Got to keep it separated

Rabbi Noah Arnow serves Kol Rinah.

By Rabbi Noah Arnow

Ok, I’m going to come out and say it. I hope no one will think less of me.  

Here goes.  

I don’t like fruit salad.  

I don’t like how all the fruits get mixed up and taste generically fruity.  I like my fruits individuated. I like my apples to taste like apples, my bananas to taste like bananas, and so on.  

In this week’s parashah, Ki Tetze, from the middle of Deuteronomy, we are instructed not to mix different kinds of seeds in the same section of a field, not to yoke a donkey and an ox together to plow, and not to wear clothing that is made from wool and linen woven together.  

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These prohibited combinations are sometimes understood simply as divine decree, with no logic to them other than obedience to God’s will. Others understand them historically, suggesting that pagan priests intentionally wore shatnez, the Hebrew word for these prohibited combinations.  

But I have a different way of thinking about shatnez. Each of these examples are, to me, sort of like fruit salad (which, by the way, despite this rabbi not liking it, is 100 percent kosher). We are not fully honoring a particular kind of plant or animal or cloth when we mix it indiscriminately with something else also good, but of a different taste, a different character, a different texture.  

Rabbi Brad Artson connects this idea that donkeys and oxen are different animals with different strengths and characters, which plow differently, to the ways that we tend to make ourselves and our children fit into certain standard shapes, sizes and behaviors. There are times when fitting in is appropriate, but we cannot let that get in the way of letting a person’s individuality shine through. There’s even a bracha, a blessing, for seeing unusual people and creatures: Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, m’shaneh habriot, who diversifies creation.  

In this month of Elul, leading up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, let us be conscious of the ways we try and sometimes struggle to fit in. Let us think about how we can embrace ourselves the way we were created, without having to be someone or something else.  

Teshuvah — repentance, or returning — can be about becoming a new, different, better person. But sometimes we drift from who we really are, and teshuvah can be a return to our true, unique, individual selves.  

Who either like, or don’t like, fruit salad.