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The Keys to Life

Conflicting Forces vs. Harmonious Duality Rabbi Zamir Cohen

Some people are confounded by the Torah’s prohibitions involving the combination of two entities. Examples of this include cooking and eating meat and milk together; wearing a garment made of both wool and linen; pairing an ox and a donkey for plowing; and relations between a man and a woman who are not lawfully married

Conflicting Forces vs. Harmonious Duality Rabbi Zamir Cohen

Some people are confounded by the Torah’s prohibitions involving the combination of two entities. Examples of this include cooking and eating meat and milk together; wearing a garment made of both wool and linen; pairing an ox and a donkey for plowing; sexual relations between a man and a woman who are not lawfully married (even if they are lawfully married, they must still remain separate from each other during the woman’s impure days until she immerses herself in the mikveh [ritual bath]). But what people fail to realize is that through these precepts, the Master of the Universe is actually revealing a secret law that He has embedded in His world for our benefit. By becoming aware of this law, we can be spared from many losses and injuries—both in the physical world that we live in and in the spiritual realm, as we will soon explain.

As we know, the world of nature is composed of two types of opposing forces. Some forces complement each other, like electrical polarities, and can illuminate a house and activate various useful systems. Other forces have the ability to cause devastating damages when converged, as in the case of certain chemical mixtures. There are numerous examples illustrating this idea.

It is explained in Kabbalah that even in the spiritual realm, which mirrors the physical world, there are various opposing forces.[1] When combined, some of these forces create balance and harmony, while others cause short circuits, destruction, and devastation. Since physical matter is nothing but an encasing for its own spiritual root that it embodies. (The spiritual aspect is compared to the root while the physical aspect is compared to the branches that sprout from it and materialize in our world—similar to an upside-down tree whose roots are above and its branches below. These roots become rejuvenated by a current that flows from within the branches.) There are certain substances that if we were to physically combine them (so their spiritual aspects would automatically connect on an inner, root level as well), we would create a perfect balance in the corresponding spiritual realm at that moment. There are other substances whose combination will cause dissonance, damage, and destruction in the parallel spiritual world.

For example, according to Kabbalah, it is recommended to mix three drops of water into the Kiddush wine before reciting the Friday night blessing.[2] The spiritual root of water belongs to the Sphere of Kindness, as it rejuvenates and benefits the world. Its existence in the world originates from the attribute of kindness through which G-d runs His world. Therefore its color is light and clear. Wine, on the other hand, which causes drunkenness, confusion, and harshness in the world, belongs in its spiritual root to the Sphere of Judgment. It belongs to the attribute of justice, which G-d sets into motion whenever necessary, and is therefore red. Since man is compared to a “ladder that’s set earthward with its head reaching heavenward,” every action performed by him down on earth affects the spiritual realm that correlates to the physical world.[3] So when a person adds three drops of water into his Kiddush wine, he creates a positive impact and “sweetens the judgments [that come down to the world] with kindness.”

On the other hand, a Jew who mixes substances that are drastically different in their spiritual makeup will cause a clash to occur in the upper realms that will result in spiritual (and physical) damages on a massive scale. A good example of this is cooking meat and milk together, even if he doesn’t eat them, as both of these foods come from animals and have divergent functions. Meat, which is hard to chew and digest, possesses the attribute of judgment. That’s why it is red.

White-colored milk, on the other hand, whose root is nurturing and soft, resides within the Sphere of Kindness.[4] When a Jew cooks these two opposite forces together,[5] they damage the spiritual dimension of the world even if he doesn’t actually eat from this incompatible mixture[6]—but all the more so if he were to ingest it. This is why we have the following commandment in the Torah: “Do not cook a goat in its mother’s milk.”[7]

Cooking Meat with Milk

The holy Zohar explains in depth how in the spiritual realm the young goat represents the external flesh, also known as the outer shell of a fruit, and the quality of tumah, impurity.[8] (Tumah has the same letters as otem, sealed, like a sealed encasing. However, in the goat this only refers to the milk and not to the goat itself.) The milk that’s inside the mammary glands of the animal possesses the property of the fruit itself, representing holiness. When a person cooks them together he causes the forces of impurity to draw from the holiness that belongs to the Jewish people, which then causes the judgments to be aroused and become active in this world until the enemies of the Jews begin to take control, G-d forbid. “This depends on the action. The action below arouses the heavens.”[9]

The Zohar also says that by eating forbidden foods, the person becomes sealed with an encasing of impurity and the image of G-d is removed from him. But when a person is careful in this regard, he is given the ability to endure his hardships, as G-d’s image is preserved in him. This is how Daniel was saved when he was thrown into the lion’s den.[10] He withstood the difficult task of avoiding forbidden foods despite the orders of King Nebuchadnezzar, who commanded him to eat them.[11] As a result, his image became complete with the image of G-d and the lions became fearful of him.

