The first Mitzvah commanded to humanity was, “Be fruitful and multiply.” In other words, “Advance My (G-d’s) purpose in creating the universe by having children who will exercise their free will in service to Me.” In other words, “create families.”
From the stated record of creation we can identify two key words/concepts: 1. “Vayavdel – and G-d separated” and 2. “L’meeno Asher Zaroh Boh – according to its species, seed scattering.”
The first concept defines separation and division as natural and good. The second concept explains that species have the ability, and were intended to reproduce themselves from within their own species. Species do not have to co-mingle with other species in order to survive. In fact, to mix separate species is forbidden as Kilayim (mixtures of different seeds and grafting), Shatnez (mixture of wool and linen), intermarriage, meat and milk, kosher and non-kosher, or not harnessing an ox and a donkey together.
Rav S.R. Hirsch writes, “We learn that all these countless varieties of creation are governed by one and the same law: L’menaihu, L’meno – according to its species. Each of them is to work only for its own species and to develop only within the circumscribed sphere assigned to its own kind…. Each species preserves its reproductive energies only L’meno, for its own species, and only human caprice would force it into unnatural, that is, unlawful unions.” (1:11-13)
This is obvious to most of us and accepted by most of us as it applies to the natural world of fish, fowl, animals and vegetation. It is far less obvious and acceptable to us when applied to the social world of humankind. From a humanistic point of view many are unwilling to acknowledge or accept the natural boundaries of “L’meeno Asher Zaroh Boh – according to its species, seed scattering,” that exists within the vast species of human. We wish to believe that differences between nations, religions, cultures, and the sexes are our own invention, not the natural order of the universe. We rightfully fear the slippery slope of elitism, bias, and intolerance. Yet the Torah stresses separation and speciation! Obviously, the natural order cannot be bad. It must be good.
Let’s look at the reality of “the vast species of human.” First of all, we are not that vast. Compared to all the species of the world we are the smallest. If there are smaller species it is because we have chosen to endanger their existence. Minus the human, nature’s cyclic ecosystem would be self-governing and calibrating. “Only human caprice” can destroy the holistically perfect system that is nature.
Secondly, appearance wise, the human species is most dissimilar to other species.
Thirdly, humans are the weakest of all the species relative to their size. When born, we remain dependent the longest, and throughout life we require the greatest care and maintenance.
To compensate for our physical weaknesses G-d gave us our minds,intellect, and Bechirah – free will. He gave us the ability to emulate Himself by being able to care for more than ourselves. (Note: The Jews are called by the Torah as “M’at Mekul Hamim -smallest of all the nations.” Just as humankind was given intellect and free will as compensation, so too were the Jews given the Torah, the essence of intellect and free-will as compensation.)
Regarding all other species Rav S.R. Hirsch said, “Each of them is to work only for its own species and to develop only within the circumscribed sphere assigned to its own kind.” Humans however, can extend themselves beyond self-preservation even to the degree of self-sacrifice. This is the basic characteristic of Chesed – kindness. We can choose to give of ourselves to others (all of nature, not just humans) without compensation, personal gain, and even with personal loss. This is the uniqueness of the human species. This is our divine quality.
(One might even say that in this regard we even surpass G-d. G-d knows all, controls all, and His continuous Chesed can not cause Him to suffer any loss. We, on the other hand, can choose to do Chesed, even when there is perceived loss. (Wow!) I wonder what reward awaits those who seem to surpass G-d in the arena of Chesed?)
Do not mistake what appear to be acts of Chesed and self-sacrifice within other species. A mother cat will naturally fight for the safety and survival of her kittens. However, will she be equally ferocious in protecting another species offspring? On the other hand, a human mother will naturally fight for the safety and survival of her own children but can elect to do the same for someone else’s children.
A dog might sacrifice itself for the safety and survival of his master because that is natural to the character and conditioning of the dog; however,it will not do the same for anyone else.
Let us go a little deeper into the concepts of Vayavdel and L’meno, separation and speciation. The Torah’s thumbnail sketch of creation begins sometime after the beginning. An even cursory glance at the first few verses reveals that there was a earth, that it was confused and tangled that there was darkness, and that there were waters. G-d then created light, and then G-d separated the light from the darkness. G-d then separated the upper and lower waters with a dividing firmament. G-d then contained the lower waters creating a separation between water and land.
It appears that the true account of creation was far more an act of separation and clarification (that it was confused and tangeled ) than it was an act of creation. The Ramban – Nachmanidies (1:1) writes, “Now listen to the correct and clear explanation of the verse in its simplicity. G-d created all things from absolute non-existence… Everything that exists under the sun or above was not made from non-existence at the outset. Instead He brought forth from total and absolute nothing a very thin substance devoid of corporeality but having apower of potency, fit to assume form and to proceed from potentiality into reality. This was the primary matter created by G-d; it is called by the Greeks “hyly – matter”. After the hyly He did not create anything, but He brought everything into existence and clothed the forms and put them into a finished condition… This hyly is called in the sacred language, “Tohu”. Therefore, we are correct in saying that the true account of creation was far more an act of separation and clarification than it was an act of creation.”
Separation provides clarity, and clarity provides us with an understanding of G-d’s intended purpose. When there is confusion there cannot be appreciation and respect for individual purpose. To the degree that we accept the natural order of separation will be the extent of our respect, sensitivity, and appreciation.
If I believe that the world revolves around “me” I will not perceive favors done for me as deserving of appreciation or thanks. If I accept that You and I are rightfully separate and apart, the Chesed you do toward me will be recognized as such and appreciated.
When a couple first meet and engage each other in exploration and discovery each sees the other as separate, unique, and valuable. However, as relationships advance toward greater familiarity the boundaries between them become dulled and enmeshed. The familiarity causes a lessening of the separation and the value.
This is equally true between parents and children. Parents naturally see their children as extensions of themselves. When first born, the novelty and responsibility generates wonderment, delicate sensitivity, and appreciation.They are truly “little human beings!” However, in time, the novelty and respect wear thin. This is true for friendships, business relationships, and all social engagements.
Before the separation of Chava from the first human creature called Adam, G-d asked Adam to name all the animals of the field. Verse 2:2 states, “Adam gave names to all the cattle…but he found no helper fitting for man.” Why was it important for Adam to first name all the animals before Chava was separated?
I would like to suggest that the unique characteristic of the human to do Chesed beyond the limits of his own self, family and species has a negative side as well. Just as animals cannot do Chesed to others, so too do they respect the natural order of separation and speciation. However, that which the natural world takes for granted humanity had to learn. Our divine ability to reach beyond ourselves also allows us to ignore the natural order of separation and speciation. Therefore, Adam had to first learn that he was different, separate, and unique before he could appreciate the separation of Chava. This was accomplished through the naming of all the animals.
Therefore, the Jew who prides himself on being kind, compassionate and the most separate of all nations must be trained through G-d’s commandments in accepting the natural order of separation and speciation rather than imposing his good intended will beyond the arena of his divinely ordained influence.
(That is why there are prohibitions such as: Kilayim (mixtures of different seeds and grafting), Shatnez (mixture of wool and linen), intermarriage, mixing meat and milk together, kosher and non-kosher, or not harnessing an ox and a donkey together.)
Copyright © 2001 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley Village, CA.