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Parshas Ki Teitzei (5774)

An Ox and A Donkey

According to the count of Maimonides in his Sefer HaMitzvos (“Book of Commandments”), this week’s Torah portion, Parshas Ki Seitzei, contains 74 of the total 613 commandments of the Torah. That is the highest amount of commandments for any one Torah portion.

One of the more interesting commandments in the Torah portion involves animals and farming. The Torah commands us: “You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together” (Deuteronomy 22:10).

Now as with every other mitzvah in the Torah, this mitzvah has two parts – the commandment itself and its rationale.

The Mahara”l in the beginning of his Drush al HaMitzvos, points out that the Torah, which is essentially a book of commandments, should really have been called Mitzvos (“Commandments”). Yet that would have implied that we are to follow G-d’s commandments blindly, without searching for their deeper meanings. Instead G-d called this book of commandments Torah which means “instruction” and “teaching”, and which gives us license to explore the Torah commandments and their meanings and to learn from them lessons that can impact our lives and elevate us spiritually.

We can thus offer possible rationales for the commandments. Indeed, there are entire books written by great rabbis through the ages that offer rationales for all 613 commandments. [See for example the Sefer Hahinnuch: The Book of Mitzvah Education, published by Feldheim.]

Yet it is a fundamental principle of Judaism that even as we study each commandment, searching for deeper meanings, we must always remember that the commandment itself is greater and deeper than any rationale we can assign to it. [The Vilna Gaon, one of the greatest Torah scholars and mystics in the past 500 years, once wrote that for every one rationale that the rabbis reveal to us for a particular commandment, there are 99 more mystical reasons that they haven’t shared with us.] Thus we can never define and limit the Halachic parameters of a particular commandment solely based on its stated rationale.

One beautiful rationale for the Biblical prohibition of plowing with an ox and a donkey together was put forward by the Baal HaTurim in his commentary on the Torah. He wrote that since the ox, which is a kosher animal, always chews its cud, while the donkey, which is not a kosher animal, does not chew its cud, the Torah was concerned that while plowing a field together the donkey might look over at the ox and think that he’s eating food while the donkey has none, and that would cause the donkey some measure of pain. The Torah thus forbids all plowing with these two species together.

Of course, this commandment teaches an important lesson to all of us. If the Torah is concerned for the hurt feelings of some donkey plowing a field, how much more so should we careful not to hurt the feelings of our fellow human being.

According to this rationale, it should be permitted to plow together with two kosher animals or with two non-kosher animals, since the reason mentioned above obviously does not apply. However, Rash”i quotes from the Talmud in Bava Kama 54b which teaches that this prohibition actually applies not only to oxen and donkeys, but to any coupling of any two species.

Here we see a classic example of the principle we mentioned earlier - that the rationale for any given commandment can never limit its parameters since there are always deeper layers to the mitzvah that we are not aware of.

The Zohar reveals to us some of the mystical depth behind this commandment. It writes that the shor (ox) represents Esau and the Western world, while the chamor (donkey) represents Yishmael and the Arab world. The Torah is alluding to us in this commandment that if these two powers join together – i.e. the “ox” and the “donkey” plowing together - they can destroy the entire world.

The Mystics add that if the Jewish people do a collective teshuvah and repent from our errant ways, as the prophet exhorts us: “Shuvu banim shovavim …Return, O wayward sons…” (Jeremiah 3:14), we will reach shleimus (perfection) and thus be able to eliminate the power of the shor [Esau] v’chamor [and Yishmael], which will ultimately lead to Bias HaMoshiach, the Coming of the Messiah, speedily and in our days.

To prove this connection they point out that the Hebrew words “Shuvu banim shovavim”, “shleimus”, “shor v’chamor”, and “Bias HaMoshiach” all have the exact same gematria (numerical value) – they all equal 776 - and are thus related to each other on a mystical level.

Now nobody knows for sure exactly what the Zohar means about the Western and Arab powers joining together to destroy the entire world – but we had better do teshuvah just in case (-;

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