Temple in Hebrew is Mikdash מִּקְדָּשׁ which means “holiness”, meaning separation from this world, by claiming “Holy, Holy, Holy…”.

קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts (Isa 6:3)


The earthly Cain in the Temple experience is constantly reminded of the transcendent God that is set-apart from this world of physicality.

In this context the flax would parallel Mikdash in that they are both rooted in the land while the wool (sheep) would parallel the Mishkan in that both are meandering through the wilderness.

Flax represents the glory of Egypt where it grows in abundance along the Nile in the natural order; in contrast, wool speaks of the glory of the Land of Israel where sustenance comes by the faith in God.

By focusing on the land, Cain represents the view point that Olam HaZeh has supremacy over Olam HaBa for the process is what takes one to the destination, or the means determines the end.

But why didn’t God favor the offering of Cain, especially when he brought his offering first, and Abel was only following his elder brother’s example?

Abel represents the opposing view point that the spiritual should reign over the physical, and the end is what makes the means meaningful and worthwhile.

Cain is pragmatic, down to the earth, believing actions lead to final redemption, but Abel is of the spiritual mind that believes the ultimate redemption comes by the will of God, irrespective of human effort, and it is always the physical that has persecuted the spiritual as testified by Cain murdering Abel.

The white wool affords warmth, denoting the Sefirah of Chesed, boundless love that will ultimately ushers in the final redemption, and the darker flax cools down the heat to the direction of Gevurah with restriction and limitation.

While Chesed and Gevurah unifies in Tiferet which is beauty, the union nonetheless leans toward the right side of Chesed, as represented by Abel.

Similarly, while both viewpoints have their intrinsic value in their proper context, in terms of relationship with God, the spiritual must reign supreme over the physical, for God has accepted Abel but rejected Cain.

The gematria of both concepts is 1369, which is 37 squared, where 37 is the gematria of Abel הָבֶל:

Chesed, Gevurah, Tiferet חֶסֶד גְּבוּרָה תִּפְאֶרֶת 1369
Wool and flax, Cain and Abel צֶמֶר וּפִשְׁתִּים קַיִן וְהֶבֶל 1369


But Cain refused to mend his ways, and his punishment was the detachment from the land in becoming a wanderer like Abel (Gen 4:14).

Cain instead built a city, the first recorded case of urbanization, a further decent into the physicality.

The shaatnez is specific to the flax and wool being woven together for garment, for which purpose the flax is the best from the plant kingdom, and the wool is the best from the animal kingdom. In the same way that the plant is consumed by the animal in the elevation of the soul, so shall the flax submit to the rule of the wool, for the elder shall serve the younger (Gen 25:23).

This being the case, why are the wool and flax allowed to be woven together in the holy garment of the High Priest, but only white garment of linen can be worn on Yom Kippur?

While the interwoven of wool and flax represents Olam HaBa being at variance with Olam HaZeh, it is precisely the work of the High Priest that unifies this dichotomy on a daily basis, except on the day of Yom Kippur when the High Priest must be attired in pure white linen, this is because on Yom Kippur the duality is nullified such that the Olam HaZeh becomes Olam HaBa, and the flax has become like the wool in its whiteness of inter-inclusion.

While 364 days of the year man is under the power of Satan, it is on Yom Kippur when the power of Satan is nullified:

The Satan הַשָּׂטָן 364


With the dichotomy of flax and wool symbolizing the cosmic struggle between Cain and Abel, Jacob and Edom, the five letters of shaatnez can permute to spell the power of Satan, which is nullified by the Tabernacle of YHVH:

Jacob, Edom, Cain and Abel יַעֲקֹב אֱדוֹם קַיִן וְהֶבֶל 436
Shaatnez שַׁעַטְנֵז 436
Power of Satan עָז שָׂטָן 436
Tabernacle of YHVH מִשְׁכַּן יְהוָה 436
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