The Mystery of Mysteries” Part 2: The Bible’s Darwinian Experiment

NOTE: This is Part 2 of a three-part series about the mule, the hybrid problem in science, and ways in which Darwinism and the Jewish Bible illuminate each other. You can find the other parts here:

“God is the source not only of order but also novelty.” – John Haught, God after Darwin (Boulder: Westview, 2000) p. 182

The Five Books of Moses often shows surprising literary coherence that is so subtle, it belies the notion that it was written across a millenium by many different authors. 

Some connections across the whole text are so well-hidden it seems improbable that an author deliberately placed them there for later discovery, although we could always argue they are the result of gazing at the text too long and over-interpreting it like obsessive graduate students. The traditional approach by Jews to reading the Bible even promotes it. Assume nothing is there by accident because its author is Divine and utterly intentional. Every word, every letter, the cuts between words, the rhymes and puns and cross-allusions, even the decorative marks on individual letters, carry meaning. Also the Torah is frugal. If something seems weird or extraneous, it’s up to us to figure out why. So when we discover hidden meanings and parade them as proof of a divine Author, a skeptic would argue it’s tautological: of course you did because you assumed they’re there.

However, there are some allusions and connections that are provably impossible. They couldn’t have been intentional because their meaning only become clear when we make new discoveries about the world much later than even the latest possible composition of the Bible. Some of these are archeological, like Merenptah’s Stelae describing the plundering of Canaan and of Israel that wasn’t discovered until the late 19th century. [1]

One of these is hidden in an apparently extraneous comment about a breeder of mules, tucked into an otherwise boilerplate genealogy at the end of a later chapter of Genesis, Vayishlach. As we understand it through modern evolutionary theory, it actually ripples out to embrace a theme that plays throughout the Bible.

Anah’s mule

Jacob (aka Israel) is heading for a reunion with his twin brother Esau after cheating him out of his inheritance from Isaac. Jacob placates Esau, they apparently reconcile, and Esau offers to accompany Jacob’s enormous retinue of sheep, goats, wives and children. Jacob begs off, and the two brothers part. Esau then goes down to Seir, where Jacob sort of agrees to meet him.

Jacob’s in no rush to get there. He doesn’t trust Esau, for reasons we will see. In any case, he and his expanding tribe have several adventures that delay them. His daughter Dinah is raped by the Prince of Schechem, his sons annihilate the city in revenge, and Jacob buries his beloved wife Rachel.

While Jacob dawdles, Esau’s tribe has had the time to breed many generations alongside the tribe of Seir. The Bible, like many ancient epics, gives an extended genealogy of these two families and the eight kings of Edom, a seeminglyanti-climactic end to an otherwise dramatic portion, Vayishlach (“And he sent”).

However, in the middle of the dry account of begats and sires, one comment sticks out like a sore thumb:

“The sons of Zibeon were these: Aiah and Anah—that was the Anah who first found mules in the wilderness while pasturing the asses of his father Zibeon.” (Gen 36:24)

Nobody else is singled out for an achievement of any kind. No heroic acts or territorial conquests or deaths in battle are mentioned. The remark adds nothing to advance the narrative. And there’s nothing about mules in the rest of the Five Books of Moses.

So why mention Anah and his mules?

Maybe the Torah is calling out Anah because he was a kind of mad scientist, winner of the Nobel prize of his age.3 In a nomadic culture, finding out how to breed mules would be like inventing the automobile in an era of horse and buggies. But there’s something transgressive about it, too. It’s unnatural, disruptive. Didn’t God finish nature back there in the first verses of Genesis? A mere human tampers with God’s handiwork, and succeeds! Why would the Bible single out this contradiction to its own fundamental sense of cosmic order?

The sages of the Talmud put on the road to answering these questions. They explain that4 Anah is one of the only characters in the Bible whose name is mentioned twice in the same sentence. Why? Because Anah has a dual identity. He is the bastard offspring of an incestuous relationship between a son (Zibeon) and his mother.  Zibeon is thus both his father and his brother. Anah is his own uncle. The sages get to the essence of the matter by putting the two strange items, mules and Anah’s bastard status, together:

“He [Anah] mated a donkey with a mare, and it gave birth to a mule. He was illegitimate, and he brought illegitimate offspring into the world.5

Why were they called יֵמִם (signifying “dreaded beings”)? Because their dread (אֵימָתָן) was cast upon people. 6

