Have you ever heard, “The enemy of your enemy is your friend”?

It makes perfect sense: a common enemy does, indeed, usually bring together two prior enemies, making for some seriously strange bedfellows throughout history.

So, when there’s someone you simply can’t get along with, just find a common enemy and voila!—you’re now friends. But is it really that simple? What if you don’t have a common enemy? Or, worse yet, if you’re arguing, fighting, or just not getting along with people you actually like, or even love. Who should be the common enemy in such cases?

“A belt,” as we’ll discover in this week’s Torah portion, strange as it may sound,

Sacrilegious Belt

Our parshah is all about the clothes worn by the priests as they went about their sacred duty in the Temple. Four garments for the ordinary priests, and an additional four elaborate vestments for the High Priest.

“The clothes shall be for glory and honor,”1 the verse reads, and indeed, they comprised quite the outfit. A curious oddity about these garments, though, was the fact that some of them (the “avnet,” the long belt, for example) were spun from both wool and linen—a clear departure from the Torah’s command not to mix the two, a mitzvah called shaatnez.2

How could this be?

It boils down to this: positive mitzvot override negative ones.3 In other words, when two competing mitzvot come head to head, the positive (or “active”) one supersedes the negative (or “passive”) one. So if the eighth day from when a baby is born falls on Shabbat, we go ahead with the brit milah, even though surgery is not normally allowed on Shabbat. Why? Because a positive mitzvah overrides a negative one.

Here, too, we have two conflicting mitzvahs: the positive mitzvah that a Kohen must wear a belt sewn from wool and linen vs. the negative mitzvah of shaatnez. As we just learned, the positive mitzvah prevails.

This is all very well in legal, technical terms. But the question really does remain, why? Why would the holiest people of the Jewish nation, in the holiest place in the world, be walking around with a belt that was otherwise in flagrant violation of Torah law? Yes, the Kohen could wear it with no compunction, but why jump through legal loopholes in the first place? Does it really make sense to rely on dispensations in the Temple?

Toxic Mix

To get to the bottom of this, let’s step back for a moment and examine why shaatnez—mixing wool and linen—is a problem in the first place.

There are several forbidden mixtures in the Torah, and tradition offers various explanations. One offered by the early medieval sage Rabbi Bachya ben Asher4 suggests that it’s all about toxic mixes.

When the Torah proscribes two items together, it’s not necessarily because either one of them is bad, rather they simply don’t go well together. Each item on its own can be perfectly splendid, but together they clash and collide.

Imagine fire and water. Individually, both are wonderful. Fire warms our homes and cooks our food, while water quenches our thirst and yields all botanical growth. But when these two come together, it’s always a sorry ending. Either the fire consumes the water, or the water douses the fire. They simply don’t get along.

We all know people like this, too. Think of two friends who are strong-headed and extremely opinionated. It could very well be that on their own, each one in his or her circle of influence is an absolute rock star, a paragon of human success. But put those two in a room together to decide even the most basic of things such as which topping to order on the pizza, and boom! —it’s chaos, and you have to work overtime just to prevent fists from flying.

Are they bad people? Of course not. They’re actually each terrific—apart. Together, it’s a hot mess.

This, then, is the secret of forbidden mixtures in Judaism—spiritual “energies” that do not go well together.

Dissolve Your Differences

Now it makes perfect sense why there was shaatnez in the Temple: this wasn’t a dispensation at all; it was a positive thing, a consequence of the heightened spiritual reality that pervaded the sacred space.

Let’s return to the metaphor of two people with strong personalities who can’t seem to get along. Have you ever seen two such people face a crisis together? Say they’re on a fishing trip and see someone drowning at sea. Or, if we want to get dark and nefarious for a moment, when they’re faced with a common enemy (did someone say the word “realpolitik?”).

You would hope that these two parties could put their differences aside and unite for a greater cause. And thankfully, this is, indeed, what often happens: the two quarrelling, head-strong people jump into the water together to save the flailing victim, and the two countries at odds unite to blow their enemy to smithereens (yay!).

The same was true in the Temple. While the spiritual dimensions of wool and linen are diametrically at odds, in the face of the gargantuan spiritual energy manifest there, all differences dissolved.

And in the case of the Temple, it was actually a far greater coming together than two enemies banding together for a common cause. You see, the term we usually use for such instances is that two parties “put aside their differences” for a common goal. In other words, the differences still exist—Russia still hated the United States as they fought alongside each other against the Germans in WWII—it’s just that the two parties are willing to put them aside to get to home base. Once there, it’s very possible they’ll part ways once again (looking at you, Cold War!).

What happened in the Temple was a far greater union, a “dissolving of differences.” The magnificent power of the heightened spiritual energy was able to unite the warring elements of wool and linen so that they were no longer at odds at all.

Join Arms and Dissolve Your Differences, Too

“Dissolving differences” is something we all ought to get behind.

Unfortunately, fights do happen, and it’s always ugly, messy, and regrettable. Ironically, more often than not, it’s the people we most love with whom we frequently fight.

You all know what I’m talking about. Be it your spouse, parents, children, siblings, or close friends, arguments, fights, or differences of opinion happen—and you don’t like it.

People often say to “put aside your differences and just get along.” That’s sound advice, but there needs to be something or someone that acts as the Great Equalizer to put those differences to bed. If you’re arguing with your spouse, each one digging in their heels, who’s going to make the first move? Who’s going to compromise? Why should you? Why should they?

It’s a mess.

The shaatnez belt in the Temple tells us to bring G‑d into our lives. Introduce a spiritual energy into your home that will be able to dissolve your differences. You don’t have to sacrifice to your spouse per se, rather to the G‑d Who loves and holds you both. Surrender to something greater than both of you, and you’ll see that it’s not so hard to stop fighting.

As long as you’re focused on yourself, or even the other, you’ll be in the trenches fighting a world war that’s doomed from the onset. But when you collectively (or even you alone, for starters) look up to G‑d and say, “It’s OK. I don’t need to be right or wrong, because there’s a much bigger reality at play here,” then your differences will dissolve.5