It should be noted that just like every mitzvah possesses the four PARDES layers of depth, this mitzvah too has an additional meaning belonging to the simple, pshat level in this hierarchy. According to this level, the reason it is prohibited for us to cook meat and milk together is because both meat and milk are individually permitted for consumption. Other non-kosher foods don’t have this cooking prohibition attached to them because the foods themselves are independently prohibited, and therefore altogether avoided.

However, when it comes to meat and milk (each of which is individually permitted), there’s a fear that the person will taste them during the cooking process. That is why the Torah included this cooking precaution.[12]

In the same way every mitzvah contains a practical benefit for man in this world in addition to its ultimate spiritual benefit, the prohibition of eating meat and milk contains that benefit too. Recent studies have discovered that the differences that exist in the spiritual roots of meat and milk have health implications. Milk products interrupt the digestion of meat when they are consumed together with meat or immediately after it. Meat is digested in the stomach by means of acidic juices, while milk contains a basic quality that counteracts the acid. So when a person eats meat and milk together, the milk counteracts the gastric juices and disturbs the digestion of the meat.

By the time the meat is digested, it is no longer fresh and beneficial to the body. (As we know, one must wait six hours before eating dairy. However, when dairy is consumed first, there is no need to wait. Chewing on bread or eating a piece of fruit and then rinsing the mouth is sufficient. If a person touched the milk products, he must wash his hands as well.) This is a law that is wonderfully suited for the preservation of human health and man’s natural disposition. When milk precedes meat, it loses its effect on the existing juices. When meat is consumed, the stomach secretes new juices to properly digest the meat.

The Ben Ish Chai writes that according to the mystics, since milk represents kindness and meat represents judgment—and we know that the one on the bottom overpowers—when kindness precedes, it overpowers the judgment that follows.[13] But when judgments enter first, it is forbidden to eat milk products afterward, as the judgments will then overpower the kindness. Rather, a person must wait six hours for the meat to digest and for the power of judgment to subside.


In the same vein, wool, which has a warming property, stems from the root of kindness. Linen, which has a cooling nature, stems from the root of judgment. The following is commanded in the Torah: “You shall not wear combined fibers, wool and linen together.”[14] This type of dress creates a sharply contrasting mechanism in the spiritual realm that draws conflicting energies that negatively influence the soul of the person wearing shaatnez.

The matter is so grave that our sages say the following in the Talmud: “If a person finds kilaim (mixed kinds) in his clothes, he must remove them even in the marketplace.”[15]

The simple explanation for this prohibition is that flax comes from the world of vegetation and can be used by man without limitation. On the other hand, since wool is taken from animals, and animals need their wool for warmth at certain times of the year, the person must be very careful not to cause the animal distress by shearing its wool at the wrong time. Therefore, the Torah teaches us not to combine the two fibers in one garment, so that we will remember the differences between them: that one may be used without restriction, while the other must be used with the right measure and consideration.

I heard a dermatologist recently say that there’s a skin condition that’s difficult to cure that develops by wearing wool and linen together. In his opinion, the condition is caused by the effect the conflicting cooling and warming properties of the fibers has on the skin. I am unaware of an authorized medical source for this study; however, it is not because of the harmful health effects that we have this prohibition. Rather, it is the prohibition that teaches us that it also has a health implication, as all physical matter is nothing but a manifestation of the spiritual realm.

An Ox and a Donkey Yoked Together…

For the same inherent reason, we were commanded in the Torah: “You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together.”[16] On a simple level, we know that an ox is bolder in its character and physically stronger than a donkey. When the two animals are attached together to a plow or a wagon, the donkey may experience distress for being unable to keep up with the fast-paced ox. Therefore, making them work side by side is considered animal cruelty.

