Posted in Dvar Torah, on August 1, 2012

Finding Skills for Life in the Torah: Sensitivity to Others

By: Avrohom Levitt

Have you ever shown up to a wedding in your suit straight from work thinking everything will be totally fine, only to realize that you stick out like a sore thumb because everyone else is wearing a tux and you are completely underdressed? Or how about a Purim party, where you assume everyone will be in wearing costumes, but you find that you are the only one who dresses up? You wish someone would have had the sensitivity to warn you about the dress code beforehand so you wouldn’t feel so out of place.

Luckily for us, the Torah  makes sure we are trained in the sensitivity department. The pasuk in this weeks parsha, Parshat Ki Teitzei (22:10) says that we are not allowed to have an ox and a donkey plow together. The Daas Zekainim from the Baalei HaTosafos points out that an ox chews its cud, making it seem as if it is always eating. The donkey does not chew its cud. If they would have to work together, the donkey would see the ox chewing its cud,  seemingly eating, and it would feel pain that it does not have the privilege to eat as well. So in order that the donkey should not feel bad, we do not have it work alongside the ox.


The Torah is teaching us that sensitivity is so important that even animals deserve it! Even in a situation that is seemingly so insignificant, the Torah is able to tune in to the feelings the donkey would have if he was put in this situation, and therefore forbids this practice.

When we come home from shul on Friday night, the rabbis teach us that we are escorted by two angels who come to bless the homes that are prepared for Shabbos. That is why we begin the meal by welcoming the angels into our home and singing Shalom Aleichem. In the last stanza of the song, we bid farewell to the angels. Some people have the custom not to say this last stanza, because it seems strange that we are kicking the angels out of our homes. We want to show them that they are welcome to stay as long as they want. However, most people do say this last stanza, which in essence seems as if we are asking the angels to leave, a strange and seemingly rude statement.

Reb Yitzchok of Vorke explains that human beings are given a special ability to elevate mundane things and infuse them with holiness. Angels do not have this ability. Therefore, before we take the wine and make Kiddush and elevate all the mundane food by eating it in honor of Shabbas, we ask the angels to leave so that they should not be upset that they can’t elevate food and make it holy like we human beings can.

If we can learn to be sensitive and aware of such subtle feelings of pain, even to animals, and even to angels that are not visible to the human eye, then we will be able to work on our sensitivity to be considerate to the feelings of other people, including subtle feelings of pain.