One awe-inspiring facet of the Torah is the embedding of fundamental life lessons into Mitzvos that are seemingly unrelated and have no pertinence to the majority of people. For example, to those unfamiliar, studying about an ox goring a cow seems to be of no relevance to their life.
It is precisely a goring ox that can teach us and our children a basic rule for life. In this week’s Parsha, the Torah tells us (Shemos 21:28) that an ox (even one not previously determined to be prone to goring – Shor Tam) that kills a person is put to death and the flesh of that ox that gored and is put to death by stoning (even if it is somehow properly shechted (slaughtered)) may not be eaten. Rashi explains the Pasuk is also including deriving any benefit from the carcass of the perpetrating ox in the prohibition.
What message does such a Halacha convey to us non-agricultural, city-dwelling types? The Sefer Hachinuch (Mitzvah 52) explains the rationale behind the Mitzvah is to firmly entrench within our thinking and value system that anyone who directly causes something destructive or hurtful to take place is to be considered an object of scorn and derision in the eyes of Hashem and people. This even includes causing something accidentally, as in the case of an ox who has no free will or intelligence. By not allowing any benefit from the ox’s remains, the Torah is helping us realize how abhorrent it is to be the cause of harm or damage to others, which should thereby encourage us to be extremely careful not to cause anything untoward to happen to others through our actions.
How often do we hear our children (or ourselves!) brush aside something harmful or hurtful they did with the claim that “it was an accident!” or “I didn’t mean it” as if that somehow removes any responsibility on their part for the harm they caused. We need to help our children hear the message that willful intent to harm is not the only reason why they must refrain from certain behavior. Claims of “I didn’t do it on purpose” are limited in their effectiveness of absolving them of culpability for their inappropriate actions.
The Torah requires a higher sensitivity to the well-being of others and requires each one of us to take extra care to sustain our fellow’s well-being and feelings. When a package says “fragile” on the label, we handle it differently, with more care. Our fellow humans all have the label “fragile” on them and it is our responsibility to convey that message to our children, as the Torah sets out the values we are to learn from and live by.
Best wishes for a wonderful Shabbos,
Rabbi Kalman Baumann