What is the source of this dread? Far from being a fabulous innovation in nature, Anah’s mule violates a fundamental law against crossbreeding any species:

“Tzivon (Anah’s father-brother) had violated G’d’s law according to which the species are not to be crossbred, whether humans or animals or plants. As a reminder of this legislation the Torah subsequently forbade products of crossbreeding, a prohibition which extends to our having any beneficial use of the result of such crossbreeding. … Mules, i.e. the result of crossbreeding were not created until the days of Anah.7

This prohibition against crossbreeding species is a chok, a statute. It is only partly, if at all, comprehensible ­- as opposed to a more commonsense law, like “Do not commit adultery.” The rationale for a chok transcends human understanding. But viewing it through the lens of Darwinian science reveals at least part of its mystery.

Interbreeding and Transgression

In the reading a week earlier,8 Jacob has finally gotten free of his treacherous uncle Laban, who tricked him into working as a shepherd for twenty years in order to marry Rachel. Despite Laban’s abuses and attempts to stop him, Jacob is a wizard, literally employing sympathetic magic to breed his flocks, or as we should rightly call it, husbandry. He has sired eleven sons and amassed a nomad’s fortune in flocks of goats, wives, and children. This is perhaps Jacob’s signal characteristic: he has mastered the science and art of breeding. He is both fertile himself and able to manipulate selection of organisms to produce certain desirable traits. As the father of the entire People of Israel, this will also show to be his material and mystical – physical and metaphysical – legacy.

As this parsha opens, Jacob is returning home, fearing he will reunite with his twin Esau. Before he left years ago, he cheated Esau out of their father’s blessing. Now he dreads their confrontation and takes all possible precautions: he prepares for war, splits his wives and possessions to minimize damage, sends elaborate gifts and emissaries ahead, and prays for deliverance from his brother and his army of 400 men. As he approaches his brother, Jacob bows and scrapes in an elaborate ceremony of submission and apology.

His preparations, gifts, and obsequious approach seem to work. The twins fall on each other. They kiss and weep on each others’ shoulders. Esau offers to have his tribe accompany Jacob on their journey back.  Jacob politely declines.  Esau offers to provide some men to escort Jacob’s caravan and even promises to go “at his own pace.” Jacob begs off again, and promises to meet him down by Seir. They part ways and Jacob seems in no hurry for their next reunion.

Obviously, Jacob is worried that his brother still harbors ill will and might get revenge along the way. But Jacob’s apparent pretext for begging out of this generous offer actually betrays his deepest concern:

“’My lord knows that the children are frail and that the flocks and herds, which are nursing, are a care to me; if they are driven hard a single day, all the flocks will die. Let my lord go on ahead of his servant, while I travel slowly, at the pace of the cattle before me and at the pace of the children, until I come to my lord in Seir’.” (Gen 33:13-14)

This carries a heavy implication. Rashi says the word “slowly” means “easy” or “gently.” Jacob lets the cattle and the children set the natural pace. Esau would drive them hard: you might intend to go at my pace but you can’t. We have different styles of nurturing our young. One is cruel and produces fierce hunters and warriors, one humane and produces delicate offspring. Your very style would kill those in my care. Further, Jacob explicitly addresses this ethos of childrearing and animal mercy. Rashi rephrases Jacob’s excuse:

“The sheep and the oxen [and babies] that are suckling constitute a charge on me to drive them slowly…The word translated here as “nursing” [עלות ] means literally bringing up [raising] their young.”9

Jacob’s reaction – “if they are driven hard a single day all the flocks will die” – at first seems like overdramatic hyperbole. But it signals a deeper fear: the complete extermination of his legacy, livestock, and children alike. Though they are twins, Esau and Jacob have completely inimical spiritual characteristics and the harder one threatens to obliterate the other, whose aim is elevation of the spirit at the expense, perhaps, of physical robustness. Esau’s tribe and nation, in Jewish tradition, is collectively known by his nickname, Edom: ‘red’, or ‘bloody’.

Later, in his own good time, after a couple of detours, Jacob finally moseys on down the road to the city-state of Shechem. He buys land from the king there, Chamor. Chamor’s son, also named Shechem, sees something he wants and, as spoiled princes are wont to do, grabs it. He abducts Jacob’s daughter Dinah and rapes her.

