If we are to take into consideration the feelings of a donkey, how much more so should we be looking out for the feelings of our fellow human beings.
This week’s Torah portion is Ki Teitzei (Deuteronomy 21:10 – 25:19), and it is chock full of mitzvot (commandments)! There are laws on civil and domestic life, inheritance, the wayward son, lost and found property, rooftop safety, kidnapping, kosher clothes (no, that’s not a typo!), prohibited mixtures and much more.
One of the mitzvot in this week’s portion is the prohibition against plowing a field with an ox and donkey that are tied together to the same yoke [Deut 22:10]. As is the case with most mitzvot of the Torah, the Torah doesn’t give a reason for this commandment. It is simply a weird Divine decree with no apparent reason. Even though the Torah doesn’t give a reason, our sages throughout the ages have offered all kinds of interpretations for the various commandments for which no reason for observing them is given.
I saw a meaningful interpretation of the prohibition against plowing a field with an ox and donkey. It is explained that an ox chews its cud (it’s a kosher animal!), while the donkey does not (not kosher! Don’t eat them!). When an animal chews its cud, it appears to be eating. Therefore, even though lunch might have been served several hours ago, an ox brings lunch back up for another round of chewing. A donkey, on the other hand, does no such thing. The donkey only chews at meal time. As such, harnessing an ox with a donkey is a recipe for jealousy! The donkey is going to see the ox “eating” all the time and then become jealous that he gets no such treats. It would make the donkey hungry and distressed.
It’s definitely a cute interpretation, and who knows, perhaps it is also exactly what God had in mind when He issued this commandment. In any event, we can learn an important lesson from this teaching. If we are to take into consideration the feelings of a donkey, how much more so should we be looking out for the feelings of our fellow human beings. This is especially true in areas of jealousy and other social contexts. Just as the ox should not show off that he has a lot of food, perhaps we, too, should be careful about what we show to others.
If you’ve got it, DON’T flaunt it
There is a saying that goes something like this: “If you’ve got it, flaunt it.” Well, it’s not a Jewish saying, to say the least. It goes against Jewish values, in fact. Only those who are insecure in life need to ensure that everyone sees what they’ve got. Judaism teaches us to act with humility. There are many reasons for this, but not making others jealous is certainly one of them.
With Rosh Hashana around the corner, it is the best time of year to shed some of our negative character traits. We all have areas in which we need to improve. Take the time this holiday season to ensure that you emerge from the holidays as a more caring and considerate person.
For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below.