Among the 74 mitzvot (commandments) in this week’s parsha is the prohibition: “You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together.” Torah is silent on the reason for this prohibition, as it is with many others. (A Divine decree that has no apparent rationale is called a chok.)
Even though the prohibition against plowing with an ox and a donkey is a chok, what moral lesson can be derived from it?
The Daas Zekeinim explains: The ox chews its cud, while the donkey does not. If the two animals worked next to each other, the donkey would see the ox chewing its cud and, not understanding the ox’s slower digestive process, would mistakenly think that the ox had gotten a larger portion of food than the donkey had. The donkey would become upset and envious of the ox. Writes Rabbi Yissocher Frand on torah.org: “The Daas Zekeinim’s message is that we need to make sure that we are compassionate even towards our animals. We do not want to put the donkey in a situation where he will feel jealousy towards the ox.”
Rabbi Yisroel Jungreis and Rabbi Osher Anshel Jungreis point to the different energy levels of the two animals. “Harnessing them together would pit one against the other, causing undue pain and stress.”
Writes the Sefer HaChinuch: “Let everyone wise of heart learn a lesson not to ever appoint two men in any matter whatever who are far apart in their nature and different in their conduct, such as a righteous person and a wicked one, or a despicable person and a distinguished one. For if the Torah minded about the pain that animals have through this, which are not possessed of intelligence, then all the more so with people, who have an intelligent, reasoning spirit.”
As parents, we must recognize that our children have different temperaments, maturity and abilities. We should be aware that, because of their different dispositions, there may be situations in which it is inadvisable for certain siblings to play together, to work together on a project, or even to share a bedroom. However, we should never compare children, for each has his or her own unique gifts and talents, and each has his or her own contribution to make. Further, we should be careful not to praise one child in another child’s presence, for the other child might become envious. To prevent jealousy, we should teach children to be modest about their accomplishments and never to boast. Likewise, we should resist the urge to brag about our children.