Dinah’s brothers are incensed and seek revenge. But Chamor negotiates a deal with them that seem to be peaceful on the face of it and will resolve the crisis. They will agree to merge their two tribes, which will avoid a bloody war. It will also make Shechem’s rape of Dina lawful. The sons say ok, but on one condition: all the men of Shechem have to be circumcised (ouch!). This way, they will enter the Hebrews’ covenant with God. It also seems to present a superficial solution to the crime. Shechem raped Dinah when he was uncircumcised. By getting circumcised, a sign of purity and devotion to the Hebrew God, the whole of Shechem will rectify the crime on some cosmic scale of justice. The irony and symbolism of the fact that the entire people and their rapine prince share a name is not lost on us. Maybe.

Chamor and Shechem, eager for the deal, agree. They ask their townsfolk to go along with this painful M &A by appealing to their greed:

[The Hebrews’] cattle and substance and all their beasts will be ours, if we only agree to their terms, so that they will settle among us.” (Gen 34:23)

In the calculus of these things it seems like it will eventually work out: the pagan tribe will absorb the Hebrews who not only are wealthy but have a proven record of prospering. The Hebrews are only asking that the Shechemites go through a strange and painful physical ritual. As Canaanite pagans, what is another religious ritual, however odd? It won’t change their essence and ultimately they’ll just settle and assimilate the nomadic Hebrews. As the Jews have known all through history, assimilation is just conquest by a slower means than war.

But some of the sons really seek revenge.10 On the third day, when the men of Shechem are most weakened by the pain of their recent surgery, brothers attack the debilitated city and wipe it out completely.

It’s one of the most disturbing and ethically troubling episodes in the Bible. But we can understand it is in the context of the Hebrews’ self-definition, one which I believe also answers the controversy over how to define these exceptional group, the Jews.

The Origin of the Hebrew Species by Selection of Transcendent Traits

One of the threads that sews together the entire Five Books of Moses, its thematic coherence, is the ferocious protection of the integrity of the Hebrews. Sometimes they violently protect the purity of their line like Israel’s (Jacob’s) sons did by annihilating Shechem, even if it involves trickery.

Other times, it is by carefully negotiating their relations with the tribes that surround them to avoid interbreeding but still remaining peaceful. On still other occasions, it is by selective breeding and transmission of the inheritance. And when all else fails, G-d Himself intervenes dramatically and violently to the purge the Jews of polluting their transcendent identity.

But what, exactly constitutes this genetic purity? Is it racial or tribal? Esau is Jacob’s twin, so mixing with his brood couldn’t possibly contaminate Jacob’s stock with any physical, genetic trait.  What precisely is Jacob afraid of?

The object of both the individual and the tribe was nothing less than the absorption and extermination of the Hebrews. Shechem raped Dinah when he was uncircumcised, but circumcision, however sincere, won’t rectify it. If anything, the demand of the Hebrews mocks the idea that a physical act of contrition will compensate for the transcendent crime of violating and polluting Jacob’s line.

The Torah even winks at us from the beginning of the chapter to signal the interspeciation that it will dread at the end. The king of Shechem is named Chamor, “donkey”! The Maharal of Prague explains that the word Chamor comes from chomeir, materialism. If Jacob had married his tribe to Chomer’s, he would have  broken the Hebrew contract with God, lost his connection to the metaphysical, and become like all the other materialist idol worshippers to dissolve into mere earthly matter.12 

The story of Anah’s mule is buried in a boilerplate genealogy . This tale of Jacob protecting the purity of his line. The two seem completely disconnected, but they reveal a hidden and unsuspected literary and thematic coherence. Anah’s mule frames the whole sequence as a Darwinian fable of Hebraic genetic selection, and Jacob’s concern with purity of breeding illuminates Anah’s abomination, which itself is a symbol for the entire land of Seir where Esau chooses to dwell and wants Jacob to “meet” him. Jacob’s evasion of Esau after their reconciliation may look like personal cowardice, but Jacob fears for the physical and metaphysical survival of his heritage and future mission. The brothers’ deceit of Shechem and Chamor and their annihilation of the city may come from outrage at the prince’s violent assault on their sister, but even more so defends against the transcendent contamination, the pollution, of their descendants and the dissolution of their spiritual mission into paganism. If the Hebrews don’t protect their purity, they will go down in Seir and suffer the sterility of hybrids.