Additionally, since the ox chews its cud and the donkey does not, the donkey might look over at the ox and feel jealous that it is chewing food. That will lead him to remain desirous and hungry, as it knows that it does not have the ability to chew its cud like the ox. In order to spare the donkey this pain, the Torah forbade us to plow with the two of them together.

However, according to the mystics, the ox represents the judgment aspect of holiness, while the donkey’s root lies in the Sitra Achra.[17] Therefore, harnessing them together in this world leads to a spiritual fusion of two difficult forces and to the inevitable negative influence that descends to this world as a result.

Harmonious Duality

While the convergence of some opposing extremes causes destruction, there are other forces that are meant to be combined and purposely connected, like in the case of males and females. These two opposites exist in the natural world in general and in the human being (known as the crown jewel of creation) in particular. In humans, it is the contrast between males and females that completes them when they unite. As it says regarding the creation of man, “He created them male and female, He blessed them and called their name ‘man.’”[18] After all, we know that when a male and a female unite they are called “man” because their two halves complement each other and come together as one.[19] However, the Creator has revealed to His children through the Torah that this union is good and beneficial to them, but only if the couple is married in accordance with Jewish law and the woman purifies herself in the mikveh. However, when one of these elements is missing, or one partner is Jewish while the other is not, there’s a harmful conflict that is more severe than everything that’s been previously mentioned.

For a Jew, a lawful chuppah and kiddushin (bridal canopy and betrothal) create a connection between the roots of both souls as they become one. When the woman is cleansed of the impurities of her menses, her union with her husband creates a spiritual connection between the two halves of their souls that draws down a lofty and abundant energy for themselves as well as the entire world. The holier and purer they are in their observance of Torah and mitzvot, the more abundance they will draw down to the world.[20] However, if the couple is not lawfully married, or the woman has not purified herself following her menses, instead of a healthy and beneficial union that will elevate the two partners to a state of true completion and unity, a clash will occur between them, and they will suffer the severe consequences of karet (lit. cutting off).[21]

The Tikunei HaZohar says that an unmarried man who has relations with an impure woman will lose his true soul mate due to this severe act.[22]

This would not be the case if the woman counted her seven clean days, performed the proper examinations, and immersed in the mikveh,[23] because as we’ve said, the two of them together create a lofty spiritual impact on their individual roots and on the upper realms in general. After all, man is compared to a ladder that’s fixed earthward, while its head is directed heavenward.

This lofty spiritual matter has a great deal of meaning embedded inside it, even with regard to life in this world. A couple that protected their holiness during their single years arrives at their chuppah with pure hearts that connect to one another in a wonderful way—without any scars or emotional baggage from the past. Those who observe the laws of physical contact will generally get married younger and avoid delaying marriage to a stage in life when things become more difficult. Among those who do observe these laws, the process of choosing a partner is done in a more rational and objective way, as the choice is made without the distractions associated with physical contact. There is much to be gained from this approach after the wedding too, as these types of couples will generally not have any memories or past experiences to look to for comparison.[24]

When a married couple observes the laws of family purity, aside from protecting themselves from exposure to various diseases and health problems,[25] they also experience a renewal of their relationship month after month. As Rabbi Meir says in the Talmud, “She is as beloved to her husband as when she first entered under the chuppah,”[26] as we’ve detailed at length in “Breaking the Routine.” This is especially true when they guard their eyes and thoughts from impurity and do so out of love and appreciation of their soul—as we were commanded in the Torah, “Do not explore after your heart and after your eyes.”[27] This couple will ultimately be happy and content with each other. After all, a person who does not tempt himself is a calmer individual who is happy and satisfied with everything he has.


Notes and Sources

[1] Refer to the Zohar on Mishpatim 125a: There are two ways by which the world functions; right and left. Therefore, there are some created beings who are more inclined toward the right and some who are more inclined toward the left. Both sides depend on the Divine Presence and try to draw sustenance from it. Refer to the source for a description of the way by which the damage occurs during the drawing process referred to as the property of the g’di (young goat; the term g’di izim represents the Sitra Achra, the “other side,” in a number of places. Ez [sheep] comes from the word azut [boldness and harshness]) that nurses from “its mother’s milk.”

[2] See the Ben Ish Chai (Year 2, Bereishit 29) in the name of the Arizal.

