Tag Archives: Shaving

Prohibitions of Idolatry (N#1-45)

The list of Torah mitzvot continues with the negative commandments, those things that we must abstain from and not do. There are a total of 365 negative mitzvot. The first 45 relate to various prohibitions associated with idolatry.

Read the full text here. 

Summary: The first negative commandment is not to even consider the thought of idolatry or that there are any other gods. There are many more idolatry-related prohibitions that follow. These include not making idols (#2), not to bow down to them (#5), or worship them in any other way (#6), not to make idolatrous pillars (#11) or prostrating stones (#12), or planting trees for worship (#13). Also are prohibitions of prophesying in the name of a false god (#26) or to listen to such “prophecies” (#28), or to follow any customs or laws of idolaters (#30). Relatedly, the next eight mitzvot have to do with prohibiting all kinds of black magic and fortune-telling. Divination, witchcraft, sorcery, and necromancy are all strictly forbidden. There are another seven negative mitzvot which, according to the Rambam, are associated with idolatry or adopting inappropriate foreign customs. These include cross-dressing (#39-40), tattooing (#41), wearing garments with wool and linen intertwined (sha’atnez, #42), shaving off the hair around the temples and beards (#43-44), and self-mortification, specifically cutting into flesh (#45).

There are shatnez-testing services and events in Jewish communities around the world. A garment can be checked under a microscope to determine if it has a prohibited mixture of fabrics.

Insight: One of the Torah’s most mysterious mitzvot is that of sha’atnez, the prohibition of wearing garments that have wool and linen combined. What is the problem of weaving together wool and linen? Some suggest that this prohibition is similar to that of not consuming meat and dairy products together. Meat is representative of death and bloodshed, while milk is a liquid of life. They have completely opposing spiritual energies, and thus should not be mixed together. Similarly, wool comes from animals while linen comes from plants. They have contradicting spiritual energies and should not be combined. On a deeper, mystical level, the Arizal (Rabbi Itzchak Luria, 1534-1572) explained that it all goes back to Cain and Abel. Recall that each of the brothers brought an offering to God, but Cain’s was inferior. God turned to Abel, and this angered Cain, eventually leading to the first murder. The Arizal states that Cain had brought an offering of linen, while Abel had brought an offering of wool (see Sha’ar HaMitzvot on Kedoshim). Henceforth, this “mixture” of wool and linen became spiritually problematic. By separating between these two fabrics, we accomplish a tikkun, a spiritual rectification for that great sin at the beginning of civilization. The Arizal’s predecessor, the Ramak (Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, 1522-1570) pointed out that sha’atnez (שעטנז) is an anagram of satan oz (שטן עז), and this mitzvah has a particularly strong ability to ward off and combat evil forces.

Mitzvot of Redemption, Purity, and Nazirites (P#80-109)

The Torah’s positive mitzvot continue.

Read the full text here.

Summary: The 80th mitzvah is to redeem a firstborn son, while the 81st is to redeem a firstborn donkey. The 82nd is to decapitate a firstborn donkey if it was not redeemed. Mitzvot #83-91 all have to do with more nuances of sacrifices, and these mitzvot do not apply today. The 92nd is for one who takes on a Nazirite vow to grow their hair long, and the 93rd is for the Nazirite to shave their hair once their vow is fulfilled and their term is over. The 94th is for a person to fulfil any promises that they might make, and the 95th is to follow the proper procedures of the nullification of vows if one is unable to fulfil a promise. Mitzvot #96-107 list various things that cause a person to become impure, including a woman in menses, a man who has had a seminal emission, and contact with a dead person or dead animal. The 108th mitzvah deals with the purification procedure that uses sprinkling waters of the Red Heifer ashes. The 109th is to immerse in a mikveh for purification.

‘Presentation of the First-born’ (1724 Illustration by Georg Puschner)

Insight: God declared that the entire Jewish people would be a “nation of priests” (Exodus 19:6). Originally, every firstborn male of every Jewish family was expected to serve as a kohen. However, following the sin of the Golden Calf, God designated the tribe of Levi alone to serve as priests, and specifically those male descendants of Aaron to be the kohanim. Henceforth, a firstborn male would have to be “redeemed”, hence the 80th mitzvah above. This means that the father of a child pays a kohen to “buy out” the child from priestly service, designating the kohen to serve instead. This is typically done with 5 silver coins. The ceremony is known as pidyon haben, and is still done today. A firstborn male adult who was not redeemed by his father as a child is still obligated to redeem himself from a kohen!