Eugenicists and cattle breeders select for physical traits like strength or size or appearance, and Nazis may have surrounded their quest for Aryan racial purity with all sorts of mystical Nordic nonsense, but their primary obsession was with the outer signs of racial purity: blonde hair, height, etc. By contrast, the Hebrews seem fixated on completely invisible traits that have nothing to do with race or genetics, or even something invisible but measurable like IQ. Their methodology for strengthening their stock is opaque and mysterious, occult, as if they’re trying to bring forth one of Darwin’s mysterious “hidden” traits. As the narrative of Genesis proceeds, it’s clear the generations-long project of careful breeding  protects their character, their gentleness, their domestication. In fact, one way we can read the Book of Genesis is as a manual for creating a brood that will fulfill an unseen ethical and spiritual destiny that God has planned for Abraham’s progeny, and that destiny can only be fulfilled if the Hebrews themselves evolve a set of behaviors in stark contrast to the muscular, warlike aggression of their neighbors and kin.

This seems a slim and abstract premise for family planning, and the pillow talk between the matriarchs and patriarchs must have been pretty delicate, but the project is deliberate and sustained for hundreds, if not thousands of years.

Sarah chooses Isaac over Ishmael.

Abraham carefully selects Isaac’s mate from his own family by sending Eliezer on a mission far away to identify a bride from the offspring of his brother, Nahor.13 Eliezer discerns the kindness, generosity and virtue of Rebekah that qualifies her to be Isaac’s wife.

Rebekah chooses the grown, studious Jacob over his rough hunter twin Esau. She tricks, or perhaps secretly colludes, with Isaac to switch them in order to make the Hebrew destiny work out.

Isaac sends Jacob to uncle Laban to find a wife for himself. Of Laban’s two daughters, Jacob always favored Rachel over her sister Leah, though he has to marry both.

In the next generation, he then favors Rachel’s sons, especially Joseph, over the ten brothers from other mothers.

Joseph becomes the most powerful man in Egypt and brings his brothers to settle there during a famine. When he asks his aged father Jacob to bless his sons, Jacob, recapitulating his own drama, switches his hands to select the younger Ephraim over the elder Menashe (and over Joseph’s protests).

All through history both before and after the Hebrews and in all the surrounding tribes and kingdoms, persisting even through the 19th century in England, custom and law mandated that the eldest son, independent of his character, gets the blessing of the father’s inheritance. This is called succession through (patrilineal) primogeniture. And in the rough world of tribes and kingdoms, selecting for gentleness and domesticity doesn’t seem like a winning game plan. But the Hebrews perceive some transcendent trait in their offspring that is also often, though not always, expressed through the favored wife-mothers Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and sometimes over the protest, inclination, or even knowledge of the fathers. They wrestle patriarchal primogeniture away from the men in favor of matrilineal selection of invisible subtleties of superior “fitness” (as Darwin would put it), traits of character, disposition, inclination, soul. Judaism is matrilineal in its essence.

Torah’s Darwinism

The rest of Torah pursues this Darwinian experiment into evolving metaphysical fitness in the world through the Hebrews, demanding they continue to make distinctions of this from that with often invisible, inexplicable, or ineffable differences in order to achieve a higher purpose. Genesis announces the theme as thunderingly as Beethoven’s Fifth: God makes cosmic distinctions. He separates heaven from earth, light from dark, sky from water, water from land, plants from land, animals from plants, man from beasts, woman from man. Then He selects a son or daughter from a nearly identical other in every generation, distinguishing between brothers, even twins, to carry the mysterious trait or traits that enable Him to evolve the Hebrews into His instrument.

The evolutionary theme in Genesis swells through the rest of the Five Books into the separation and redemption – the selection – of a whole people from enslavement to pagan Egypt to nationhood. Eugenics is a dirty word after the twentieth century abuse of human breeding for racial purposes, culminating in the Nazi horrors, but it merely and literally means good breeding by artificial selection.  The Torah is the manual of divinely inspired eugenics.

When the Hebrews get their constitutional charter, it is filled with commandments for them to imitate God’s distinction-making: You must distinguish clean from unclean in your own body and in the bodies of others, in animals, in clothing, homes, utensils and in what you eat. In your private lives you must separate life from death, kosher from forbidden, work from rest, holy from unholy, sacred time from the mundane. You must acknowledge the difference between the physical and the spiritual and recognize it in yourself and every other human. Dividing good species from bad is the essence of the “good” that God pronounces in satisfaction upon creation. Humans, made in His image, and imbued with a breath of God’s knowledge, are to emulate it in everything they do and see it as the informing principle of the universe. And for that reason, they are not to emulate God by creating new categories, new species, by mixing them.