[3] See The Coming Revolution, Part 2, “Parallel Universes.”

[4] For further reading on this topic refer to “The World of Colors” in this book.

[5] Specifically by a Jew because the root of his soul passes through all four worlds, known as ABIAH, and reaches the world of AK. Therefore, every act that a person does in this world affects and creates a change in the upper realms. Refer to HaTzofen for a deeper explanation of the structure of the Jewish soul in the chapter entitled “The Structure of the Spheres and the Progression of the Worlds,” p. 336.

[6] Tzror HaMor, Parshat Mishpatim 80:2; Ben Ish Chai, Parshat Behaalotcha.

[7] Shemot 23:19. Even though it says “in its mother’s milk,” any kind of milk is forbidden. As it says in Psikta, “Do not cook a goat in its mother’s milk.” This refers to any animal or beast, but is mentioning that time period (Psikta Zutra, Shemot 22). Once the milk became available for use after a young goat’s birth, it was the way of the gentiles to cook the tender goat in the milk that was available to them at that moment. Therefore the Torah worded the prohibition this way. This is the simple explanation, but allegoric and mystical levels of the Torah offer much deeper meanings to the wording of this verse.

[8] Zohar, Parshat Mishpatim 124b.

[9] Ibid. 125a.

[10] Daniel 6.

[11] Ibid. 1.

[12] The Even Ezra gave another reason (Shemot 23:19), namely, that it is considered cruel. Refer to his explanation. The Rashbam (ibid.) says that it is considered ravenous. Refer to his explanation. Rabbenu Bechaye (ibid.) argues that it causes a maddening of the heart and he explains why. Refer to his explanation. See the explanation given by the Rambam in Guide to the Perplexed (part 3, ch. 48) and in the Sefer HaChinuch (mitzvah 92).

[13]Ben Ish Chai, Parshat Behaalotcha.

[24] Devarim 22:11.

[15] Berachot 19b. Our sages have provided a reason for this: “There is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against G-d”; if G-d has commanded, there’s nothing that can counteract His command. First because He is the Creator and we are required to obey His commandments even if we do not understand them, and also because all of His commandments are for the benefit of man. Even a commandment that a layman cannot understand must still be executed, as the wisdom of man cannot be compared to the wisdom of the Creator.

[16] Devarim 22:10.

[17] Refer to Yechezkel 1:10, “As for the likeness of their faces: There was a human face; and a lion’s face to the right for the four of them, and an ox’s face to the left for the four of them, and an eagle’s face for the four of them.”

As we know, the left is the side of judgment. Refer to the Zohar (Zohar Chadash, Tikunim, vol. 2, p. 88a).

[18] Bereishit 5:2.

[19] Regarding the way in which a husband and wife differ and complement one another, see “A Practical Guide for Husband and Wife,” as it is something that brings marital harmony.

[20] Therefore, a Torah scholar should have relations with his wife during the holiest time, which is Friday night, as it is stated in the Zohar, Vayakhel 204b and Acharei Mot 78a. The Zohar, Parshat Yitro 89b, says that children who are conceived from a Friday night union by couples who sanctify themselves in the holiness of the Creator and direct their heart to the proper place, are referred to as “the children of the Holy One, blessed be He.” And these are children who are elevated and holy and do not deviate from the straight path.

[21] It is written, “The two of them will be cut off from the midst of their people” (Vayikra 20:18). Their soul is cut off from the tree of souls. We will see this person alive and functioning in this world, but in reality his soul is not receiving the spiritual abundance from above, as it is disconnected from its life source. This has many implications.

[22] Tikunei HaZohar, Tikuna Arbeisar 30a.

[23] See HaTzofen for the depth and significance of impurity and the purification process by means of immersion in a mikveh, the chapter on the letter mem, p. 197. It should be mentioned that in studies conducted on auras (see The Coming Revolution, “The Aura and the Tefillin”), it’s been found that after a woman immerses in the mikveh, the color of her aura transforms to a loftier color. This attests to an inner spiritual transformation—to a higher level of enlightenment.

[24] See “Causes for a Delayed Marriage.”

[25] See The Coming Revolution, “The Stages of the Menstrual Cycle.”

[26] Niddah 31b.

[27] Bamidbar 15:39.

Adapted from "The Keys to Life" by Rabbi Zamir Cohen