At the same time, the Torah also abhors mixing species, the flip side of maintaining purity. The charge the Children of Israel receive on Sinai mandates how they must abhor interspeciation, grafting trees, yoking oxen to donkeys, crossbreeding animals, or even hybridizing seeds (kilayim – כלאים). They’re forbidden to wear clothing of two fabrics, wool and cotton (shatnes). Vineyards must be planted with no other species in-between the rows of vines to avoid cross-pollination. And violating these incomprehensible rules is punishable by death!

The Torah’s horror of the mixture of species is the negative pole of its positive gravity. Hybridization, intermarriage, abominable crossbreeding, dissolving boundaries between this and that, us and them, is the Torah’s counter-theme, its anathema. Anah’s offspring are Israel’s opposite, Jacob’s children are frail and his charge is to bring them up gently, to distinguish and to choose to seek purity and holiness. He tells his twin Esau that he would undoubtedly drive them too hard if they link their fates.16

The sages, in commenting on the incident of Anah, tells this cosmic story: Rabbi Yosei says:

“The thoughts of two phenomena arose in God’s mind on Shabbat eve [of Creation], but were not actually created until the conclusion of Shabbat. At the conclusion of Shabbat, the Holy One, Blessed be He, granted Adam, the first man, creative knowledge similar to divine knowledge, and he brought two rocks and rubbed them against each other, and the first fire emerged from them. Adam also brought two animals, a female horse and a male donkey, and mated them with each other, and the resultant offspring that emerged from them was a mule. Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel disagrees and says that the first mule was in the days of Anah, as it is stated: “And these are the children of Zibeon: Aiah and Anah; this is Anah who found the mules in the wilderness, as he fed the donkeys of Zibeon his father.”17

No, Rabbi Shimon overrules R. Yose, mules didn’t come until much later until that Edomite bastard Anah, roaming the wasteland, brought the abominable hybrid into being. God gave fire to Adam to light up the darkness, carrying the implicit encouragement to continue to try to penetrate nature’s secrets. Fire allows us to manipulate nature. It is the symbol of and enables technology. It represents the light of creation and knowledge, science, truth. But its twin in creation, genetic manipulation of nature’s order itself by mixing species, is forbidden.

Torah and the Science of Species

This collision between fire and creating a new species brings to mind Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, which celebrated its bicentennial last year. Shelley’s subtitle was “The Modern Prometheus,” alluding to the Greek myth (echoing the Jewish story) of creation: Prometheus shaped man from clay, Athena breathed life into him, and out of an excess of paternal love, Prometheus steals fire from his fellow Titans and gives the secret to man.

But there is another remarkable coincidence that arises from Shelley’s prophetic concern about what forces techno-science might unleash. Frankenstein’s story is a meditation on whether new species can be created by anything other than divine creation. When Dr. Victor Frankenstein first creates the monster, he fancies himself a rival of God:

“Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should [be] first [to] break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world. A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me.” 18

Throughout the novel, Victor refers to his own creature as a new species or, more poignantly, the “creature,” who is as sensitive and eloquent as his creator. And like the doppelganger he is, the creature, refers to his master’s race of humans  as a different “species.” When the Creature blackmails Victor into creating a wife for him, Victor starts but then tears up his work in horror. He’s afraid to unleash a new species on earth: “The dæmon [would] thirst [for] children, and a race of devils would be propagated upon the earth who might make the very existence of the species of man a condition precarious and full of terror.”19

The Talmud echoes the Prometheus story: fire equals creative knowledge, what we might now call science. It could be the most Divine attribute, God’s last gift to humanity before He rests, fit only for the finished, aspirational, curious mind of humans. But Shelley’s and the Greek’s warning comes with it: discovery has great hubris and peril. Alongside fire, the sages say, God considers giving Adam another form of creation, the secret of breeding mules, a violation of nature that is thankfully fruitless.

Anyone who reads the Torah properly, who understands the God of Becoming in fertile union with evolving human exegesis and understanding, can see that the Torah encourages science and the expansion of knowledge, the blossoming of mystery and the continuous unfolding of our explanation of it. God seems to say, “Imitate Me this way, too.” But it is also at our peril: try to tamper with the essence of nature itself and you’ll find only sterility and evolutionary cul de sacs.

The key may lie in a bit of etymology about the Torah’s Hebrew term for mixing species, kilayim. Both Kabbalah and Strong’s Concordance to the Bible suggest the word is related to kala (כלא) meaning “held back,” “restrained” or “imprisoned.” As we saw in Part 1, biology is still struggling with the mule problem and its mysterious inability to explain, even at the genetic level, why hybrids are infertile. Without that explanation, evolutionary theory is at the same impasse that inspired Darwin more than a century and a half ago, that “mystery of mysteries” of how new species arise without Divine intervention.

In short, the etymology suggests that nature seems to be restrained, held back. This is either a trivial linguistic coincidence, a low pun, or it contains mystical wisdom about cosmic barriers. In Part 3, I will explore why it may be the latter and Torah, which has already shown here some prescience about genetics, may contain a solution to the puzzle in its depthless text.


Thanks to Rabbis Yossi Marcus and Yale Spalter of ChabadNP and to my chavrusa for hearing me expand tiresomely on what was at first a Shabbat instinct that there was more to the Anah mule story than meets the eye. Particularly patient were Ron and Elise Kardos, Michael Moradzadeh, and Yael and Eddy Berenfus. Michael also almost offhandedly had the same insight as Ramban, that Anah is called out because discovery of the mule was such a significant achievement. Dr. Gary Goldstein saved me from posting an incomprehensible ending. I hope I fixed it to his satisfaction. David Milgram also pressed me hard on why the mule problem represents a paradox or tautology and helped me delve the genetics of what stops hybridization from succeeding (the hypothesis is that meiosis fails during DNA replication when genetic distance between parents is too great).

1. Of course the Jewish tradition finds it anything but irrelevant or anticlimactic. Talmud and Kabbalah see in it a prophesy of future kingdoms, particularly Edom, which symbolizes Rome and its heir, the Holy Roman Empire (Western world of Europe and then America).

2. Vayishlach (Gen. 32:4-36:43).

3. This is Ramban’s (Nachmanides) interpretation based on Pesachim (Talmud): “This man [Anah] discovered that different species can produce offspring which is not the case with other cross-bred species…It appears that this was a wise discovery in his generation that he recognized that these two species were similar [enough] to each other in nature and would produce offspring if mated. Ramban Commentary on the Torah (Artscroll, 2005) p. 271)

4. Pesachim, 54a; Chullin 7b as referenced in Chabad’s annotated online Bereishit

5. Genesis Rabbah 82:15

6. Talmud in Bava Batra, 115 b:4; Rashi among others.

7. Radok on Genesis 36:24 via Sefaria,

8. Vayeitzei, Gen 28:10-32:3.

9. Rashi on Genesis:33:13-14 as per Sefaria

10. Midrash says they suspected Shechem’s intentions to assimilate them. After all, as we’ve just seen in the encounter between Esau and Jacob, every encounter between alien tribes in the Bible is fraught with suspicion, treachery, and posturing. Menace hides behind words of peace. Politely declining an offer is less likely true humility than a negotiation. Furthermore, the equation of Shechem the rapine prince with the entire city-tribe of Shechem concatenates their criminal nature. One is the extension of the other and thus suffer collective punishment.

11. Radak on Gen 34:7 (via Sefaria): I quote the entire passage for because it includes some empirical observations by the Talmudists:

“Our sages concluded further that Tzivon had slept with his mother having begotten Anah from that intercourse. Not only had Anah himself been a bastard, but he had produced more bastards himself.” “אשר מצא את הימים, our sages explain the word as meaning “mules,” i.e. just as he had been a bastard he now bred bastards, i.e. animals which resulted from crossbreeding horses and donkeys. This is the meaning of the words that follow ברעותו את החמורים “while he was engaged in tending the donkeys.” It occurred to him that it might be a good idea to see what would happen if he allowed or persuaded a horse to mount an ass. He found to his astonishment that the ass gave birth to a mule as well as a female mule.

“Our sages have said in Bereshit Rabbah 82,14that any mule, i.e. an animal resembling it traces its ancestry by means of the size of its ears. If the ears are short it has been sired by a donkey and born by a horse, whereas if it has long ears it has been sired by a horse having been born by an ass. Tzivon had violated G’d’s law according to which the species are not to be crossbred, whether humans or animals or plants.

As a reminder of this legislation the Torah subsequently forbade products of crossbreeding, a prohibition which extends to our having any beneficial use of the result of such crossbreeding. According to Bereshit Rabbah in the section just quoted, neither fire nor kilayim, i.e. the product of crossbreeding different species of animals, were created during the six days of creation. Mules, i.e. the result of crossbreeding was not created until the days of Anah (whose father had made the experiment). There is a discussion as to when fire was created. According to Levi the original light created on the first day served man for 36 hours, i.e. during the 12 hours before the onset of the first Sabbath, i.e. the first 12 hours after his creation, and the 24 hours of the Sabbath. When the world sank into darkness as a result of G’d withdrawing the original light, as part of Adam’s punishment for having violated His commandment not to eat from the tree of knowledge, Adam was disconsolate and exclaimed (Psalms 139,11) “is darkness to conceal me permanently?” G’d responded to his cry of anguish by replacing the original light with fire, sparks, by teaching him how to produce fire by striking two flints against each other. Having been successful in this, Adam blessed the fire.”

12. The Maharal goes on to explain the Egyptians had the lowest degree of spirituality of any nation in the world. Because of this, the Egyptians had sunk to lowest depths of depravity such as incest, adultery, witchcraft, and idol worship. In other words, Israel is always tested by the same test and the reaction of Jacob’s sons – total eradication of the threat – is justified. The Ba’al Shem Tov reiterates the Maharal’s insight that Chamor derives from chomer, “material,” and chumriat, “materialism.” HaYom Yom, Shvat 28; Keser Shem Tov (Kehot) addendum, sec. 16.

13. Rebekah is Nahor’s granddaughter, Bethuel’s daughter, and Laban’s sister

14. From Chabad entry on “Kilayim”: ( ) Bereishit 8:2; Yirmiyahu 37:18. See also Strong’s entries 3607, 3608 (כלא – “kala” – restrained, held back, imprisoned) and 3610. NAS Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible with Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries (1981) The Lockman Foundation.

15. A. S. Wilkins, R. W. Wrangham, W. T. Fitch. The “Domestication Syndrome” in Mammals: A Unified Explanation Based on Neural Crest Cell Behavior and GeneticsGenetics, 2014; 197 (3): 795 DOI: 10.1534/genetics.114.165423 as reported in “Domestication syndrome: White patches, baby faces and tameness explained by mild neural crest deficits,” (July 14, 2014) Genetics Society of America.

16. Midrash Tanchuma Buber, Nasso 13:1 has an extensive commentary tying this passage to laws of purity is sexual relations. This is a small excerpt: “When a woman is alone with her husband and he is having sexual intercourse with her, if she sets her eyes on another at the time of <their> sexual intercourse, no adultery for her is greater than this.53 Thus it is stated (in Ezek. 16:32): THE ADULTEROUS WOMAN [RECEIVES STRANGERSINSTEAD OF HER HUSBAND (literally: UNDER HER HUSBAND). Is there a woman who commits adultery <while> under her husband?54 It is simply that this is <the kind of woman> who encounters a certain man and sets her eyes on him. Then she has sexual intercourse with her husband while her heart is on him. The king of the Arabs asked R. Aqiva: I am black and my wife is black, but she has borne me a white son. Shall I kill her because she has played the harlot while under me? He said to him: Do you have images within your house? He said to him: Yes. He said to him: Are your household images white or black? He said to him: White. He said to him: When you were busy with her, she set her eyes on the images and bore <a child> like them. Now if you are surprised over this matter, learn from the Jacob’s flock. (Nasso Siman 13) – Sefaria:

R. Menachem Mendel Schneerson comments that the word used in this verse,  חָנַ֥ן – “grace” is an acrostic for three mitzvahs required to create a Godly spirit in the home – challah (kosher), niddah (purity of family life and marital relations), and ner (Shabbat candles). (As per Rabbi Gordon, podcast on Chumash, Vayishlach 3rd portion, 14:10 et seq.:

17.  Pesachim 54a:14

18. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Chapter 4, Frankenstein -or- The Modern Prometheus (orig. 1817). Project Gutenberg online edition (June 17, 2008). Victor names Darwin as one of the inspirations for his work, but he is alluding to Erasmus Darwin, Charles Darwin’s grandfather (!), who also had written, though in fictional and philosophical ways, about ideas concerning evolution.

19. Shelley, Frankenstein, Ch. 20.

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